The Olympics are in full, exciting swing, and I’ve been busy watching that and enjoying the holibobs from school, and not having internets, yadda yadda.
Global sporting events only come round every so often, and they always seem to bring floods of grumps professing uninterest. You know, comments on the lines of “I shall be avoiding London for the duration,” or “Time to catch up on my 50 Games of Throats box sets…” I understand this. Sport is not to everyone’s taste, and if the point of the javelin, say, eludes you, well, enjoy the DVDs. You say shark, I say hot dog!
During this XXX Olympiad (everything about it is very sexy as far as I’m concerned), I’ve been aware more than ever of people coupling this kind of attitude with wider analytical agenda. Some of which I agree with, for example that some of the money for the Olympics would have been spent better on local sports clubs. £9 billion is an awful lot of sports kit. Private lanes for traffic… who is getting what slices of this massive cake? And it is, of course it is, a massive look-over-here distraction from the continuing sliding of the world into a morass of unevolved violence and environmental catastrophe.
The icing on the Bildenberg (that’s a take-the-cake joke for conspiracists) came with the opening ceremony, which prompted a lot of discussion as to Danny Boyle’s ‘intentions’, because some people still think that what a creator intended matters. There was such a lot going on during it, when these notes were compiled. Guzzling red wine for Britain, for example. If you want a blow by blow account of the ceremony, Warren Ellis did a very effective job on the Twitter. For us, it was a bit of a haze in the smoke from the artistic insania of Danny Boyle, who in a barrage of information overloading our fragile little eggshell minds at one point became confused with Frankie Boyle, dark comic arts insulting dolphins and Olympians everywhere for no apparent satiric purpose… This Boyle /Anti-Boyle personifies the confusing, exciting, “eccentric” melange offered to the world, which seemed to us, at the time, perfectly weighted for its intended goal of showcasing Britainland to the watching billions as a haven for creative oddballs and world forgers since the beginning of time, even since the era of Middle Earth and the formation of the One Ring.
You had, on the surface, a ‘slightly skewed’ but really straightforward rendering of a few hundred years of British history, packed together in a post-avant-post spot-the-referent tea-and-biscuit barrel of hyperventilating hyphenations. Sir Kenneth Branagh playing the frock-coat and bibberty bobberty-hatted I.K.Brunel, surveying his works with a mixture of awe and trepidation… the white light/white heat of industry and explosions of colour… lines from The Tempest speaking of a sense of admiration and wonder at all that twangling noise emanating from this little isle. An interesting choice, lines spoken by the ‘monster’ Caliban, specifically noting that even good captains of industry are not what they seem, perhaps merely players in a larger sport, playthings of the ineffable spirits that Prospero (Boyle, presumably) can only briefly control…
As a centrepiece, it celebrated in an appropriately Eton Messy way perhaps the last truly Great British collective effort, the NHS. Boyle’s vast play led to a bunch of diverse opinions as to its “true meaning”, including representations of childhood, a time of illness, ‘fictional’ children – the characters in the masque – threatened and protected by fictional heroes and villains, layer upon layer of meaning, obviously, as any exciting work should provide. People whose blogs I read, political figures and people close to me were in turns excited and disturbed by the dark elements in this, with readings including the death-by-Tory-dementors of the Health Service, or in fact a reinvigoration of it and the common Brits who have benefitted from it. A Tory publicity hound considered the scene a bit ‘leftie’ – this is the one who went on a stag do dressed as a Nazi, though; conversely, Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson, the spiffing BoJo, denied this reading utterly, praising the service – er, ceremony, excuse me! – as a celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s ‘victory’ over the miners. This endeared his razor-political-mind-lurking-behind-a-tousled-posho-fuckwit-mask persona to me still further. But then again, what are we to make of his role as the Hanged Man (Reversed)?
