The Opening Night

Ursula K. Le Guin -- Photo by Marian Wood Kolischby Ursula K. Le Guin

9.40, Friday night, July 27, 2012. Cheap, hokey, trivial, cynical, pompous, patronising, pretentious, button-pushing, celebrity-worshiping, predictable beyond belief, degrading of every poet, musician, or artist associated with it, what a great show the Olympics opening night in London is! It’s still going on. Hours yet to go. I gave up at 9.15. I don’t know why I lasted past the shot of the corgis looking up adorably from the palace steps at the helicopter that was fakely bearing the fake Queen away so that she could fakely parachute down into the stadium, ooooh, wowwwwww, wheeee, and then (really) sit there glowering straight ahead and looking as if she had just drunk a quart of vinegar.

“Look, she’s smiling,” my husband said hopefully, when they sang God Bless the Queen, but I couldn’t see it. She just looked as if maybe her Tums were giving her a bit of relief for a moment, but she was still sour, bored, ungracious, and not about to hide it. Oh England, my England.

I guess I kept hoping there might be one more really amazing moment like the moment of the five rings descending: that was true real stage-magic as well as huge Super Special FX. But no. Just more hokum and more schmalz. And I began to think I might totally lose it if the chirpy announcers mentioned Danny Boyle one more time. Every two or three minutes we had to be told that he was responsible for this wonderful, dazzling extravaganza of British schlock. Maybe he wrote it all those mentions into his contract? For quite a while I thought they were saying Danny Boy, as in the song Oh Danny Boy, and wondered why. Perhaps I was confused because I think they did sing a bit of Oh Danny Boy at the very beginning. Maybe Danny Boyle put it in as a cute little subtle compliment to himself. I’m not sure though whether I did hear Oh Danny Boy at all, because there were so many little bits of songs. But of course they ended, inevitably, with the song “Jerusalem,” the words of which were written by William Blake, who in his direst visions of what might happen to his country never envisioned anything so monstrously silly as this.

I suppose eventually the poor athlete will come panting into the stadium with the Flame, and we’ll have some more whooptido and hokum. Maybe the Queen will be shot up to a hovering helicopter on a rocket in a fountain of fireworks, glowering all the way, and then we’ll get to see the corgis looking up adorably from the palace steps to greet her.

I leave it to the corgis. I’ve had enough. I’m going to go to bed and think about Thomas Hardy’s poem, “The Darkling Thrush.” The English do that kind of thing really, really well.

28 July 2012

P.S. Saturday morning. It seems there was a huge unplanned, unsponsored, spontaneous celebration going on in Trafalgar Square at the same time – Londoners and people from all over the world who’ve come for the Olympics all gathering to wait for the clock to tell them the opening moment of the Games, singing, shouting, waving flags, climbing up on the big bronze lions, and having a ball. Reading about that, I finally felt the authentic Olympic thrill.




The Opening Night — 12 Comments

  1. Thanks the powers that be I’m not the only one who found the entire confusing mash up less than enchanting. I too quit around 9:15 when the parade of nations was just getting started. I just could not sit through another 3 hours of the perky announcers.

  2. Would any of it have made sense without the commentary? From excessive grandiosity (that from the Department of Redundancy Department) to utter confusion in 4 short years. Hmmm, that sounds rather like the American electorate.

  3. Rocky Abraham
    I saw about 15 minutes of the Opening ceremony, felt the same way and went back to sleep. Next day I saw all the rave reviews in the media and thought there must be something wrong with me – good to see that there were some others who shared my opinion !!! It’s frightening the way a brainless media is shaping our opinions !

    The Opening Night | Book View Cafe Blog
    Book View Cafe Blog –
    Like · · Share · 2 minutes ago ·

  4. I really liked it. I am a Brit, and I thought it summed up a lot – as someone in the New Yorker put it: “Britain – being deeply fucking odd for two thousand years.”

  5. Here in the U.S., an announcer made the mistake of describing her as “cheering wildly” for part of the ceremonies. Of course the image on the screen was more in line with what you describe. So, naturally, my partner and I burst into laughter and utterly missed a few minutes of broadcasting.

