If you can’t beat ‘em, confound them! That seemed to be Danny Boyle’s mantra as he unleashed his fantastically whimsical, crazy-mad, nostalgic bells-and-whistles-of-a-British-history-lesson to an astonished world at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London.
Remember Beijing? So pristine, dignified, awesome and, well, staid? There was no way that ‘Great’ Britain could even come close to matching the jaw-dropping spectacle, precision, and spending power of the Chinese, so why even try?
That seemed to be Boyle’s attitude as he elected to celebrate Britain in its glorious idiosyncratic miscellany. Hence, the spectacle of a ‘parachuting’ reigning monarch, appearances by real, fictional and hackneyed ‘celebs’, a hodgepodge of musical genres and the biggest faux self-mocking cum self-aggrandising, barnstorming circus in town.
Filmmaker Boyle seemed to have his tongue firmly in cheek as he directed his fabulously camp epic, which moved at the sort of whizz-bang pace we’ve come to expect from the innovative and dynamic director of Slumdog Millionaire.
Yes, London is hosting the games in a magnificent $2.35bn stadium (on reclaimed wasteland in one of the most deprived parts of the capital) and the event itself is expected to top $18bn. No mean feat in the middle of a double-dip recession with growing unemployment and economic stagnation across the pond in mainland Europe.
Indeed, the magnificent spectacle of the Olympics belies a sense of torpid indifference in much of the city, not least because many people consider the costs too outlandish, while others tried and failed to get tickets to the biggest show in town after they were sold online in a first-come-first-served lottery (an Olympic feat for some, even if they could afford it). Insult has since been added to injury since the start of the games with the scene of empty seats in some events.
Things have not gone down well, either, for those whose daily route into the city for work has been interrupted or even curtailed, but that’s nothing compared to the horrific experiences of people priced out of their homes and forced out to the boondocks in the north of the country – not the city – as rents skyrocketed and landlords cashed in. Or, pity the poor residents of apartment buildings where the military have decided to place rocket launchers in the event of a terrorist attack.
The mission statement of the Olympics is, of course, supposed to be about not the winning, but the taking part. Don’t you believe it!
There is something a little bizarre about the idea of, say, the US basketball Dream Team, Serena Williams or Roger Federer and others who are all professionals, competing for gold medals against amateurs who do not have the equivalent of some poor country’s GDP spent on their training alone, let alone their winnings and sponsorship. The idea is that the games are supposed to be open, but no one said anything about them being equal. Ergo those who can spend the most on their athletes can expect to reap the most medals and kudos. Duh!
Still, for the media and politicians it’s a marvelous feel-food facilitator in these troubled times, and an excuse to knock the depressing news of civil war in Syria off the front pages.
The legend that is Usain Bolt continues to inspire here, with a fantastic will-he, won’t-he drama building as the lanky champion prepares to take on the “beast” (team mate, Yohan Blake), whom Bolt gave the moniker and is now becoming his own nemesis.
With Jamaica’s 50th anniversary celebrations in full swing, it is heartening to see the flag flying in every nook and corner and emblazoned on t-shirts worn by all and sundry. And, exciting too, that the pinnacle of the games will be the 100m finals to determine who is the “fastest man on earth” and whether lightning (Bolt) can really strike twice.
At least with this race there won’t be any hypocrisy about it being about ‘the taking part’; it’s all about the winning. Can you remember who won bronze in the 100m finals in Beijing? No, didn’t think so.
Guest Post: Z. Nia Reynolds, author
Photos: Connie Aitcheson, freelance writer