Marc Perelman pulls no punches in this succinct and searing broadside, assailing the ‘recent form of barbarism’ that is the global sporting event. Forget the Olympics and consider, under Perelman’s guidance, the ledger of inequities maintained by such supposedly harmless games.
They have provided a smokescreen for the forcible removal of ‘undesirables’; aided governments in the pursuit of racist agendas; affirmed the hypocrisy of drug-testing in an industry where doping is more an imperative than an aberration; and developed the pornographic hybrid that Perelman dubs ‘sporn’, a further twist in our corrupt obsession with the body.
Drawing examples from the modern history of the international sporting event, Perelman argues that today’s colosseums, upheld as examples of ‘health’, have become the steamroller for a decadent age fixated on competition, fame and elitism.
Paperback, 144 pages
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“The end of the history of culture manifests itself in two opposing forms: the project of culture’s self-transcendence within total history, and its preservation as a dead object for spectacular contemplation. The first tendency has linked its fate to social critique, the second to the defense of class power.” - Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
There was much to analyse in the Olympics opening ceremony, and many questions raised (the most obvious being ‘has someone spiked my drink?’). But the element that has drawn most debate has been the celebration of the NHS – a bizarre sequence of dancing nurses, children’s nightmares and a looming Lord Voldemort seen off by a squadron of Mary Poppinses.
It was instantly hailed by many on the left as a grand subversive gesture, one in the eye for Cameron and Boris and the rest, and a call to arms to defend the NHS.
At Lenin’s Tomb, Richard Seymour poured scorn on the spectacle as a rallying cry against the cuts:
Amid the general Sunday morning hangover, I hope those on the soft left who threw aside their probity for a saturnalian flag-fest are now in the mood to confess and repent. Lawks, Mary Poppins saving the NHS from Voldemort to the tune of Branson's money-spinner Tubular Bells! Let the Tories dare privatise the NHS now! (They're already doing it. They'll still be doing it on Monday. The fine nurses and doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital danced in vain if this was supposed obstruct this determined class assault.).
But how genuinely subversive was the ceremony anyway? It may have had the Daily Mail and right-wing MPs and pundits frothing, but its content was obviously LOCOG-approved, and while Tory MP Aidan Burley called it “leftist crap”, it also had Boris Johnson crying “hot tears of patriotic pride”. Even the Nazi-impersonating MP Burley had to qualify his comments with “we all love the NHS”.
Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague — Marc Perelman
Perelman’s book takes a subversive look at sport and global sporting events such as the Olympics to reveal their darker side. He argues that sport has become an instrument of political control and a vehicle for capitalist monoculture. This timely polemic offers refreshing reading to those looking for an antidote to this summer’s Olympian frenzy.
Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism — Stephen Graham
This authoritative study examines the rapid and dangerous spread and normalization of surveillance and state policing in western cities and warzones alike under the guise of national security. As such it provides an unsettling and provocative insight into the global backdrop of the rising costs and militarization of London’s Olympic Games security operation.
A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain— Owen Hatherley
Hatherley’s critical tour of Britain’s urban centres incorporates the latest and most high profile attempt at regeneration offering a carefully considered indictment of the architectural and social failures of Stratford’s Olympic sites.
All but the most dedicated hermit will have noticed the Olympic juggernaut that has recently rolled in to take over the town. If this mass spectacle leaves you somewhere between decidedly underwhelmed and foaming at the mouth, as Steven Poole writing in the Guardian points out, "this bolus of weaponised French spleen will be the perfect literary antidote":
The author gloomily observes the strange contours of the familiar (why is sport also news?), and is very funny in the fury of his denunciations: sport, he says, is violent, a kind of damaging slavery imposed on young children who become, as athletes, "outlandish monsters of mingled fat and muscle", and it renders its "fans" brutish and depoliticised. It is a "planetary religion", the sole project of a "society without projects", and – yes – "the opium of the people" ... This is a polemic that, like a charismatic pole-vaulter, always goes entertainingly over the top.
Visit the Guardian to read the review in full.