Reasons to be cheerful.

I didn’t mean to get drawn into the Olympic Games, but I did – like, I suspect, several million others who swore apathy beforehand but took a tiny peek early on and ended up hooked for a fortnight.

It was that opening ceremony that did it. I really only watched it because of all the hype, but then found that it drew me in; this was something far bigger than I’d ever anticipated and I wanted to be part of it. The sights, the sounds – the messages – all seemed to push some emotional button; it was compelling. I wasn’t a total couch potato, but ended up watching many more hours of Olympics than I’d bargained for – and enjoying every moment.

The reasons why the 2012 Olympics captivated the nation will be debated ad nauseam by the media, but I wanted to add my own observations as to some of the lesser-spoken contributions to lifting the nation’s mood for a couple of weeks.

  • That it was the BBC that covered the Olympics. Our much-maligned national broadcaster to whom we all – some grudgingly – pay our licence fees came up trumps, in my opinion. Not just the quality of presentation and personalities of the commentators, but there was something else, something that we tend to take for granted, simply because it is the BBC. Think: all those thousands of hours of broadcasting and not a single commercial. Any other broadcaster would have taken every opportunity to cram in as much advertising as possible, especially during the headline events. It would have felt intrusive, almost obscene.  I don’t begrudge a penny of my licence fee and value the fact we have a national broadcaster like the BBC; the Olympics helped me reaffirm why.
  • On a similar theme, the Games were noticeably devoid of any commercial branding or advertising, other than the Olympic logo and 2012 corporate design. It looked smart and professional, but above all not even those corporate giants who poured billions into Olympic sponsorship were allowed to sully venues or our TV screens with their own logos and corporate branding. What went on behind the scenes is a different matter, but to the TV viewer the absence of flashing advertising hoardings around stadia made a refreshing change; it was so nice not to be constantly ‘sold to’ for once.
  • The fact that the Olympics took up so much of the media’s attention meant there was virtually no time left for the usual doom and gloom merchants we see and hear so often. Apart from occasional shots of Cameron enjoying freebie perks with members of the Royal family, for two weeks our screens were free of the politicians, economists and analysts who normally take such delight in peddling negativity and misery several times a day. It doesn’t mean in the least that the issues and social injustices have gone away, but it does make you wonder about the influence of the media: if they tell us we should me miserable and negative, we are; when they don’t, we’re not (or not as much).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens during the Paralympics. Channel 4 has broadcasting rights in the UK, which will mean coverage peppered with commercial breaks and I doubt their presenters will have the established pedigree of the Beeb’s – but cometh the hour, cometh the man or woman. Personally I’d like to see greater integration of the Paralympics with the Olympics – why not a single, month-long event, for example – but that’s a debate for another day. I hope the country’s feel-good factor will continue, but soon the politicians, economists and analysts will be back from their summer holiday and I fear that soon, normal service will be resumed.

Of course, if you stuck to your guns and studiously avoided the Olympics, preferring to watch endless hours of films or advert-peppered repeats on the commercial channels, or not watching TV altogether, none of this will mean much. I was very nearly one of those sceptics, but oh, so glad I changed my mind.


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