one of the phenomena of 2012 was the union flag everywhere - initially for the diamond jubilee in traditional form, but then for the games in endless mutated colourways under the influence of the 2012 branding. the cyan/pink that seemed to be the brand people's first choice was rather nasty and showed up the strength of red, white and blue:
but stella mccartney's team gb outfits had more subtlety in their shades of blue and navy [better forget about the white and gold tracksuits for the opening ceremony]:
but then there were things that went way off-piste:
and by the autumn this kind of multicolour thing was everywhere:
the union flag has appeared in pop culture at intervals since the 60s, but i don't recall the colour being destabilised before, except to make a point about black british identity [red gold and green!]. now it feels as though the design has become detached from its colours - just in time, because if scotland vote for independence they may remove their st andrew's flag, and what would replace it? it would be a shame to give up such a strong and unique design. i wonder which is stronger in the end - patriotic attachment to colours, or design?
i have a union flag rubik's cube which allows me to mix up random variations. it's a souvenir from a tourist shop bought long before the olympics, but it says something to me about the evolution of national identity. photos in the new year.
the fairings fit onto the mechanical prosthetic, as front and rear parts that can be swapped to allow different appearances and functionality, eg for sports. at the moment they are just doing lower legs, but obviously the principle can be extended if the market is there. awesome.
over the last couple of weeks the signs of the olympics have been disappearing one by one, like stars in the dawn. a tube carriage cleared of pink stickers while the next carriage still has them, a few signs removed overnight but a couple still there, a stretch of road suddenly cleared of banners. paddington's pennants had vanished on thursday, and the pink line on the floor. i made sure i photographed the lamp-post banners in ealing last week after seeing that one stretch of the shopping centre had been cleared, and am suprised to find the rest still here today. no doubt they will be replaced any day now by the christmas decorations :(
the banners were the thing that branded the whole city. the same designs everywhere, five colours plus black, the only variation being the name of the district on the black banners. the idea was to stop local authorities doing their own [possibly tacky] thing as had apparently happened in other olympic cities. it was one of the most successful applications of the 2012 look, and gave a suitable and uniform background to street events, the torch relay, outside broadcasts etc. the banners took the olympics out of the park and the city centre to every part of london, even to other places like weymouth where events were held.
after all the years of gradual build-up it seems a shame to take the evidence away so quickly, just as we got used to it. i had hoped that much of the city branding would remain until the end of the year, although obviously signage has to go once the olympic venues have closed. there is pressure for the additional disabled access arrangements on the tube to be made permanent, and if so will the signage remain olympic pink? i wonder what happens to the banners after removal - i would quite like to have one. you might say i have enough olympic stuff already, but london 2012 only happens once.
a few weeks ago between the games, a man with a prosthetic lower leg walked past me on paddington station. what caught my attention was that it barely caught my attention. 20 or 30 years ago the prosthetic would have been 'flesh' coloured yet disturbingly unlifelike, and hidden as much as possible under long trousers. now a man in shorts walks on a metal rod with a shoe attached, and no-one notices.
i note that this happened before the paralympics - testament perhaps to media coverage of oscar pistorius and recently disabled ex-servicemen. the games have only furthered the process of normalisation. a runner on blades no longer looks freakish, but instead we consider their relative length. in that sense oscar's outburst did far more good than harm. ironically, the more frankly technological the prosthetic or equipment, the easier it is accept nowadays. that's a cultural shift. i remember in the 80s, after the falklands war, watching tv programmes about the search for more lifelike artificial limbs, so that people wouldn't notice. and now we're happy to be cyborgs.
our sense of the relationship between technology and the body has changed, along with our love for personal technology. where once the machine limb was a thing of horror, now it seems cool. i was going to muse about how apple would design prosthetics, but someone already got there. in the london evening standard last week rory mackenzie, who delivered the opening speech at the paralympics closing ceremony, said:
at a basic level people have just got used to seeing prostheses. i can detect the change already. i get a smile when they see my leg. they look at it, on a train or wherever, and then look up at me and smile. that's really nice. and it didn't happen before. before you'd get either avoidance or a kind of inquisitiveness, which wasn't exactly negative but wasn't particularly positive or warm. and it was never, "wow, that's cool".
i get more stares when i'm in long trousers. people think, there's a young guy with a stick and something's not right about him, but what is it? if you're in shorts it's obvious.
and hey, the leg is quite cool. i think it's quite funky. i've put an apple sticker on it, and people see that and say, "are apple doing legs now?"
we can, of course, imagine an apple leg. it is glossy white, or glossy black, or satin aluminium, with mirror-polish trim. it's kind of leg-shaped so your clothes hang right, but stylized in a sexy-android way. some superficial part is ridiculously breakable, without really affecting functionality. there's a new model every year.
on the tube at the moment, whether coincidentally or not, there is a poster campaign for the royal british legion, featuring a young ex-soldier in shorts with one prosthetic lower limb. we're meant to feel sorry for him, but after the paralympics he doesn't look so very incapable. instead we consider the aesthetic of his prosthetic. it's clunky, it's not one of the hyper-expensive titanium/carbon fibre athletic ones - still, could he paint it glossy black?
the aesthetics of medical aids still seem to be designed for the mindset of 50 years ago, for a non-technological generation - trying to appear 'normal', trying to conceal our frailties, finding technology sinister or alien. flesh colours, bandage materials, attempting to soften and blend in - it's an aesthetic we associate with dis-ability, with illness. something we want to hide, unless and until we can leave it behind. but we associate personal technology with capability and cool - it's something we display for social status. consider the hearing aid - who wants to wear that flesh-coloured lump? but who is not happy to wear headphones?
