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Cities, Identity, Spectacle (or #yeswecréu)

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A GCST5901 presentation on the Olympic Games as spectacle and its construction of false city identities

A GCST5901 presentation on the Olympic Games as spectacle and its construction of false city identities

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  • 1. Cities, Identity, Spectacle A GCST5901 presentation on the Olympic Games as spectacle and its construction of false city identities Ashley Zeldin Tuesday, 6 October 2009
  • 2. Only a day (or 1,017) away…
    • In front of the future site of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, a “triumphal arch with an electronic timer” counts down the minutes. 1
    • Let’s not split minutes and suffice it to say we’re 1,017 days away.
    1 Sinclair 2008: 277
  • 3. London facelift
    • Psycho-geographical writer and filmmaker Iain Sinclair points to an “ intimate liaison between developers and government, to reconstruct the body of London , to their mutual advantage”. 2
    • He goes on to document the underhanded means with which the Olympic effort has seized the medium of its reconstruction…
    2 Sinclair 2008: 266
  • 4. London facelift
    • “ Despite assurances from…faceless authorities that work would not begin for four years, the diggers arrived before the start of the 2007 season” to convert the football pitches used by the Hackney and Leyton Sunday Football League at Hackney Marshes into “parking space for the 2012 green Olympics”. 3
    3 Sinclair 2008: 267
  • 5. London facelift
    • The Olympic Development Authority appropriated sections of East Marsh to turn into a 12-lane motorway under the guise of “archaeological research”. The ODA argued, “the heritage must be protected.” 4
    • Since when are beer cans and animal bones “heritage”? The remains of WW2-era terrace houses long undisturbed beneath the football pitches, perhaps, but it’s a stretch.
    4 Sinclair 2008: 267
  • 6. London facelift
    • Sinclair deconstructs the revamping of Olympic host cities thus: “Demolish, dig, design.” 5
    • After all, as he observes, “nothing slows…the Olympic imperative.” 6
    • “ Everything disappears or is revised.” 7
    5 Sinclair 2008: 274-5 6 Ibid 270 7 Ibid 282
  • 7. (In)Security
    • On 7 July 2005, the day after London was announced as the host nation for the 2012 Olympics, 56 people died and 700 more were wounded as four Muslim men, upset by British involvement in the war in Iraq, blew themselves up along the London Underground and on one double-decker bus.
    • Thus “the Olympic project, from the start, would be about security.” 8
    • And so will the 2016 Olympics in Rio,…
    8 Sinclair 2008: 269
  • 8. (In)Security
    • Gordon Waitt writes in re: the 2000 Olympics in Sydney that “promoting the glossy image of the spectacle silences alternative ‘stories’ or ‘readings’ of Sydney”. 9
    9 Waitt 1999: 1058
  • 9. (In)Security
    • And so is Rio’s bid silencing the downside to the beachside, immortalised in the 2002 film Cidade de deus , or City of God …
  • 10. (In)Security
    • Rio, boasting beautiful beaches and mountain majesties, is also home to shantytowns serving one-third of its population, riddled by drug trafficking and murders—2,069 in 2008 alone, writes The New Republic ’s Suzy Khimm.
    • Reuters reported that a tight security scheme enabled Rio to make it through the Pan-American Games in 2007 “without serious incident” but the crime levels rose again almost as soon as the event was over.
  • 11. Budget buster
    • Among Sinclair’s criticisms of the Olympics is “recklessly underestimated costs,…a snare to ensure government approval.” 10
    • Initially estimated as costing “a couple of billion, liberated from lottery loot and siphoned from Arts Council vanity projects,” the spending for the 2012 Olympics swelled “as the reality of the damaged topography was investigated: towards 10 billion (and climbing).” 11
    • At least they know where their money is going…
    10 Sinclair 2008: 270 11 Ibid 270
  • 12. Promises, promises
    • Rio never made good on its infrastructure development promises, despite running way over budget for the 2007 Pan-American Games.
    • Neither a new circular road system and state highway nor light rail and metro lines came to fruition.
