The Beeb’s rotten body politics


The BBC’s advert for this year’s Olympics gives the broadcaster’s take on how the Olympics is supposed to make most of us feel, about ourselves generally, and about our bodies in particular. The majority of shots are of athletes taking part in Olympic competition. The first is a body-builder so top-heavy that if he tried to walk he would fall flat on his face. There are sprinters their upper legs so mis-shaped that you think they must have been stung by a horsefly, hurdlers with 12-inch stomachs, and on and on. I know it is a cartoon, and the genre are supposed to be “cartoonish”, but the nature of the exaggerations is all of one type, and the effect is not funny but insulting.

While the athletes are made to appear like Gods, ordinary people feature only at the edges of the screens. Adult are grotesquely thin or wildly fat. We wear jeans, our lives are shown as mundane and uninteresting. The largest image of any “civilians” are these two children, looking through a train window which morphs into the shape of a television set. They look away from the viewer, hiding their own faces, because in the Olympics’ image of the world (shared by this BBC cartoonist) all of us can do nothing better than look on at the wonders in the distance, feel the power of those who do sport for a living, and revel in our own insignificance compared to them.

It’s not for nothing than Leni Riefenstahl’s art climaxed in the image of an athlete. Neither is our public broadcaster capable of imagining the body save through visual cliches which still carry the mark of their genesis under fascism.

Images such as these make me pine for the happier, self-aware but unserious world of the Fattylympians.


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