Limerick blogger Bock the Robber complains today of a building in Limerick, originally planned as a shopping centre, still being designated the “Opera Centre” in plans, being called thus even though it has nothing whatsoever to with opera, and was originally proposed as no more than the creation of shops. The “Opera Centre” suggests something very different from such-and-such a street shopping centre, it suggested that was to be a public place, a place of civic significance when it was to be no more than retail units, indistinguishable from malls elsewhere in the Western world.
The writer Naomi Klein talks in her book “No Logo” about the loss of “public space”. Town squares, plazas, street corners, the sort of places that might have been a forum for public expression, or even protest becoming steadily more controlled by political or corporate interests, sometimes to the point where the space is actually fenced to exclude those not welcome at particular events.
The process has been carried a step further by the creation of privately owned public space. The new shopping centres with their uniform selection of high street names have their own malls and their own plazas. Young people in south Dublin are as likely to go to the private space of Dundrum as the public space of Grafton Street, perhaps the spending choices made are not significantly different, though the city centre might offer a greater prospect of buying Irish goods, but the possible interactions are significantly altered. The political groups, the campaigning groups, that one might encounter on a Saturday afternoon in the city are not likely to be welcome guests in the corporately controlled malls. Dundrum might be called a “Town Centre,” but it is nothing of the sort.
The privatization of public space is not the only process that seems to continue unabated, there is now a privatization of words. Next year’s Olympic games in Brazil are branded “Rio 2016”? Who gave anyone the right to claim two common words as their own, to register “Rio 2016” as a trademark? There must be numerous events, sporting, cultural, religious, political, where the venue is Rio 2016, are the organizers to be challenged if they use the term “Rio 2016” in their publicity for their events? Such branding is not about sport; it is about profit.
It might be more acceptable if the Olympic Games were a commercial endeavour where in the spirit of true capitalism private investors staked their own money in the hope of making a profit; instead, there is a situation where profits will be made by companies providing “official” products, and the losses – well, guess who will bear the cost of losses.
Klein’s warnings are reasonable, we are losing what was once our own. When it reaches the point when we lose even our words, things have gone too far. Misnaming a proposed commercial facility in Limerick was part of a redefinition of reality that suits only certain people.