The Olympics as Media Space: The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games from the Interdisciplinary Perspective of Media and Design Studies

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Introduction

The Olympic Games are among the largest-in-scale global media events, and have become a great social laboratory for the employment of cutting-edge communication technologies and design strategies by leading industries of the host cities as well as the main transnational global corporate bodies. Organizing an Olympic Games involves multifaceted design and media endeavors of extravagant magnitude and expenditure, aiming to re-establish the power of the Olympic institution and its inherent principles (such as humanism and internationalism) and to express and reconfigure the culture of the host city/nation in physical and conceptual terms.

The Beijing Olympics are seen as an opportunity to upgrade China's global standing, and has led the city to expedite urban transformation by undertaking high-risk market-driven urban strategies, which produce a rupture with the physical and psychogeographical domain of everyday life. These spatial operations are paralleled by the frequent use of ancient Chinese iconography in the graphic design applications (emblem, torch, posters), rearticulated through the principles of contemporary design. These references to history become an ideal vehicle for expressing both contemporary Chinese nationalism and the state-corporate culture. This referential framework also fully responds to the demands of the global audience as it strives to consume the 'other' through registers of difference that often fall to stereotypical iconographies. Concurrently, the Olympic Games have become a distinctive form of the mediated public sphere for the global and national audiences. Global and local media have played a major role in articulating the collective experiences and disseminating the ideas of 'new Beijing and China' with the help of advanced communication technologies, such as mobile networks, the Internet, and the blogosphere.

In our view, a combined media and design perspective is particularly relevant for investigating the overall material and immaterial environment surrounding the contemporary Olympics, an environment in which the integrated strategies of media technology and design practice are extensively utilized through global mega events and have tremendous impact on the formation of the social identities of national and global audiences. Our research is primarily concerned with a critical analysis of the key public spaces of the Beijing Olympics from the media/design perspective, focusing particularly on the complex interplay between physical and mediated spaces. For this purpose we are investigating the National stadium with particular reference to the intertwining notions of a mediated physical space/aestheticized media space. In this paper, we seek in particular to focus our attention on the theoretical and methodological aspects of our research, in order to approach Beijing's Olympic Stadium as a media space, that is to say as both a physical and a mediated space articulated through multiple and complex enterprises that unfold in a variety of spaces beyond its specific location in Beijing.

Olympic Media Space through a Media Studies Perspective

Media studies and the Olympics In the fields of media and communication studies, much Olympic research has been carried out so far, including political economics of the Olympic media industry; content analysis of Olympic symbols and images; audience and reception research on the effects of the Olympics on the formation of national identity; cultural analysis of the ideological and hegemonic aspects of the sporting events and so on. Since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the twofold--yet mutually interwoven--developments of the Olympics are noteworthy. At the geopolitical level, the Olympics have entered into a new stage of global society in a post-cold war era, having transformed the roles and maps of modern nation-state systems. At the level of technological development, the media-scape of the Olympics has gradually shifted from the age of network television via the period of 24-hour cable television to the era of the Internet-mediated mobile communication. …