London Olympics

The day after the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, I find myself head-scratchingly bewildered. I have failed, like an athlete a doping test. I’m not going to pretend, so I’m going to say it loud: I’m British, and I didn’t “get” the opening ceremony. I had to read the newspapers the next day to get all the references and deconstruct what it was all about and then reconstruct to understand what I’d seen.

It should be a consolation that the rest of the world didn’t get Danny Boyle’s extravaganza, either. Only the dog minding the sheep really knew what was happening.  That’s because it was a British sheepdog. The sub-titles to the ceremony’s text were tangled in the Maypole around which those tireless children pranced in the opening sequences. (The same children were then so exhausted they had to be wheeled in on NHS beds by bouncy nurses who gave balloon manufacturers an inferiority complex.) I think it needed more than a spoonful of sugar from Mary Poppins to make the general order-in-chaos feeling of confusion go down.

Yes, there were visually jaw-dropping bits and some hilarious and some entertaining and some plain inexplicable (creepy monsters and Lord Voldemort scaring children and a gargantuan baby head) moments, but it all felt very Jubilee concert in Hyde Park coupled with Britain’s Got Talent. It was a quintessentially disjointed, ironic, witty, self-deprecating British spectacle by the British and for the British. The lighting of the Olympic flame was breathtaking. So why did Paul McCartney (are there no other singers in Britain?) have to come on to sing a sad song to make it better? Was “Hey Jude” the only choice for a finale on a global sports stage? But maybe the British don’t do moving/touching/inspiring for long. (And as The New York Times said, lavatory humour made a customary appearance.) To be earnest and profound would be mawkish, it wouldn’t be British. In a Times competition to find a motto, the winning entry was, “No Motto Please, We’re British.” That says it all.

Move over Tebbit. There’s a new test of Britishness. If you “got” the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, you pass. Then you’ll begin to make it better, oh. Na na na na na, na na na …

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