Cora comments on the Olympic opening ceremony

Tonight I found myself in the company of a friend who wanted to watch the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.

Now I’m not a huge sports fan in general and have never cared about any Olympic Games, since to me Olympics means (and has meant since the 1980 Winter Olympics, which are the first I can actively remember) that anything even remotely interesting on TV is replaced by sports that hardly anybody cares about. Nonetheless, the opening and closing ceremony are usually the most watchable part of the Olympics, which isn’t saying much.

What is more, I am even more opposed to the London Olympics than to Olympics in general, because the last thing that London, which is already suffering from high rents, rampant gentrification and traffic gridlocks, needs is a bloody Olympics which increases every single one of those problems tenfold. And unlike most journalists who rave how the Olympics transformed a rundown neighbourhood, I have actually been to Stratford long before the Olympics and while it was not the prettiest and hippest part of London, it definitely did not deserve to be bulldozed to build a stupid sports park.

Still, since I spent the evening with someone intent on watching the opening ceremony, I found myself forced to watch it as well. It was the usual slam bang boom always associated with such events, a weird mix of the surprisingly effective (fiery Olympic rings being cast in a weird Industrial revolution reenactment and then floating up into the air to explode in fireworks), the amusing (Daniel Craig and the Queen parachuting – sort of – and Rowan Atkinson in Chariots of Fire*), the pathetic (anything involving soldiers and poppies) and the just plain bizarre (dancing NHS nurses and a flock of Mary Poppinses floating into the stadium).

There were also a handful of complete WTFs, such as having a giant blow-up figure of Voldemort (as well as the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland and Captain Hook) appearing in the flock of Mary Poppins/dancing NHS nurses sequences. Okay, so maybe the combined power of 200 Mary Poppinses and the NHS was supposed to banish those fictional villains, but honestly, Voldemort is not the guy you’d want at your big opening ceremony.

An even bigger WTF was playing Going Underground by the Jam during the great British pop music with clips from great British films sequence. It wasn’t just a short clip either, they played almost the entire song, while some five hundred people danced around the stadium. A song like Going Underground played at one of the most crassly commercial and propagandized events imaginable? Really? Has nobody ever listened to the lyrics? Or maybe they did and this was a bit of sly subversion.

My friend was eager to see who would light the fire. And after the song and dance sequences, they did show the Olympic torch arriving on a speedboat piloted by David Beckham (who looked as if he was having a whole lot of fun) with an 11-year-old girl football player acting as figurehead and torchbearer. Grinning Beckham piloted the speedboat under the Tower Bridge and I said to my friend, “Crap, do you have any idea how far it is from there to Stratford, even if you are on a speedboat on the Thames and don’t have to worry about traffic or speed limits? This is gonna take awhile.”

And it did, because before they lit the fire, they had athletes from 204 countries march into the stadium (the Vatican State is probably the only country that does not take part), which predictably took ages. In the end, we held out until the German athletes marched in (wearing the most hideous outfits imaginable) and gave up, figuring that if there was one bit we’d see on the news tomorrow, it would be the lighting of the fire.

According to the Guardian, who liveblogged the whole thing (and seems to have no idea what Voldemort was doing there either), the flame was lit by seven totally unknown teenaged athletic hopefuls, which is actually a nice touch compared to the usual routine of “Let’s take the most distinguished ex-Olympic athlete we can find and let him or her light the flame” And those bowls/petals that were carried into the stadium along with the athletes apparently combined to make up the flame holder. Well, it will certainly look prettier than the flame holder from London’s last Olympics back in 1946, which I famously mistook for a very ugly and very inconvenient flower pot during a visit to the original Wembley Stadium.

*Ironically, my friend did not like this bit at all, since she can’t stand Rowan Atkinson.

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4 Responses to Cora comments on the Olympic opening ceremony

  1. Talea Nea says:

    "… honestly, Voldemort is not the guy you’d want at your big #opening #ceremony." Funny criticism.

  2. Laran says:

    Cora, your account of the ceremony actually made me watch it Saturday morning – at least the first part of it, maybe because I am not into sports at all, I thought the long line of athletes marching in utterly boring.

    What sort of picture of he UK are we now supposed to have? There is no green any more, only industry and towns with hospitals full of fun-oriented youths in very little clothes? Oh well…
    Intriguing how backwards-oriented the whole spectacle was. Obviously the first part was on history, focussing on the Victorian era (even so the most important innovations of industrialisation happened earlier), but why historising the NHS-episode as well by choosing dresses for the nurses reminiscent of WWI-times? As if it is something from the past as well. The only bit visually dedicated to the present didn’t manage to give a good impression in my opinion: the account of party culture and media consumption was mostly embarrassing. Didn’t they find something better to characterise their present society? Obviously not. After all, economy and society are not very well, and there hasn’t been steel industry for nearly three decades, nobody left to smith the rings in real nowadays. Maybe then it is the only option to turn to the past for identification….

    • Cora says:

      Actually, I wondered about this as well. What exactly was this ceremony supposed to tell us about the UK?

      Hey, we started the industrial revolution and built really big smokestacks, though we don’t actually have any industry anymore. And we have the NHS, which mainly involves jolly nurses taking care of cute kids. And we have James Bond and the Queen, of course (I actually felt sorry for her, cause she missed all the interesting bits, but had to sit through the endless march of the athletes to declare the games open). And we have some really nice children’s books, though again Harry Potter was the only contemporary choice. And we have Rowan Atkinson (who may or may not have been a stand-in for all great British comedians) and the guy who invented the world wide web. Oh yes, and we make really great pop music and some neat movies (though Danny Boyle really shouldn’t have included a clip from his own Trainspotting) and we have a great party culture where everyone can get a hook-up on a Saturday night. All in all, it was a very depressing self-representation. Not that the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon extravaganza in Beijing four years ago was necessarily better in that respect.

      I also found the history mash-up of the industrial revolution segment a bit odd. Not only does the Industrial Revolution predate the Victorian era, but James Watt would have been a more suitable figure than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, much as I admire the man (not that it really matters, since Americans apparently assumed that the figure in the top hat was Abraham Lincoln, because nobody else ever wore a top hat). Oh yes, and apparently they managed to have the industrial revolution completely without any references to colonialism at all, probably because at least a third of the participating nations were former British colonies. The suffragettes were out of place again, because they were largely a late Victorian and Edwardian phenomenon. And then we got WWI soldiers with poppies and – strangest of all – a whole flock of men with Beatles haircuts dressed in Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band outfits marching among the Victorians. Now Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had a deliberate retro vibe, but it was a retro vibe reflected through the prism of the late 1960s. Never mind that they went directly from maypoles to smokestacks. So in short, the whole segment made very little sense at all.

      Indeed, a large part of what really bother me about the whole Olympics is that it gives the mainstream media, including those parts that should know better, an excuse to trot out whatever stereotypes of Britishness are stuck in their minds. Worst of all was an Austrian culture program I saw on 3sat which had an Olympics special edition live from London and trotted out all the hoary old clichés about the British upper class (complete with an interview with Julian Fellowes who lamented that unlike the Victorian era, no one really knew their place anymore, which made me want to strangle him even more than usual) and the British stiff upper lip and so on that just rerunning an old Edgar Wallace movie would have made the point just as well. And these stereotypes really bother me, because whenever they are trotted out, I always think, “But this is not the Britain I know.” And the Britain I have encountered is portrayed more accurately in Misfits than in Downton Abbey. So if I can accept Edgar Wallace Britain as existing in a parallel universe and could as soon as I got a glimpse of the real thing as a teen, then why can’t those journalists do the same?

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