United Kingdom: The Orwellian Olympic spirit
20 July 2012
The New York Times
As the world’s athletes get ready for the start of the Olympic Games on July 27, Londoners are griping about huge traffic and public transport delays, and a massive, hectoring security presence.
While the world’s athletes limber up at the Olympic Park, Londoners are practicing some of their own favorite sports: complaining, expecting the worst and cursing the authorities.
Asked “What do you feel about the Olympics?” the other day, a random sampling of people here gave answers that included bitter laughter; the words “fiasco,” “disaster” and “police state”; and detailed explanations of how they usually get to work, how that is no longer possible and how very unhappy that makes them.
“At the end of the day, it’s a pain in the backside,” Steve Rogers, a construction site manager, said as he puffed on a cigarette near Victoria station the other day. Particularly painful, he said, were the subway plans (“absolute shambles”), the road closings (“complete nightmare”) and the fact that instead of creating construction jobs for Britons, the Olympics had provided work for “a bunch of Lithuanians, Romanians and Czechs.”
Even in the best of times, whinging, as Britons call the persistent low-grade grousing that is their default response to life’s challenges, is part of the national condition – as integral to the country’s character as its Eeyoreish attitude toward the weather (“Start Planning for Floods,” The Daily Mail advised recently).
But even allowing for the traditional exaggeration, this degree of distress has a different tone to it.
“We’re looking at something above and beyond the solace and comfort that the British seek in gentle moaning,” said Dan Hancox, 31, a freelance writer. “The Olympics is actively antagonizing people.”
On Twitter, Mr. Hancox said that for Londoners, “it’s as if someone else is throwing a party in our house, with a huge entry fee, and we’re all locked in the basement.”
“The traffic infrastructure has shut down to the point where we’re being prepared for a military conflict,” he said in an interview. “They’re telling businesses to stockpile goods, advising people to stay at home, don’t go anywhere, don’t travel on the tube, stay on your sofa – it’s like it’s for your own safety. We have an army on the streets. We’re being put on a war footing, and it’s not something, after 60 years of peacetime, that the British people are comfortable with.”