Society of the spectacle

Letter by Steven Johnston, Stockport

'The state stages these dramas not only to impress foreign powers, but also to dazzle its own subjects into submission.' (Editorial, PN 2549) Oh come off it! We are not that easily bought off. Besides, I loved the Olympics and took out a subscription to Peace News after it finished. Will you be saying the same about the Paralympics?

Also: in your listings section at the back of the paper you carry a listing for a group in Manchester that have an email address that is victory_intifada. Isn't an intifada a violent uprising?

Editor response:

Thanks for your message, Steven. We're sorry that your brief points are bringing such a long response!

Firstly, intifada. An 'intifida' isn't the same thing as a 'violent uprising' – and indeed, the first Palestinian intifada (at least in its early phase) is widely acknowledged to have been one of the major nonviolent uprisings of the 20th century (see the entry in the online 'Global Nonviolent Action Database').

The online Oxford dictionary says that intifada means ' "an uprising" (literally "a jumping up as a reaction to something"), from intifada "be shaken, shake oneself" '.

As for the Olympics and other such events, you may well be right that ordinary people in Britain 'are not that easily bought off'. That doesn't mean that the British state doesn't stage these spectaculars (royal weddings, diamond jubilees, Olympic and Paralympic games) in order to try to shore up support for the monarchy in particular and the establishment in general.

Just before the queen's jubilee in June, support for the British monarchy stood at a historic high: 80% of British adults preferred monarchy to a republic, according to Ipsos MORI. Rival pollsters, YouGov, found, also in May, that 44% of Britons want the queen to have actual political power, rather than just being a figurehead. [See also MORI on 'Olympics boosts opinion of BBC, Royal Family and London

How does the establishment achieve these terrifying levels of irrational 'worship'? Having massive Union Jack-draped spectacles, with the military and the royal family at their heart, can't hurt!

Incidentally, a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times (12 August) found that the Olympics may have backfired on the government as far as Scottish independence goes. It seems that Scottish first minister Alex Salmond's rebranding of Scottish gold medallists such as cyclist Chris Hoy and tennis player Andy Murray as 'Scolympians' was successful in persuading 12% of Scottish voters to feel more favourably towards independence because of the Olympics. 

So, despite all the Union Jacks, instead of the Olympics creating greater support for the British 'nation' north of the border, it may have been highjacked to create more support for the Scottish nation!