The Quirkylympics 2012

Readers may be aware I have an ongoing fascination with lettering, fonts, branding, logos etc., and so I followed the recent Olympics with some curiosity as, like many others I suspect,
I was acutely aware of its strange logo and typeface and wondered what it all meant. So I commenced to do a bit of research into the history of the Olympic Games and what has shaped its current form and its ruthless corporate Mac-Cola culture. We are now at a safe distance I hope, to make some cool headed observations.

Reference has been made by several commentators to the 1936 Berlin Games likening aspects to the 2012 version and I have wondered if there was anything in this. If you look far enough you find of course various conspiracy theories linking it to the Illuminati and so on but many aspects of the current Olympics, like its insistence on complete racial and sexual equality and comprehensive national representation would have been detested by the Nazis. What was prototyped in the 1936 games was more to do with the big event which Hitler was already using in his Nuremberg type political rallies in which loud PA systems and huge swastikas dominated the ecstatic militarised crowds and its brainwashing effect on the masses in a time before television and to somehow make Hitlerian politics acceptable.

The Berlin Games were crucially used by the Nazis to embolden themselves on the world stage coming out of a time of terrible depression, isolation and political turbulence. They entered the most athletes in the competition and won the most medals. But Hitler had to also endure the black Jesse Owens winning the 100m. Already concentration camps like Dachau were up and running and gypsies, Jews, homosexuals and non-Aryans were being rounded up and ‘separated’ from the main population.

The  Weimar Republic’s worship of the human form (not the first in history by a long shot) happened to coincide with the rise of fascism but wasn’t, it appears, linked initially. But it did blend quite conveniently with Hitler’s desire to create the perfect Aryan human, the defining philosophy of Nazism and the cult of the superman, based primarily on the Darwinian idea of survival of the strong over the weak. No compassion there.

As I see it, any sporting event (like the Olympics) is only ever about the winner. The consequence is of course the egregious triumphalism that we witnessed over the few weeks of the Olympics along with spandex clad athletes punching air and emoting very visibly, but with few being able to string two words together when spoken to. Fastest in the world maybe but not the sharpest knives in the draw – with a few exceptions. Dumbed down but gifted, muscular athletes in other words but at least not discriminated against because of  God-given attributes like race or religion or disability. However you only got interviewed if you spoke English. Not much effort made by the BBC to talk to Chinese gymnast gold medallists or Algerian gold medallist sprinters.

But of course at times the Olympic Events are naturally very exciting. You can only admire the dedication of these athletes in their endless years of painful training for the passing glory of the podium. Some events are quite spectacular and exciting I freely admit, but the massive packaging of the event with its underlying commercialism undermines any long lasting value it might have in my view. Is it really going to reduce obesity in the west to have the masses watching it on TV on their sofas? The excuse is that it will get people into sport and exercise….some people. But a games heavily sponsored by Macdonalds (fat) and CocaCola (sugar), the two main pillars of the Obese Society is really a sick joke which exposes the kind of fathomless hypocrisy that modern Olympics has embraced.

There was much that was tested out in the Weimar Republic leading up to the Second World war in 1939. It was a great social, economic and technological laboratory in which much that we take for granted as a norm in the post war world was thought up and put into practice. It was the most advanced scientific and technological society of the time. Film buffs may remember the scene in The Life of Brian when John Cleese says “what did the Romans do for us?” The apologists for Hitler remind us he built motorways and built cars, like the VW, for everyone amongst much else. But Mercedes and VW and the autobahns were inevitably part of the war machine. The whole model of a modern materialistic and socialistic society was being tested out in a grand fashion like a great experiment. This was the third Reich which was to last a thousand years.

If you can ever find a copy of the English language magazine Signal, a German propaganda magazine, which may have come into Britain via the Irish Republic during WW2 anytime between 1940 and 1945,  you will be astonished by its similarity to Life magazine of post war America. In full colour filled with ads for Agfa cameras, Mercedes Benz cars intermingled with friendly fireside chats with the Führer explaining why gypsies would be happier somewhere outside Germany. The rare edition I saw had as a centre spread an artist’s impression of the new ideal German city (part of this is in the attached illustration). It could be Milton Keynes with motorways and business parks etc., except for the fact that in the sports stadium on the right, a great Nazi rally was taking place with men marching around with their arms raised in the roman salute with great Swastikas emblazoned everywhere and enormous German eagles on posts overseeing the crowds.

Back to the funny Olympic graphics and the £800,000 logo by Wolf Olins, a big design company in London. Generally disliked but foisted on the public who in the end had to put up with it like some unwelcome wart.

Hidden in the logo was the word London in a font called Headline which has regularly featured in a list of the World’s Worst Fonts. When I first saw it I thought it looked like a reject student concept from a second rate art school. But of course the Olympics does not stand for tradition, permanence or artistic achievement but purely for the quest for the winner, the superman/woman and for that you need an ever shifting stage, a new city, new enthusiasm, new money, new records to be broken, new technology and most importantly a new audience to hypnotise with ever more high definition TV. If the graphic concept is slapdash or ugly it matters not, as it adds to the impermanence of it all like a chocolate wrapper. My personal opinions aside though, I have to admit the TV coverage of Olympics and Paralympics was incredibly slick (close-ups of expectant fingers!) and such a huge event so impeccably organised, but why was there so little dissent by the public, who must have got a bit sick of such a surfeit of limbs, Union Jacks and sweating bodies.

Ian Sinclair, the writer who knows the Lea Valley (the site of the Olympic Park) better than anyone, described the Olympic Park in East London as a giant hallucination, I also know the Lea Valley well, having passed through it on the train into Liverpool Street since I was a boy. Beautiful nature reserves were obliterated to make way for the most ugly Macdonalds imaginable surrounded by a concrete wasteland. Soon to be left empty as the big circus moves on to the next Olympic City. The imprint of the great corporate steamroller as it groans around the world titivating the public with its silly pink graphics, firework displays entertained in London that is, by the poster boy of an illiterate grunting world monoculture: Mr Bean.

No one was allowed to express any criticism of the Olympics whilst they were in motion, and the few that did, like the Mancunian singer, Morrisey were soon silenced and smothered. But how many, I wondered, held secret thoughts like I did, that this was just a celebration of corporatism, nationalism and let’s be candid, rank idolatory on a massive scale which brooked no criticism from anyone. “Put down the Pepsi and no-one will get hurt” was the inspired Private Eye cover of two heavily armed policemen outside the main stadium. Furthermore the idea I mentioned earlier of the Superhuman ideal was further rammed home in the Paralympics, whose contestants must have felt utterly patronised knowing that they could never attain the perfect physical Olympian Grecian ideal. Obviously there were inevitably good things that happened and in no way can I denigrate anyone who overcomes disability or disadvantage to succeed in whatever. But I’m looking at a bigger picture and trying to make sense of it.

The link below is to an interesting development of some of these notions, which the above was not based on but which I just found assembling this post and thought worth pointing you towards. by Scott Minto

About Ian Whiteman

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1 Response to The Quirkylympics 2012

  1. matthewbain says:

    Hello Ian, here’s an article about the history of opposition to the Olympics since the 1970’s . Kind regards, Matthew

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