    • Promises to clean up Guanabara Bay—described by TIME ’s Andrew Downie as “the fetid body of water whose smell assails visitors driving into town from the international airport”—were reneged despite millions spent.
  • 13. Commercialisation
    • Coca-Cola—“supporting the Olympics since 1928”—McDonald’s, Visa, Samsung et al. want their brands attached to the Olympics. Their logos get tacked onto a billboard or a poster, the Olympic rings grace their packaging, their commercials feature former and future Olympians alike.
  • 14. The Village
    • “ The word on the street is that if nobody can be persuaded to take up residence in this reclaimed toxic wilderness, the tower blocks (generic and architecturally undistinguished) will serve as holding pens for asylum seekers and economic migrants, until they can be processed or shunted back through the conveniently sited Channel Tunnel rail link.” 12
    • The Olympic Village will serve its Olympic purpose as a unified meeting place of nations, then will be converted into an institution of difference and segregation.
    12 Sinclair 2008: 276
  • 15. Let’s talk about legacy
    • David Mackay, Barcelona Olympic Village architect, contends “The Olympic legacy is more likely to be a Hollywood set for a ghost town or an abandoned Expo site.” 13
    • “ The legacy the Games leave is as important as the sporting memories,” said ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair. 14
    13 Sinclair 2008: 278 14 Ibid 276
  • 16. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Optimists view the 2012 Olympics as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalise this valley, leaving in its footprints world-class sports, business and leisure facilities” along with 12,000 new jobs, 1.2 million visitors, billions of t.v. viewers. 15
    15 Sinclair 2008: 278
  • 17. Let’s talk about legacy
    • What is the Olympic legacy in Sydney?
      • Tourism
      • Venues
    • At least it’s better than Beijing: the Bird’s Nest isn’t even being used to house sporting events anymore.
  • 18. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Counterpoint to the Sydney Olympic Park arenas and areas sitting dormant save for occasional footy events and fairs are the downtown Atlanta, Ga. Olympic legacy.
  • 19. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Yes, Atlanta, mistaken for eastern seaboard casino capital Atlantic City way back when.
    • Though I suppose now you can hardly tell the difference…
  • 20. Let’s talk about legacy
    • As ESPN’s Emily Badger sums up legacy, “There are many kinds of Olympic legacies—the legacy of parks and stadiums built, of neighborhoods altered, of tourism and investment boosted (or not), and, of course, this legacy of stuff. All of it adds up to what really matters for locals: not what happened during the two weeks of the Games but everything that was left over and that came afterward.”
  • 21. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Pre-Olympics Atlanta:
      • Some of the highest poverty rates in the country
      • Abandoned warehouses and homeless shelters comprising the downtown area
      • A largely one-dimensional identity as a convention destination
      • No central congregating area
  • 22. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Post-Olympics Atlanta:
      • Olympic Stadium-cum-Turner Field sated the Braves, its MLB franchise, which had been threatening to leave since the late 1980s
      • Olympic housing became dorms for Georgia State, previously a commuter-only university, and Georgia Tech
      • The Olympic natatorium served as the basis of a state-of-the-art recreation center for Georgia Tech
  • 23. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Post-Olympics Atlanta:
      • Centennial Olympic Park, a $50 million public park, spurred $2.2 billion of economic development in the surrounds including an aquarium that opened in 2005 and attracts 2.5 million people annually
      • Coca-Cola headquarters opened the World of Coke to serve 1.25 million people annually
      • A civil rights museum commemorating Atlanta native Martin Luther King Jr. is in the works
  • 24. Let’s talk about legacy
    • Harvey Newman, a professor of public administration and urban studies at Georgia State, contends that economic turnaround was limited largely to Olympic venues themselves, not to areas around them and the lower-class residents who lived there, despite exceptions such as the neighbourhood where MLK Jr. grew up.
