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The Jubilee, the Olympics, and the Commons

As the UK celebrates the Diamond Jubilee, the vast discrepency between its 'community focus' and the unshamed corporatism of London 2012 is glaring. The Olympic Organising Commitee should learn a thing or two from this weekend's celebrations and hand over the Games to the commons. 

Jeremy Williams
4 June 2012

This piece is part of our debate 'The Great British Summer?'.

Britain is in the grip of a twin obsession this summer, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the London Olympics. I’m not that excited about either of them myself, but I do find them interesting as cultural phenomena, especially the differences between them.

One of the most marked differences between the two is that one is a festival of the commons, and the other is a corporate event. It’s something of a case study in the theory of the commons.

For the Queen’s jubilee, communities around the country are being encouraged to celebrate any way they like. In High Town, my little part of Luton, the local residents association are organising a street party (I’ll be in the cafe, helping children make paper crowns). Anyone is able to make and sell jubilee merchandise, and I suspect there shall be red white and blue cupcakes aplenty.

The Jubilee has inspired all kinds of creative endeavours from Britain’s designers and artists, and also our marketing departments.  Every company in the land seems to have a strained Jubilee marketing campaign of some kind. Outside the office is a billboard for a brand of Mexican food, declaring their tacos to be ‘jubilicious’. The queen doesn’t protect her likeness, so anyone is welcome to do this. You can reproduce her face on a mug or a tea towel, or draw or paint caricatures of her, even rude ones. (She doesn’t have to be so generous. The Diana estate is much more restrictive in how and where people can portray her.) All the icons and imagery of the Jubilee – our royal heritage, the national anthem, the Union Jack, are all commons – they belong to all of us.

This is a real contrast to the Olympics, which do not belong to us. It belongs to the IOC, along with the Olympic rings and even the phrase London Olympics. In case you’re in any doubt, here’s the Olympic charter:

The Olympic Games are the exclusive property of the IOC which owns all rights and data relating thereto, in particular, and without limitation, all rights relating to their organisation, exploitation, broadcasting, recording, representation, reproduction,access and dissemination in any form and by any means or mechanism whatsoever, whether now existing or developed in the future.

There are plenty of ways that you can participate in the Olympics, from the torch parade to opening ceremony parties. I’ve even seen posters up at the train station encouraging me to grow yellow flowers in my front garden to will our athletes to go for gold. So you can take part, but don’t get carried away. You can’t use any of the imagery without permission. If you wish to profit from it in any way you will have to pay handsomely for the privilege, like Coca Cola and McDonalds. Put up an Olympics themes display in shop window, and the brand inquisition will descend on you and demand that you take it down, as some have already discovered.

No creative marketing either- even hinting at the games is verboten. “Businesses must not undertake or produce any PR, promotions, adverts, products, special offers, websites, or other promotional media which are Games-themed as these will inevitably create an association with the Games” say the band guidelines. There are plenty of cultural events as part of the Olympics, but only official ones. The kind of spontaneous and irreverent playfulness that the Jubilee has inspired isn’t really encouraged. Where you do get it, it’s satirical or in protest, like Charlie Brooker declaring himself the sole official tweeter of the games. Or since we had a Banksy for the Jubilee the other week, here’s one for the Olympics.

Obviously the IOC wants to protect its identity, but if they want to live up to their ambitions as a institution that celebrates universal human values, they could learn a thing or two from the Jubilee and release the Olympics into the commons.

This piece was originally published on Jeremy's blog Make Wealth History

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics based on class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put the need for protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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