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The Olympic Opening Ceremony

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

The Olympic Opening Ceremony

Andrew Ryan

I accidentally saw a repeat of the Olympic opening ceremony this weekend. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. I was nearly speechless. Pretty much completely speechless in between bursts of manic laughter and mumbles of “oh maaaaaannnn”.

I was sitting in the courtyard bit of PICA, chain smoking and drinking tea waiting for my buddy to show up. It was a nice time that day: holiday life, lazing around bars and cafes, being a proper lady of leisure, not giving a single fuck about anything except how I was going to get back to my mother’s place for free food and free accommodation in the evening. When I sat down, I gazed up at the big ol’ screen in the cultural centre, hoping for some more lovely mini documentaries from the Etsy website about artisans in different parts of the world (because they got me really inspired and excited about making stuff again when I saw a few of them the week before), but instead was met with television advertising. ‘Ewwwww, televisionnnnnnn’ I thought to myself, and decided instead to read the magazine I’d taken from the magazine rack.

A few minutes later I looked up at the screen as I took the first drag of my cigarette, and I saw the Olympic rings in the corner of the screen, and I saw a bunch of people walking up a huge grassy knoll, and I remembered that the Olympic games existed and that they had started and that they were in London, and then I got a bit excited because this was not something I expected to happen when I planned my afternoon.

But as I said earlier, I felt weird about it. The whole thing went weird for me very quickly. It was definitely a weird thing.

The opening ceremony is traditionally the host nation’s opportunity to show off to the rest of the world what it is that makes their country so fucking special: a celebration of their history, a celebration of their culture/s, a celebration of their people. In England’s case, they had the unique opportunity to celebrate all these things as well as the fact that their monarchy and their government directly influenced the way the entire modern world works.

Imagine being the guy who has to choose which parts of England’s long spanning, world-affecting history are displayed to the millions and millions of people who tuned in to see it. How do you deal with the knowledge that English colonisers played a pivotal role in the destruction and/or assimilation of a huge number of less technologically advanced cultures and societies on all corners of the planet? And would the rest of the world understand it when you get Electric Wizard to write the entire soundtrack and perform it? That’s not what happened (obviously), but if I was in charge, that’s how I would have done it, because not only are they English, but they could most accurately sonically represent the brutality of that situation. Which is why Danny Boyle was chosen to do it, and not me I suppose.

From what I saw- and I didn’t see all that much to be honest, snippets over about an hour and a half- Mr. Doyle chose some pretty bizarre snippets of England’s illustrious historical portfolio to celebrate, and pretty bizarre ways.
Towards the beginning of my viewing, just after my friend sat down to join me, the screen was showing a group of men in waist coats, tails and top hats. They were wandering around theatrically overseeing the proceedings, looking into the distance, crouching down and patting the ground, shaking each other’s hands, generally being gentlemanly and business-like. There was a group of English tourists (or maybe they were employees of the mines in town for their weeks off site) sitting at the table next to us, and they were watching the screen too. They started to laugh, so I tuned in to their conversation, and one exclaimed “ONE OF THOSE FELLAS IN THE FOOKIN TOP HAT IS BLACK”, which was true. One (only one) was indeed blatantly of African origin, and I gathered that these men at the table in their soccer t-shirts were in agreement with myself that it was highly unlikely that the dark skin tone of this actor accurately reflected that of the character he was portraying from that time period.

No judgements being made, jus’ sayin’. That’s a thing that happened.

And then the industrial revolution happened in the ceremony. This is when I lost it. I couldn’t stop laughing from confusion. Gigantic chimneys started to rise out of the ground. Plumes of smoke spurted from them and loomed over the stadium, enveloping the set and the performers in a thick, filthy haze. I suppose it’s impossible to ignore this part of English history the way that one could more easily ignore colonisation for example, but this celebration- if that’s what you want to call it- of the beginnings of industrial pollution and environmental problems caused by humans was so mind bogglingly, overwhelmingly STRANGE to me.

And the fucking portrayal of the punk movement: dudes on kangaroo stilt pogo things jumping around with oversized helmets with shitty faces painted on them and tacky mohawks atop. And then all these kids were using iPhones and then some girl lost her iPhone and some guy picked it up and then contacted each other and then all their friends were taking photos of themselves and putting them on social networking sites and then the lost iPhone girl met her iPhone’s rescuer and then they travelled through and experienced the last 40 years of pop culture and partied through it and then they fell in love or something. Shakespeare was referenced through a clip of Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes making out. AND RAVE CULTURE AND THE PRODIGY and ergh. My fuck. And Hugh Grant appeared on screen (I predicted that early on). OH AND I NEARLY FORGOT ABOUT THE QUEEN BEING PICKED UP BY DANIEL CRAIG AND GOING INTO A HELICOPTER AND ALL THE LITTLE SHOTS OF THE FUCKING ROYAL CORGIS vomit vomit vomit. I found out later that an actor dressed as the Queen “parachuted out of the helicopter”. More vomit.

I laughed, I almost cried. I felt weird. And that’s all I have to say about that. As an interesting side note, today I attempted to contact Danny Boyle on twitter to ask him what his favourite song was in an attempt to compare our musical tastes for the sake of this week’s column, but it appears that his twitter page has recently been taken down. Shrug. And now that’s is the real end of my story.