When real sidewalks and streets are being closed so that real people cant speak for fear of interrupting the good times at Tropicana Field, you have to wonder a little. The Framers believed in a free marketplace of ideas, not in the free market of brand names.
Which brings us rather nicely to the London Olympics, where – aside from the usual clamping down on protest or even potential protest – were seeing unprecedented restrictions on speech having anything to do with, erm, the Olympics.
There are creepy new restrictions on journalists, with even nonsportswriters being told they should sign up with authorities.
Then theres the London Olympic Games and Paralympics Games Act of 2006. The law was originally aimed at preventing over-commercialization of the games, but it seems to have unloosed something of a Pandoras box of speech-suppression.
Provisions triggering worries for protesters include sections regulating use of the Olympic symbol in respect of advertising of any kind including in particular (a) advertising of a non-commercial nature, and (b) announcements or notices of any kind.
The law seems to authorize a constable or enforcement officer to enter land or premises where they believe such material is being produced. It also permits that such materials may be destroyed, and for the use of reasonable force to do so.
These laws were designed to address what is known as ambush marketing, wherein a third party tries to associate itself with a sporting event, denying official sponsors some of the value of their own official designation. Its hardly a new problem and its a significant issue in the realm of intellectual property law, but London seems to have taken its response to Orwellian heights. But its not just marketing that is targeted. Advertising here is defined to include any kind of message placed in any location that is wholly or partly for the purpose of promotion, advertisement, announcement, or direction.
Creepily enough, the law is being enforced by (wait for it) the Olympic Deliverance Authority, which has brand enforcers roaming the green hills of Great Britain to halt abuse of the five rings by the unauthorized. Violators can be fined in amounts up to $30,000.
So far a London café has been forced to remove five offending bagels from its windows, as has a butcher who had the temerity to do the same with sausage links. Spectators have been warned that to risk wearing a garment adorned with the Pepsi logo may result in being banished from game venues and that nobody but McDonalds can sell French fries at any Olympic concession stand. An old lady got tagged for sewing the five rings onto a mini doll sweater. Dont photograph your Pepsi bottle.
But its not just the Olympic rings that are being protected; its also Olympic words. As Nick Cohen recently observed, the government has told the courts they may wish to take particular account of anyone using two or more words from what it calls List A. Those words: Games, Two Thousand and Twelve, 2012 and twenty twelve. And woe betide anyone who takes a word from List A and marries it with one or more words from List B: Gold, Silver, Bronze, London, medals, sponsors, summer.
Oh, and theres more. Spectators have been warned they may not broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the Internet, making uploading your video to Facebook a suspect activity. Be careful with links to the official Olympic website too.
Know that wherever you go and whatever you do, you will enjoy at the Olympics the biggest mobilization of military and security forces seen in the UK since the Second World War. According to a report by Stephen Graham in the Guardian, More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.
There will be an aircraft carrier docked on the Thames, surface-to-air missile systems and a thousand armed U.S. diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, 5,000-volt electric fence. Throw in the new scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, and disease-tracking systems that will long outlast the games, and you have a sense of whats to come in terms of big public events.
Its probably just a coincidence that London used the word clean city and Tampa used the words clean zone to describe what they were after. Tampa has since changed the name to event zone, presumably celebrating the fact that the zone is not proximate to any actual event. In London, those seeking to exploit the games for any message or purpose are called parasites.
But these events must be more than just clean staging areas for corporate fabulosity. Protesters, participants, and citizens arent parasites or background noise. Addressing threats of terror or real violence is one thing. Treating all speech and protest and media as inherently dangerous and violent is something entirely different. Brandishing the wrong sign in the wrong place isnt protest, and brandishing the wrong French fry in the right place isnt dangerous.
Corporate cleanliness is just a short hop from corporate godliness, and by then its much too late for speech.