Coked up to the eyeballs: commercialism, patriotism and the Olympic dream

My oh my: inspired by the Olympic dream, I have decided to get in shape. Lord Coe has instilled within me a sense of burgeoning ambition and, even at the ripe old age of 21, I am absolutely certain that I will play for England in the next World Cup. Despite my conviction, however, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration so naturally I have been training tirelessly so that my dreams can become a reality.

Could there have been a better day than yesterday to go for a run? I think not. Thousands of people had lined the streets to applaud my efforts as I relentlessly pounded the pavement in search of my destiny. Armed with union jacks and cups of tea, they cheered me on, waving. I waved back. Shortly after, a procession of buses and a police escort drove up behind me to offer their support. Never have I felt prouder to be British. At one point, a man with a gold torch even decided to join me.

Joking aside, a week or so ago the Olympic torch relay passed the top of my road. As a graduate (or “NEET” as we’re called in the current climate), it was more intrigue than patriotism that caused me to break from my Jeremy Kyle marathon and leaving the house. For one reason or another, people were in excellent spirits. Among the perpetual miasma of economic turmoil, imbalance of power and government corruption, people were happy. Not only were they happy, there was a tangible air of excitement.

Neighbours had been setting up for some time, erecting gazebo-like constructions along the road so not to let the British weather ruin their once in a lifetime experience. The elderly were perched in a row along the pavement, nattering away like ladies at the hairdressers in a 1980’s movie. Children had been given time off school to embrace the message of London 2012. Indeed, people were drinking champagne at 10.48 in the morning to mark the occasion, even in times of austerity!

First out were the police officers that had clearly been instructed by a higher power to wave to the public. The crowd went wild for it. When the Queen or a celebrity waves to the public, she is acknowledging the reverence she is receiving, but why would the police ever wave to the public? Yes, joining the police force is a noble act and the local bobby deserves a lot more respect than he currently garners. It is perhaps surprising that amidst recent stories of police shootings, discrimination and negligence, spectators gave the fuzz a warm reception.

Perhaps the man on the street actually respects the police for the public service they enact and don’t believe the doom-mongering expounded by the media. Alternatively, spurred on by the euphoria and enforced patriotism, perhaps it was more that people felt obliged to wave simply because they were being waved at? I’m undecided as to the true cause. Either way, I’m happy that the police were given a warm reception.

Next came a bastion of British society and an embodiment of Olympic spirit. Did a local hero make an appearance? Perhaps it was 5-time gold medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave? Actually, I’m referring to none other than corporate sponsor Coca-Cola; of course. I would love to know why Coca-Cola felt the need to place manned floats amidst the motorcade. The relay was supposed to be a celebration of national spirit and local achievement; the torch would come right into the heart of our communities, literally right outside our doorsteps, carried by people of genuine (albeit unknown) local worth. Granted, sponsorship is necessary for the financial viability of the games, but surely subtle logos would have sufficed?

If anything, this shameless display of commercial ambition was detrimental to the big red machine. I made eye contact with one of the “enthusiasm officers” tasked with feigning that the company actually gives a damn. Out of politeness, I tried to feign back a smile- but it rankled with me to such an extent that I was unable to. I could see in his eyes that the Coke cheerleader also felt the same way. Coca Cola cares about communities about as much as they care about the welfare of all the South American employees who have filed lawsuits against the company.

In a similar act of brazen commercialism, McDonalds has banned the sale of “non McDonalds chips” except when bought as part of “fish and chips”. This token gesture is a sickening affront to British culture. It says: “the public are so fickle that we can take away their freedom of choice, but they’ll still be happy if they can have cod and chips”. I think the event organizers have a lot to answer to here.

I have a message for all the multinational corporate sponsors determined to hoodwink the public into believing their altruistic motives: “We’re not stupid”. We know that you have no interest in our sense of community and couldn’t care less about the Olympic message. Coca Cola’s involvement in the torch relay was a falsehood equivalent to a Pepsi representative sitting in on one of their board meetings and claiming: “it’s because we ran out chairs”.

All in all, however, my perception of the Olympic torch relay was a positive one. I do however wonder whether it’s patriotism or intrigue that causes the community to come together. Be it the royal wedding, the diamond jubilee or the Olympics, we’re all guilty of jumping on the bandwagon and “being patriotic for the sake of being patriotic”. One day, you might even find me supporting sulky teenager Andy Murray at Wimbledon. At the same time, though, we do all realize what we’re doing. So, whether it’s patriotism or intrigue that drives us to wave at the police in the pissing rain, and scowl at passing Coca Cola floats- to me, it doesn’t matter. I’d still conjecture that just because patriotism makes you happy, it doesn’t automatically make you ignorant.

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