Mitt Romney, shame on you for trying to claim a special relationship with the Brits. You are not worthy, dude. As Danny Boyle has shown us all 🙂
Maybe their most glorious days are behind them and Hollywood captures the collective imagination of the twitterish 21st century world but the accomplishments of the British. It’s really tough to rival – and by comparison they look like the wise grownups while the Americans look like spoiled children.
I recently read a very depressing book called Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. There were some interesting points but the author offered no hope or solutions so for me it didn’t live up to its potential. I am all about hope – and solutions.
I recognize there are no easy solutions. But that doesn’t mean we should all throw our hands in the air and give up. And while the world is not developing into a better place in a straight line, there are always positive developments happening every day – and that is what we need to nurture and celebrate.
That is why I was so wowed by Danny Boyle. Who else could turn the National Health Service into a spectacle worthy of entertaining – but also enlightening. And celebrating one of the great tenets of British society.
He also showed suffragettes, the industrial revolution (the good and the bad) and the invention of the world wide web. All incredible advances in the modern world in which Great Britain played a key role.
He also highlighted the cultural achievements of a nation unsurpassed by any other on the world stage. What other nation can start with Kenneth Branagh quoting from Shakespeare, put together Voldemort, JK Rowling, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and multiple Mary Poppins in a way that makes sense, flow into a gigantic electronic house party that showcases how Britpop became a word known all over the globe and then showcasing the energy and talent of the Arctic Monkeys. How many countries have an indie band that good?
From the pastoral bucolic England of William Blake to the high energy multicultural Great Britain ushered in by Tim Berners-Lee’s world wide web, it’s been a place that influenced the world and its history. There were many history lessons to be learned from Danny Boyle’s spectacle. A great example of how spectacle can be used to teach, not just to titillate. I think the most memorable image is the forging of the Olympic rings and their subsequent air flight.
So many things flew! Or were lit up. Or sparkled. Sound, image and motion blended seamlessly from frame to frame, moving so fast, with so much to see, that I know I need to watch it twice to catch everything.
Only two years ago my home city hosted the Olympics. And we did a great job. But it was homespun. We aren’t very famous. Or rich. The Queen didn’t come. We put on a great show for someone in the middle of nowhere. That’s the thing you gotta learn, Mitt. You are in one of the most impressive cities in the history of the world, in a country that definitely has its faults (as they all do) but that has also contributed to the world so many of the advances that have made it a better place.
As a Canadian, I share a lot of the British sensibility. And a lot more than crass Americans like you, Mitt. We never fled from the mothership. Even fought for her many times. Of course King George III was advised by William Pitt to consider trading us for Guadeloupe. Of course, at the time they had sugar plantations and we just had beavers so you couldn’t totally blame them.
(Discovered some fascinating facts about the American Revolution, the Tea Party (version 1.0) and King George III trying to make sure I had the names of the players right. Kind of guessing Mitt (and the vast majority of Americans) unaware of these facts (cause Americans appear to hate FACTS… so dull and disconcerting) but definitely fuel for another post…
But tonight we are celebrating the Brits. Sure, they have some flaws. We all do, nationally and individually. But, on the whole, the Brits show many more signs than other nations of being polite to others and worrying about the collective over the individual, valuing literacy and a complex world view and – my personal favourite – having a self-depreciating wit that can showcase humility and arrogance all in the right balance.
You will have to watch the show! I was privileged to watch it live. And was shocked by the lack of commercials. It was hard to even time a bathroom visit 🙂 So much happened I will have to watch it again in prime time. It was so spectacular it has even inspired a second post 🙂
On a personal note, I’d really like to thank my parents for being such strong proponents of the concept of literacy. There was lots of flash to the London show and – like any great spectacle – it can be watched on more than one level. But it was my childhood experience that informed my favourite sequences.
I liked the ones with intellectual content. With a moral message. I think my favourite was the tribute to the National Health Service. Where I also learned about GOSH.
According to Wikipedia, Great Ormond Street is closely associated with University College London (UCL) and in partnership with the UCL Institute of Child Health, which it is located adjacent to, is the largest centre for research and postgraduate teaching in children’s health in Europe. It is part of both the Great Ormond Street Hospital/UCL Institute of Child Health Biomedical Research Centre and the UCL Partners academic health science centre. It was apparently the first sick children’s hospital in the world.
Great Ormond Street is known internationally for receiving the rights from J. M. Barrie to his play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 1929, which have provided significant funding for the institution.
Watching children reading stories reminded me of MY childhood 🙂 And I know ALL of these stories and characters. My parents read to us until we could read to them – and finally to ourselves. Books were revered. It’s how a great civilization is built. From the King James Bible to Harry Potter, English books have touched most of the world. As will the 2012 London Olympic opening ceremonies.
I think they mostly got it all right. Beckham looked cool and was gracious in his role in the ceremonies, showcasing the best kind of Englishman. The Queen actually got into a helicopter with Daniel Craig, a few minutes that showed the entire history of the monarchy in a few frames of film, highlighting how she great she is at playing Queen and keeping the monarchy popular when it should be an anachronism.
The only moment that made me shake my head… really, WHO would want to follow those fireworks??? And an aging Beatle with a creaky voice singing “Hey Jude”. Danny boy, you ended on a low note. But I guess someone had to pay for all that flash. And Britain might have the smarts and the talent… but not so much cash. So I’m guessing Paul flashed some cash and paid for his advertising spot like the other sponsors.
But, hey, London, you have definitely grown up in the last 12 years. I was there in 1999 for the big Millennium. It really sucked. The highlights: Peter Gabriel’s high wire show and Black Adder making fun of English history in the Millennium Dome. You learned from your mistakes. A great show by Danny Boyle combining spectacle and intellect. A very funny Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean. And a real River of Fire on the Thames this time! You even have the Millennium Wheel working – unlike at the actual Millennium 😉
Now, if you had really wanted to end with a bang, you would have had Paul McCartney sing John Lennon’s “Imagine”. A song that fits the message the Olympics like to preach at least. Paul honouring John and saying he is above the rivalry. And first you would have had a minute of silence for the Israeli athletes killed in Munich in 1972. That would have sent a message that the Olympics really want to be about more than cash and advertising.
Unlike the American presidency… Mitt, they kicked ass! They may make you “eat humble pie”. That’s “eat crow” to you. Don’t worry, I don’t think you have to eat actual crows – or offal… but you are in a foreign country so you never know… and there are a lot of pigeons in Trafalgar Square…