The Disneyfication of the
Theme Parks and Freak-Shows of the Body
The Olympic Games sells itself as the most prominent recurrent global event in the contemporary world. Combining a focus on elite performance and athletic excellence with a principle of universal participation, it claims to represent peaks of human endeavour while fostering international friendship, peace and harmony, and to cultivate new generations of internationally tolerant young people. It is in the context of such a set of values that, in this chapter, I want to explore more sceptically the nature of the event itself, focusing upon the Sydney Summer Olympic Games, and my experience of those Games in Sydney itself – as flâneur, fan, investigative researcher, media observer and critical social scientist. In doing so I will consider the parallel experiences of the leisure consumer in contemporary consumer culture, and assess the extent to which it makes sense to talk of the Disneyfication of the Olympic Games.
In the late 1970s, nobody wanted the Olympic Games. Massacres of militants in Mexico City (1968), terrorism on television in Munich (1972), boycotts and near bankruptcy in Montreal (1976) and the prospect of a communist extravaganza in Moscow (1980) meant that, as a troubled International Olympic Committee coped with this multiple-M factor, few cities and national Olympic committees were lining up with offers to host the 1984 Summer Olympics. Tehran, Iran, was an unconvincing looking runner but when it withdrew its candidature, only Los Angeles was left. The Los Angeles (LA) bidding team could write its own terms, and as some commentators (see Tomlinson and Whannel, 1984) were quick to observe, recast the Olympic mould on the basis of sponsorship deals, marketing, mobilization of volunteers, and limited formal political responsibility for the successful staging of the event. The LA 1984 Olympics was a symbolic moment in the history of the modern Olympic Games,