  • 25. Let’s talk about legacy
    • As Charles Rutheiser, an urban development consultant who wrote the book Imagineering Atlanta , explains “neither the Olympic organizers or the city government thought they needed to pay attention to physical infrastructure outside the venues because the real legacy would be Atlanta’s enhanced image before the world.”
  • 26. Let’s talk about legacy
    • As Badger writes, “The Olympics were held here,” it turns out, can’t be the main attraction in and of itself.
    • The Olympics can’t be the impetus through which an international city is built; rather the Olympics work best to highlight what a city has in place already on the international level.
  • 27. A grand public event
    • At the end of his narrative, Sinclair encounters the family of “a man seduced, so it appears, by crowds, a grand public event, noise.” 16
    • And that is the essence of the spectacle.
    16 Sinclair 2008: 282
  • 28. Control
    • The Olympics act as a means of social control “by providing the disadvantaged a taste of bread and a day of entertainment” so that “they will forget their troubles and believe in the authority’s benefits”. 17
    17 Waitt 1999: 1057
  • 29. Control
    • Indeed, the Olympics became a “mechanism of social co-ordination and control ” which distracts from economic conflict and social strife whilst projecting an image of Sydney in line with de Coubertinian “togetherness, friendship, safety, pleasure and social harmony”. 18
    18 Waitt 1999: 1064
  • 30. Visual transformation
    • The Sydney 2000 Olympic bid highlighted a “visual transformation of the built and social environment of the city into an aesthetic product symbolising friendship, safety and a pristine environment”. 19
    19 Waitt 1999: 1057
  • 31. Green Olympics can make you sick
    • “ The entire [London] Olympic Park is contaminated with thorium at water-table level.” 20
    • Then again, the first “green” Olympics in Sydney had to overcome the blight of being “the dioxin capital of the world” due to chemical drums stored improperly in Homebush Bay… 21
    20 Sinclair 2008: 279 21 Ruchel in Waitt 1999: 1071
  • 32. Sydney’s got spirit
    • Sydney was presented as “the jewel in Australia’s crown”, a city that epitomised “the spirit of Olympianism”. 22
    • Indeed, the ideas of mateship in sport was highlighted, and sport was asserted as integral to the Australian way of life. 23
    22 Waitt 1999: 1058 23 Ibid 1065
  • 33. Socio-spatial polarisation
    • Sydney was positioned as a “rich cultural community” steeped in “cohesive unity and social equality”. 24
    • If only.
    24 Waitt 1999: 1065
  • 34. Socio-spatial polarisation
    • Sydney itself is divided into the “haves” in the Eastern Suburbs and the Westie “have-nots”. 25
    • True, inequality pales by international standards, Waitt writes, specific ethic and indigenous populations are disadvantaged. 26
    25 Waitt 1999: 1066 26 Waitt 1999: 1066
  • 35. Socio-spatial polarisation
    • Take Cabramatta, home to a large Vietnamese population.
    • Cabramatta was the site of government housing for refugee migrants who settled nearby.
    • Building on politician Pauline Hanson’s assertion that multiculturalism bred ghettos, the print media pegged Cabramatta as a crime capital, replete with gangs, drugs and violence.
    • Sounds like the slums of Rio!
  • 36. Socio-spatial polarisation
    • Take Redfern, home to a large Aboriginal population.
    • Redfern was the site of the Aboriginal Housing Co. which served those “disempowered by the relations of colonial capitalism” (Anderson in Waitt 1069).
    • The media portrayed Redfern as a “‘slum’, a place of violence and threat.”
    • Sounds like the shantytowns of Rio!
  • 37. Olympic impact
    • “ No other event in contemporary society equals the impact of the Olympic Games on a region’s economy, sense of self and perceived role in the world economy .” 27
    27 Richter (1989) in Waitt 1999: 1064
  • 38. Olympic impact
    • Except perhaps the World Cup...
  • 39. Olympic impact
    • And guess who’s hosting in 2014!
  • 40. Olympic impact
    • The Olympics attract international audiences especially via tourism and television, and allow a city to create a positive image which it projects to various arenas.