sometimes recently i've been wearing a tubigrip bandage around my knee - but not with shorts, because it makes me look ill. it emphasises what i can't do. but an athletic knee support in black neoprene would suggest capability. both do pretty much the same job. one says "i can't", the other says "i can".
maybe this is the tipping point at which prosthetics for ordinary people, as well as paralympic athletes, stop trying to look medical and start to revel in being technology.
this is one of the rare places where we get a sense of the
animated ident that we were originally told the 2012 logo would become. it
was curiously downplayed during the games, except as a small mark on the
corners of things - i wonder if there was a loss of faith. there was
also a tendency to lose the 'drop shadow' that had suggested animation,
to give it a cleaner look.
at the 2 minute mark we get a glimpse of a better 2012 logo:
cut the whole thing into polygons, rearrange slightly...
i won't spend more time on it tonight, but you get the idea... black background would have been good too.
the defining feature of these olympics/paralympics has been the crowd noise reserved for british competitors - generally somewhere between a large aircraft and beatlemania, an unending circular-breathing roar. athletes say that their ears ring afterwards. babies in the velodrome require industrial ear protectors [below, after sarah storey's second gold]:
coaches say they couldn't have prepared their athletes for it. cyclists and track athletes are thriving on it, the team GB swimmers seemed to be spooked [but ellie simmonds is doing fine]. how the horses in the equestrian events managed i'm not sure. the rowing wall of sound - 30000 people going nuts - was not what one expects for a quiet-day-on-the-river pastime. i keep reaching for my headphones, turning the volume up and playing the highlight clips over and over just to listen to the crowd. i wish there was a way to turn the commentators off.
the opening ceremony, on the other hand, was a triumph.
given how good it was it seems churlish to pick at details. maybe there was too much happening at once, parts were too long, watching at home one wondered how things that were legible on tv worked in the stadium and vice versa. but the chimneys! the rings! the beds! dizzee rascal! tim berners-lee! the cauldron! the queen!!!!
we know she has a sense of humour, but it's rarely seen in public because she would rather be boring than risk trivialising the monarchy [there have been plenty of other royals to show why]. i guess after 60 years she decided she could have a little fun with the part.
there has been some comment about the NHS section of the show, was it too left-wing, self-deluding about the virtues of the NHS etc. well, in britain we're all intimately acquainted with the NHS's virtues and failings, but nobody can deny that it's the great sacred cow of british politics, as salient a fact of national life and identity as pop music and brunel.
but that may not be how it ended up in the ceremony, because ideas have a life of their own. consider:
"we need a children's segment - the great thread of british children's literature - bedtime stories - read by parents to children? boring. how will it look? but suppose the children are in hospital beds and the carers are doctors and nurses in their uniforms?" [maybe somebody in the room has had a sick child/has charity connections.] "remember peter pan - the royalties are gifted in perpetuity to great ormond street children's hospital. now we've got the visual hook, a charity hook, a place to go for volunteers - but it can't just be about one [albeit famous] children's hospital. NHS! spelled out with illuminated beds that we can treat like pixels."
that's how a chain of free-associating ideas works.
people here wonder how much the dizzying net of british cultural references was legible to foreign audiences. in part i think that was deliberate. it's saying, we're not the cliches you usually think of, though some of those are in there too. it was also a business pitch, like one of those 'world's favourite airline' ads - we're inventive and creative! do business here!
but in taking a less obvious path through the national story, boyle also wrong-footed all the cynics who would have sneered at patriotic cliches and 'safe' entertainment. instead we were left breathless, wondering at every turn "whatever next??" i like how the 'green and pleasant land' beginning suckers us into thinking we know where this is going, in terms of britishness and Great National Ceremonies. and then, pandemonium.
so that's one monkey off our collective backs. whatever else is won and lost, the big show did us proud. arise sir danny!
over the last months or so london has been flooded by olympics-related branding. the unlikeable logo is everywhere. it's disappointing that no tweaks were made to it in the five years since it was unveiled. you would think that they would have got rid of the blow job. much was made of how it would work when animated on screen, but so far it has mostly only appeared as a static single-colour logo on objects or in print. it's not cool enough to sell merchandise in its own right, or to go down [sorry] as one of the classic british logos. the souvenir concorde hangs its head in shame.
my favourite alternative proposal is this one by daniel eatock. it ticks all the london/british/olympic boxes in one elegant design.
in the wake of wiggins' victory in the tour de france the mod association is perfect [cav's rainbow jersey is there too]. i'm tempted to have a t-shirt made.
pink has been settled on as the standard colour, most notably on signage in the tube. it's different enough from the usual signage colours to stand out, but the combination of new johnston font, underground roundel, british rail logo, olympic logo and pink makes for some startling brand mashups:
the british rail logo and the underground font come up good and make the olympic logo look meretricious [definition: 1. a. Attracting attention in a vulgar manner. b. Plausible but false or insincere; specious. 2. Of or relating to prostitutes or prostitution [see: blow job].]
graphically speaking the best olympics remain mexico 68 and munich 72; the former a mix of history and fashion that still looks stunning, the latter a triumph of systematic modernism. neither had to serve the branding needs of corporate sponsors. given the talent and history of london i had hoped for something as good as those two, that could be embraced afterwards as part of the city's identity. if this had been it, we'd all have been wearing the t-shirt by now.
seeing birhanwoldu in the bbc's 'faces of the week' brought home to me what a week of extremes it has been in london. extreme good summed up by woldu, the Ethiopian girl close to death in the 1985 Live Aid video, radiantly alive on stage with madonna at Live 8. then london getting the 2012 olympics and the euphoria that followed. and then extreme evil the morning after. all that in less than seven days. too much, really, for one week to bear.