Now, we all know that the Olympics cause a rash of civic engagement. All those people signed up to be London Ambassadors undergoing 3 days of training provided by McDonalds. But we are in the information age, and I wonder whether the games will be an opportunity for civic engagement of the digital kind? Definitely, there are plenty of web-based educational resources surrounding London 2012. But if you play a game that maps your choices onto the so-called Olympic values, does that encourage civic engagement or is it just a means to subject young people to the shaky ideology of the Olympics? I mean, really – are the Olympics about friendship? Or are they about demonstrating that your national political system is better than everybody else’s because it can produce a gold medal (with the help of the judicious allocation of resources if you are a nation lucky enough to have them).
The Olympics even lends its own precious brand to some educational initiatives. They call this getting the Inspire mark. In Olympics terms, a mark is not a mark, it is a major source of income. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 makes it illegal for people not paying them loads of money to use everyday common expressions that relate to games, or 2012, or summer, or London, in relation to their business or service. However, if you please them, you can get the right to use their logo on your educational initiative, like the Wellcome Trust’s In the Zone website.
Will these initiatives cure the problem of civic disengagement amongst the youth of the world? Christine Bachen and her colleagues observed that
Youth are also consistently less likely than their elders to engage in collective action targeting the public policy process, such as by working on a campaign, contacting a public official, joining an organization that takes public stands on issues, or joining a political club or organization
Young people need to be inspired to be political. They need to question the values of the Olympics, not listen passively to successive endorsements. Still, there are some educational resources that might make us think differently. What about this one from the Higher Education Academy’s Olympics special interest group? It reflects on David’s Schlesinger’s speech to the IOC Press Commission detailing his views on being pressured to remove a blog posting containing a photograph he took of the swimming cube at the Beijing Olympics because he did not have the ‘rights’. Like him, it asks us to think about who is a journalist these days, when the first reports of the Olympics are likely to be on Twitter.
Maybe having power of the media in their hands is the way to re-engage the young – and the old. Campaigns against Dow Chemicals or subvertising strategies against Olympic sponsors – that’s all civic engagement isn’t it?
Anita Harris observed that:
online DIY cultures and social networking signify a desire to be a cultural producer; that is, to actively engage in the construction of one’s cultural world, rather than simply consume.
and, according to the research that Harris cites, young women turn out to be the largest group of creators and readers of blogs. She says these spaces could be forms of ‘counter publics’ or ‘parallel discourse arenas’ offering opportunities for the creation of new public selves, which is “the first step in seeing oneself as a citizen”.
While Harris’ examples suggest a not-very-overtly political form of civic engagement:
The very project of making a self that is publicly visible is contained within the new discourses of femininity for young women that link success to image, style, and visible work on oneself rather than a more robust concept of citizenship
Nevertheless, girl blogs are a way of talking back to youth oriented consumer culture, using their digital literacy to:
play with, negotiate and sometimes resist the encroachment of the consumer imperative on their everyday lives
So much of London 2012 is about consumption – including the Olympic marks accrediting official educational resources. Opportunities to remix this onslaught on your own terms are therefore valuable and creative. Stacks in delicious – the social bookmarking service – give a personal view of the coming Olympics. Here’s an Olympics stack that repackages the games from a (girl-oriented?) media-celebrity angle. Stacks create a record of personal journeys across the web by collecting links in one place. If we reflect critically on where we have been, we will also be doing civic engagement. Wouldn’t it be better to create a wikirriculum of London Olympic studies using creative resources like these, rather than the ‘official’ Olympic-branded educational products?