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.