The 2012 London Olympics logo, launched last week, is self-consciously ‘different’, as the Games organiser Lord Coe himself said. As such, deconstructionist critics might say it was not ‘logocentric’: transparently mediating and expressing the presence of a fixed and inherent meaning. That meaning is obscured and made elusive – deferred / ‘differed’ – by the polyvalence of the abstract elements used in the logo’s design, which becomes by that token a ‘de-sign’: something that does not act as a clear signpost to a meaning outside itself that it merely represents, but which is intended to act as a vehicle for creating the significance of the Olympics through the very play of its ‘signification’ – the possibilities for endless reconfiguration and reinterpretation of its component parts.
Indeed, we are told that the logo itself will continue to evolve and morph, expanding its range of meaning and at the same time deferring it as the Games draw nearer. In this respect, the logo perhaps symbolises the Games themselves as play and process rather than as a fixture with an authoritative, immovable meaning. In this, the logo and the Games are said to embody something of the ‘British spirit’: that of a creative, dynamic, forward-looking society committed to regeneration, progress, equality of opportunity and multi-cultural tolerance. Think I’m making that part up? Then have a look at the ‘inspirational video’, nominally ‘about’ the new ‘brand’, on the official Olympics website.
The connection between this video and the logo – the relationship between the logo and its meaning – is never made explicit. The viewer of the video and of the logo is invited to step into the picture and create the meaning of the Olympics for themself: it is in that very act of taking part and taking ownership that the ‘true’ meaning of the Olympics comes about and is enacted. And this meaning is essentially the enactment and demonstration of those British values referred to above.
Are these values necessarily inadequate or false in themselves? Different people will obviously make different assessments of that; and that’s the point the logo is making. But that’s not really the issue, either. Despite the apparent openness and multiplicity of the logo’s design and interpretation, those values (which are given as those of Britain and of the Olympic movement itself) are nonetheless posited as the true and, as it were, timeless meaning behind the transient time line ‘London 2012’. Progress, liberty, equality and multi-cultural tolerance and understanding (which one could call ‘fraternity’) is what the logo, the Olympics and Britain are all about. In other words, the logo reintroduces the underlying presence of a fixed meaning in the very process of its ‘difference’ and deferral. That meaning is not designated by it in some static sense, but is ‘inherent’ to its design as (Olympic) movement, play and process.
The London Olympics are like the dazzling, futuristic dream vision of 21st-century ‘Britain’: its apotheosis in a present that will climax and come together for everyone in two weeks of intense hyper-reality during the Games themselves, when time and normal preoccupations will appear to be suspended and stop still. But is the reality of the Olympics capable of bearing such aspirations and fulfilling such desire? Is it not more likely to fail to satisfy and to be something of an anti-climax for the majority of the British people who will in fact be passive spectators and whose lives will not be transformed? The Olympics, like those very British ideals (indeed, the vision of an ‘ideal Britain’), will come and go in a puff of smoke and of hype; and then we will be thrown back upon the reality of Britain: its social problems and human sufferings that will remain largely untouched by the Olympics – and which, indeed, no glittering vision of a brave new world is truly capable of addressing.
The logo in this sense signifies the vacuity of the vision of Britain promoted by the Britologists: it promises something of substance and meaning to people; but that meaning is deferred – ‘different’, indeed, from their experience and their reality.