Art by Ronald Wigman.
Each week, it seems, brings word of a new London Olympics outrage. The latest? People attending the Games could be prosecuted for posting Facebook photos of...the Games. Yeah, seriously. This absurd rule is but one of the many that Parliament has put in place to give Olympics sponsors a new level of copyright protection and crush all forms of self-expression not sanctioned by assholes in board rooms. Next thing you know, Goldman Sachs executives will be running 4x100 heats.
It's understandable that social media users are upset about just how little they'll be able to say about the Olympics. But as The Guardian reveals, it's actually much worse. Unless you're an official sponsor, writing, speaking, and possibly even thinking about anything that happens at the Olympics could be illegal. In all seriousness, here are some of the measures that are being taken:
• Branding police are going around Olympic stadia taping over or scratching out non-sponsor brands and logos on things like toilets and sinks. Enjoy that job.
• Athletes are FORBIDDEN from discussing any non-sponsor products. Want a Gatorade (made by Pepsi) after your 10k training run? Keep it to yourself. London 2012 is exclusive to Powerade (and Coca-Cola).
• Local businesses have already been threatened with legal action for using any combination of two or more of the following numbers and words: Olympic, London, 2012, summer, or games. Let's try them all in a sentence: "The people behind the London 2012 Olympic summer games are cretins."
• Poses and gestures that are even reminiscent of the Games are verboten. At Barcelona ‘92, British sprinter Sally Gunnell won gold in the 400m hurdles and famously draped herself in the Union Jack as she celebrated. When she attempted to strike a similar pose during a recent photo shoot for non-sponsor easyJet, she got smacked down because British Air is an official Olympic sponsor (and apparently now a co-owner of the British flag).
• Attendees aren't allowed to post videos and photos from the events to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or other social media. They can only share images from competitions for private use, seemingly to prevent any unauthorized exploitation of the world's greatest "amateur" sporting event. And "private" is to be taken in the most limited sense possible—as in just you and your closest friends, with the lights out and the blinds drawn. A strict interpretation of the rules would consider it a violation to upload, say, pictures of yourself in the stands during a basketball game to your blog. It's unclear how any of this will be enforced, but transgressors better keep a bag packed.
All sounding a bit Stalinist? It should. Taping over logos on toilets and elsewhere has happened in previous Olympics. So has the muzzling of athletes, mainly out of fear of guerrilla marketing campaigns. (Nike is a habitual offender, and Puma once got Linford Christie to wear logo-stamped contact lenses during a Reebok-sponsored Olympics.) What's new this time around is the prevalence of social media, and it seems to have thrown the London organizers into an Orwellian panic with potentially ugly ramifications for the ordinary fan.
Even the 2008 Olympics in Beijing weren't so totalitarian. That year, the Bible Society, publishers of "the world's best seller," managed to hand out bibles emblazoned with that most protected of corporate species—the Olympic rings. In 2012, however, the Almighty himself bows down to corporate intellectual property. According to spokeswoman Rachel Rounds, the Bible Society isn't even bothering with London. Too much trouble:
"We have printed Bibles…without the logo as we knew we would not get permission to use it mainly because we are not an official sponsor. Therefore we did not even ask for permission in the first place."
A similar don't-even-bother attitude is perhaps advisable for anyone spending time in London this summer. Travel light, with only unmarked attire, leave the camera at home, and let your friends and family know they probably won't be hearing much from you for a few weeks. Once you're here, look straight ahead, stay within designated areas, and ignore any suspicious activity on the periphery—it's probably just the thought police busting someone. Basically do whatever you would do if you were preparing for a brief stint in a high security prison. Better yet, maybe don't even come at all.
Stephen McGregor is our 2012 Olympics correspondent. He lives in Camberwell, South London, where he's been working on something big for a long time.