The Olympics will militarize London, with surface-to-air missiles at the ready, a Royal Navy battleship moored offshore and soldiers on patrol. After initially estimating 10,000 security guards would suffice, the London organizing committee determined more than double that number would be required. The UK Ministry of Defence is filling the gap with about 13,500 military personnel, 4,000 more than are currently based in Afghanistan. Not placated, the US declared it would send its own security to London, including 500 FBI agents.
The Olympics afford an opportunity to test-drive high-tech equipment in an urban setting. Lightweight aerial drones will hover above while “combined firearms response teams” — elite police units replete with snipers — roam below. Thus London 2012 will tender a legacy not touted in bid materials: a repression-ready security state. The military-grade technologies secured during the Olympics-induced state of exception become normalized for workaday policing in the wake of the Games. And this repressive urbanism is expensive: ￡1 billion and counting.
In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein explains how capitalists unabashedly capitalize on catastrophe. Disasters create collective states of shock that soften us up to the point where we hand over what we would otherwise ardently defend. In the wake of disaster, while the general population reels in chaos, corporations and their government collaborators ransack the public sphere and slosh thick dollops of neoliberal policy on to the public’s plate.
The 2012 London Olympics are shaping up like a gold-medal playbook for “celebration capitalism” — disaster capitalism’s affable cousin. Both occur in states of exception that allow plucky politicos and their corporate pals to push policies they would not dream of during normal times. However, while disaster capitalism eviscerates the state, celebration capitalism manipulates state actors as partners, pushing economics rooted in so-called public-private partnerships. All too often these public-private partnerships are lopsided: The public pays and the private profits. In a bait and switch that is swaddled in bonhomie, the public takes the risks and private groups scoop up the rewards.
The Olympics promise to conjure athletic dexterity and scintillating competition. However, like it or not, other games are in the works — Olympics bigwigs are uncorking celebration capitalism.
Jules Boykoff is an associate professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon.
Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2012