  • 41. Tourism++
    • The publicity and interest generated by a major international event allows the host community “to secure a position of prominence in the tourism market for a short, well-defined period of time”. 28
    • The Sydney Morning Herald echoed the sentiment that the Olympics are “an economic boost that could be achieved by no other single event ” (1993).
    28 Waitt 1999: 1063
  • 42. Tourism++
    • Except perhaps the World Cup...
  • 43. Tourism++
    • Who’s hosting in 2014 again?
  • 44. Intercity struggles
    • Since hosting the Olympics affords a city prestige on the international scale it is no wonder that cities clamor to have the honour bestowed upon them.
    • Many well-known cities have tried and failed—Brisbane and New York come to mind—and relative unknowns like Sochi, Russia have risen to international consciousness (or not).
  • 45. Intercity struggles
    • The competition between Sydney and its fellow aspirants—Beijing, Berlin, Istanbul, Manchester and Milan—was marred by a “smear campaign”: a Channel Nine doco portrayed Manchester as “a grim, drizzly wasteland” while a Daily Mail headline read “Aussies Build Olympic City on Poison Waste Dump”. 29
    29 Waitt 1999: 1062
  • 46. Intercity struggles
    • Despite the de Coubertine adage, the intense competition between potential host cities prioritises “ winning over participating , achievement over enjoyment and performance over bodily experience”. 30
    30 Waitt 1999: 1062
  • 47. Odd one out
    • Let friendship shine
    • Hola everyone!
    • Uniting our worlds
    • Live your passion
    • Which of the following Olympic bid slogans is least like the others?
    • Which of the following Olympic bid slogans least encompasses the Olympic spirit of friendship, solidarity, fair play?
  • 48. Match the slogan to the city
    • Let friendship shine
    • Hola everyone!
    • Uniting our worlds
    • Live your passion
  • 49. Winners and losers
    • Widely hailed as the “best” bid, Chicago didn’t make it out of the first round.
    • Tokyo, with little public backing to its bid, was eliminated next, probably hindered by the 2008 Olympics having been held in Beijing.
    • The final vote came down to Madrid and Rio de Janeiro; the Brazilians prevailed.
  • 50. The Dream Team
    • The Chicago bid boasted a Dream Team of supporters who appeared in Copenhagen on its behalf:
      • First lady Michelle Obama
      • U.S. President Barack Obama
      • Media personality Oprah Winfrey
      • Chicago Mayor Richard Daley
      • Three-time gold medallist David Robinson of USA Basketball’s “Dream Team”
  • 51. The Dream Team
    • The IOC welcomed the spectacle of the Obama visit.
    • IOC members posed with Michelle Obama and took photos of President Obama with their mobile phones.
    • But he spent only a few hours in Copenhagen and left before the result was announced, which prompted former IOC member Kai Holm to comment that the “business-like” brevity of his appearance may have been seen “as a lack of respect.”
  • 52. Still they got rid of Madrid…
    • Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch—who ran the IOC for 21 years before Rogge assumed leadership in 2001—appeared on behalf of Madrid to remind the IOC voters that, at age 89, “I am very near the end of my time.”
    • Madrid reached the final round of voting.
  • 53. Chicag-no
    • A planned victory rally turned into a funereal scene in downtown Chicago.
    • Selecting Rio as the first South American host of the Olympics is in and of itself an explicit encouragement of the spectacle that is sure to come from the Carnivale country.
  • 54. Rio’s turn
    • To win the right to host the 2007 Pan-American Games, Rio campaigners declared that it was Rio’s turn.
    • Sound familiar?
    • “ It is a time to address this imbalance,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva exhorted the International Olympic Committee members before voting began on 2 October.
  • 55. Yes We Créu!
    • The hashtag #yeswecréu trended on Twitter, as the triumphant Brazilians played on President Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign slogan to celebrate Rio’s victory over Chicago—and, by extension, him—in the Olympic hosting race.
  • 56. Playing the Games
    • Who really plays the Olympic Games: the Olympic athletes or the politicians?