I have to admit that I did not watch the Olympic opening ceremonies yesterday, either live or on NBC’s tape-delayed package.
I spend so much time on track and field, and will spend even more when the real Olympics start (you know, the running and jumping and throwing and not all of this other mamby-pamby stuff), that I thought some time with my wife away from all of this was in order.
Besides, I wasn’t all that into it anyway. Opening ceremonies can be long and tiresome and not really worth all the wait for the fun stuff. The parade of nations itself is damn near interminable. And these Games in particular have been so undersold and criticized by so many Britons themselves that my enthusiasm wasn’t high.
Johnette Howard explained this so well at in a column for ESPN.com, where she said that “[the] British, like always, are sure something will go terribly, horribly wrong”. This self-criticism is a by-product of doubt and fear that comes naturally to the populace.
What makes the Brits’ fatalism feel different is that it’s so unrelenting. And the way they express it is so literate and emotionally over the top. In England, something isn’t merely good or bad, it’s terribly lovely, massively impressive, a humiliating shambles! This is the home of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, remember. Sarcasm blooms everywhere. Even the lowest of London’s lowbrow daily newspaper tabloids is full of vivid writers who excel at putting new psychic wounds into historical contexts that stretch back years, even centuries. And most of it is spurred along by one of the few things the Brits actually will brag their sportsmen are good at: losing.
(As a side note, after reading that column I suddenly came to the realization that my mother is not batshit insane but simply a highly accurate Anglophile. Or possibly more precisely, she is batshit insane but in a peculiarly British way.)
Then whilst reading the morning headlines today, we came across various tidbits from last night’s ceremonies. We watched a few clips of video. And we felt like we missed out, at least a little bit.
The beginning of the whole thing was nothing short of inspired. How could anyone top James Bond picking up the Queen at Buckingham Palace, flying over London, and parachuting into the Olympic stadium? I was impressed that the Queen would play along with the joke, and even more so when I found out that it was her film debut and broke her long-standing policy of only speaking publicly in formal settings. On the other hand, this is a Queen who trained as a truck driver and mechanic during World War II and anonymously mingled with London’s celebrating crowds on V-E Day, which makes her one of the most “normal” monarchs England has had in centuries.
Aside from learning trivia about each of the IOC’s 200+ member nations, the fun part of the parade of nations is seeing who knows how to dress their athletic delegations and who does not. Chris Chase at Yahoo! Sports blog Fourth-Place Medal summarized it all for us with a best and worst dressed list. His most aesthetically and politically astute line regards Argentina: “Were those outfits punishment for losing the Falklands War?”
My favorite outfits are the ones below: simple, sporty, and casual yet classy. I’ll bet the Canadian Olympic Committee did nothing more than send a guy down to the Roots store on Bloor Street to say “We’ll take 200 of those”.
The USA’s outfits have been criticized as looking like they belong on trust-fund babies at Martha’s Vineyard. But with the berets, cravats, and form-fitting dark blue blazers, they appear more French than anything else. And what better way to piss off the Brits than to refuse to dip your flag for their Queen whilst looking French?
My favorite part of the whole thing was Rowan Atkinson’s appearance as Mr. Bean.
It’s as British as it gets. A man who has made a career of poking fun at British archetypes, both past and present, takes aim at an Olympic film which at its heart examines the question of what it means to be British.
That appeared to be the theme of the whole night. It was a British show for Britons. There were lots of little things in the ceremony that many global viewers found odd or didn’t even notice, and those were things the home crowd understood. It was no mistake that the closing part, a sing-along with Paul McCartney, is a British thing–it’s a musical culture, and a singing one at that. (Note that even hateful statements are sung rather than chanted or screamed, like the Rangers FC supporters and their “F*** the Pope”.)
Four years ago, the opening ceremonies in Beijing were a show for the whole world, part of China trying to prove itself as a first-world country. Great Britain has no need for that; they know they’re first-world because they used to own half the planet. No, it was a show for Britons; and as far as they’re concerned, anyone else who didn’t like it can sod off.