  6. We are not ‘the English’. Thanks for erasing all the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish people who took part. This review is ignorant.

  7. Oh dear. Usually I find myself in agreement with your opinions, Ursula, and usually I share your sense of humour.

    I’m well used to Americans (and other nations too) completely failing to ‘get’ self-deprecating, ironic British humour, and taking everything rather literally. Yes, there were parts that didn’t quite work, that went on too long and were cheesy to my own taste. And the royal stuff I can always do without. I wish we did not have a constitutional monarchy, that we had a grown-up republic instead.

    You did hear right, that was a snatch of Danny Boy. The point of the alternating mix of childrens’ choirs singing parts of Jerusalem, Danny Boy, Cwm Rhondda and Flower of Scotland was that, contrary to the frequent American conflation of ‘Britain’ and ‘England’, we are in fact four nations: the United Kingdom. The four countries have their own distinct identities; these songs are our respective national songs. We are also more diverse than that – hence the historical allusions in the opening event to immigration and the non-Celtic, non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic contribution to Britain. There is much more I could say, but the part that moved me most (and usually I loathe this kind of thing) was the lit sign towards the end: THIS IS FOR EVERYONE. I think it was a very deliberate response to the Beijing ceremony.

    Something that really stuck in the craw over here was the reported cut by NBC, during their own coverage, of the quieter part of the event which commemorated the British war dead, and those who died in the 7/7 attacks. That showed a shocking lack of respect.

    I was not looking forward to the Olympics. We have a deeply destructive Conservative government in power, and we are mired in a long, long recession with no end in sight. I baulked at the amount that has been spent on this thing, and I felt it was no more than bread and circuses. But near the end of this Olympic fortnight, survey after survey has shown that I am far from the only person who feels better about my country now, and the opening ceremony played a large part in that. Our politicians have been left looking even more useless and irrelevant. There are daily calls for David Cameron and his political colleagues to stay away from the sporting events, lest he hex the British athletes!

  8. I’m a Brit (notwithstanding the ersatz Corleone monicker) – and you’ve pretty much nailed it with the description of the Queen having drunk vinegar. She’s invariably like that for the last thirty years – sometimes better (merely chewed a lemon), often worse.

    Overall though it was a good Olympics – both generally by recent standards (think of the authoritarian choreographed Bejing or shambolic Athens in comparison) and for the UK in particular.

  9. Oh, Ursula, how sad you have made me. You watched edited ‘highlights’ through the filter of American TV, you clearly did not see how this was about all of us in Britain (not just the English, of whom I am one), or the fact that this was not a fake queen but a real queen, about your age, dropping her guard just for once in her life because she trusted the director who said it would please her nation, or the beautiful silent dance memorial to the 7/7 bombing, or the quiet moment when the inventor of the Internet told us ‘This is for everyone’, or the best imagery of all when the 205 flames representing every country in the world rose up like the petals of a flower or a dandelion seed head to form a single flame. I respect you and your writing more than any other living author but here I can’t agree with you. You gave up too soon, or rather it feels more as if you didn’t see what was in front of your eyes. You used some very strong words here – do you really think ‘pompous’ is fair ? Have you forgotten what the English (not to mention the Welsh, Scots and Irish) are really like ? Yes, we are a mad strange nation, but we wouldn’t disgrace humanity if God did an audit. It’s a shame that you didn’t understand the language Danny Boyle was using, but I can assure that he was speaking loud and clear to us.

    • I can’t remember who originally made the remark, but this blog post reminded me that Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language”.

      I’m glad you mentioned the cauldron. The rising formation of the flaming petals into one flowerhead was a sight I doubt I’ll ever forget.

  10. You poor Americans were done over by NBC’s terrible coverage. I mean, the Australian Presenters were bad, but they basically stuck to the script. And to cut the tribute to the 7/7 bombing victims for a interview with a swimmer really? It’ a great shame, because I think you would have thrilled to Akram Khan’s vision and physicality. For me the best moment was the lighting of the flame, and the single flames became one. This was the message of the Ceremony, we are individuals. but by joining together we become a community, and greater than the sum of our parts.