Well, quite – some things are also just very funny. Still it comes, though. The web, invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, also saluted during the Boyle/Boyce extravaganza, is helping to sustain battalions of the commentariat, armchair snipers… Aforementioned issues with the broadband in our new home over the last few weeks have meant that there has been no blogging, micro or otherwise, and no dipping one’s toes into the information pool. Following links to news reports at the Graun, in Wired, BBC, all over the usual shop, I am reminded of just how deeply in trouble, thrashing around in the waters of constant information and multi-layered analysis, some people are. There seem to be thousands of humans spending hundreds of hours commenting on threads with such earnestness, glibness, vitriol, lack of self-awareness… one wonders what drives it. More crassness in people hissing comments over the Twitterfeeds at athletes, people seeing and sustaining the dark side everywhere…
However, to return to that opening ceremony, there was this vibe of affairs of state explicitly linked to deeper, more positive magic all the way across the show. Frank Cottrell Boyce, writer of Millions, a book about two children that find a stash of money that brings fleeting fame, with the backdrop of a saintly dead mother… Look (as a couple of the BBC’s commentators have taken to saying all the time, as if their words are about to proceed across the screen in subtitles, or something, Ian Thorpe, I’m looking at you), look, possibly there was some sort of reference to some sort of something. You have a very proficient and innovative film maker directing a script written by a children’s fiction author. I would have been shocked had there been a ‘straight’ (rather than extraordinary, perhaps) rendition.
Yet, again yet, and perhaps this is a signifier of me getting bored with people attaching too much significance to occultism, I think the symbolism was played off a pretty straight bat, to mix sports and metaphors. The lighting of the cauldron moment was moving.
Preceded by the passing of ‘the torch’ from Olympians past to present, and the collated copper petals of global Olympian striving burnished and burning as they reached for the sky (etc)… Symbolic on an uncomplicated level, of human desire to run faster, shoot straighter, push ourselves further. AND, happy to note, the beautiful structure was constructed in York.
What’s my point? Any effective art works on a bunch of different levels; there is no real true meaning but the one you choose to take; people like to look for allegory when what are to be found are more elusive metaphors that cannot be said to ‘be’ one thing or another. This is not to ignore or be unaware of these dark narratives, but inspiration was what I got watching this, continue to get watching these athletes doing incredible things with their bodies. Not a feeling of being trodden on.
Perhaps that’s what They want me to think I’m thinking. I know what I know, as Paul Simon once suggested. While many commenters delight in distancing themselves from the Olympic flame, depressed by the march of corporate sponsorship… well, you don’t have to just accept the shiny shoved in your face. You can just ignore it (consumer choice, innit?), or you can answer back. We went to see the torch as it came through York. Here’s me and my best beloved responding to the Lloyds TSB photobus project that preceded it…
…although to be even-handed in our disdain (and after Spinal Tap) we were still jeering the Coca Cola bus.
So yeah, one might be cynical about the value or relevance of the Olympics. However, and to declare an interest as a teacher with a bun in the missus’s oven, when I see kids up trees wearing fake Bradley Wiggins sideboards near an ‘Inspire a Generation’ logo, I am pleased. Inspire a desire to burn off the opposition, undoped, that’s Wiggins. If even a fraction of that opening ceremony’s trawl through sixty years of pop music, Kinks riffs, Pretty Vacant, Satisfaction, Beatles, Atomic Kitten, Dizzee Rascal, brought anyone else to a frenzy of ‘Yeah, that was OURS’ chest beating nationalistic fervour and a wish to make an album better than the Stone Roses’ debut, job done. If the GOSH! Section, with JK Rowling, was suggestive to anyone that they could write a bubillion-selling heptalogy of books, or perhaps even be a Good Nurse like Mary Poppins, rather than a soul-stealing fiscalon dementor or whatever, then it worked the same magic as it did on me. If all you saw were bleak visions of mind-controlled proles, drone workers enmeshed in the hegemon, good luck to you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some stew, and some really tasty bread, and the wondrous Jess Ennis is about to throw a javelin into the eye of a cyclops.