We’re all very familiar with what happens after some enormous artificial high: there’s the come down. The bigger the hit, the bigger the crashing sense of doom. A party leaves us with a hangover. A weekend at the Glastonbury Festival leads to a week of depression. The unadulterated joy of Tony Blair’s first election victory over the thieving Tory bastards led us to allow an illegal war, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands and more conflict than ever before. Are we ready for what will happen after the Olympics? With numerous reports of sporting facilities lying empty at the moment and the pubs packed with people drinking and cheering for more than two weeks, there’s bound to be some heavy casualties. It’s not going to be pretty.
Our media covers the Olympics in much the same way that Russian television reported Soviet elections. There is one message and one message only, delivered by commentators who understand what they have to say but not all that much about what they rave about. It’s gold, gold, gold. It’s a strange way to examine an event in which we take away comparatively few Gold medals.
I watched the BBC presenter, whose name I didn’t forget – I just don’t want to know who she is, foul up an interview with Rebecca Adlington. She really rubbed it in, using a heavy patronising manner, going through the motions of assuring her that no-one minded that she had only come away with a tawdy bronze medal. Adlington looked hurt but knew she had to keep that perma-grin in place until the ordeal was over. Otherwise, the corportate-KGB might never call again. She loosened up a bit when some fellow athletes chatted with her on the same sofa. Her explanation of what it was really like, being at the centre of a shit storm of attention, was as relevant to the issues before the Leveson Inquiry as it was interesting to hear. The other sofa guests were clearly trying to rescue the show. The presenter was practically useless. She looked so embarrassed, letting slip that she reads what gets said on twitter. The people’s coverage of the Olympics is much more fun there.
It’s not the fault of any one presenter or any one newspaper. They’re all competing with each other to dish out their patriotic credentials, to sell copy, to turn a profit. We used to have media organs which took risks, which changed the way we thought about stuff. They don’t seem to exist any more. With all this endless emphasis on the need for unobtainable gold, is it any wonder that the kids on the sofa turn to their crisps and their games consoles, rather than their track shoes? The occasional glib remark about the ‘taking part’ being more important than the winning is always delivered with a down at the mouth look, drab and annoyed at the obligation to be well meaning.
For the kids who rioted last summer, it’s hardly a look that will inspire them to take up the lofty ambitions of the Olympic Spirit. Bombarding us with demands for gold is guaranteed to make most of us reach for the fizzy drinks, for the remote control, for the easy way out. Later on in life, when these cheap thrills no longer suffice, it will be the harder drinks and drugs and the thrill of anything for nothing.
Each and every media whore who just takes part in this spectacle and does nothing to challenge the wall to wall propaganda is culpable for the crap that will follow. Lip service to the training regimes, to the graft, to the required commitment is insufficient to counterbalance the relentless adulation of gold. For every kid or adult who changes their life as a result of Olympic inspiration, there’ll be a hundred more who want that golden feeling without any of the effort. Beyond that, there’ll be a thousand more who will just sit on their arses, watching others perform to perfection, feeling disappointed when their shiny token of success is the wrong colour and learning to hate themselves when they next pass a mirror. For them, the come down begins whenever they turn the television off.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The UK has excelled in cycling recently. It’s an accessible sport. Virtually everyone can ride a bicycle. Our green and pleasant land is covered with small lanes. What is the point of our media praising our cycling success and then failing to criticise the constant harping about cyclists or to report the routine hazards we face when riding around, the injuries, the deaths and the way that most of the travelling public treat us?
Down here in Brighton & Hove, the Green Party administration is putting its ability to obtain grants where its mouth is and building state of the art cycle lanes. We know that we have to build the infrastructure first to create good conditions and the increase in safe cycling will come later. Yet the other political parties and our local media lay into them for this grand plan. It is dismissed as a ‘pet project‘. These new cycle lanes considerably improve upon the debacle that an earlier Labour administration left behind for cyclists. Those lanes are considered to be so dangerous that they appeared on websites dedicated to exposing such things. Check out the lanes so short they can barely contain a bicycle at all, the lanes too small to contain even a child’s bicycle, some ever so longer lanes, the lanes which require you and your bicycle to get slimmer whilst you ride down them, the lanes which basically just direct you onto the pavement and the lanes blocked by traffic islands containing a Sheffield Stand for locking up bicycles! In typical top down misinformed style, the Labour Council which laid them out hired a firm from Birmingham to plan them. The firm recorded average traffic speeds, fed the results into an unsympathetic computer model and the resulting plans left a legacy of cycling accidents and discouragement. Average speeds is a measure which makes the car win. Spacial consideration gives a fairer result.
Britain’s best cyclists have not become the best in the world because we have made it particularly challenging for them in the past to train here, they have won through despite the obstacles. In fact, a few years ago they announced that they would just train abroad instead because it was too dangerous on our roads. Our media reported this with a general undertone of, ‘good riddance’.
I haven’t watched any of the sports yet because I don’t own a television. It just isn’t the same on the radio. I’d like to see Bolt become the fastest man of all time, so today I’ll be in my local pub with a pint, waiting for the ten seconds I’m most interested in. I’ll also be admiring the others. Anyone who makes it into a Olympic final is a winner in my book.
I’ll watch a few other events and go lug my excessively fat body home feeling bad about myself. I’ll resolve to sort my weight issues out, like much of the rest of the country will this evening. Whether we manage that will be up to us. Our media won’t be helping us. They’ll be covering their pages and screens with adverts for culinary crap, hypocritically blessed by athletes who wouldn’t consider eating such poisons themselves. When we fall off our various waggons, we’ll tell ourselves that gold wasn’t for us anyway and our indoctrinated brains will urge us to ‘reward’ ourselves with that gluttony we saw advertised in the name of the Olympics.