‘Challenging and uncompromising’ clashes with the ‘sycophantic and grovelling’
Danny Boyle’s extraordinary opening to the London Olympics was sharply contrasted by the BBC’s reactionary nationalistic and royalist mini-film Happy and Glorious.
The opening sequence depicted a romanticised rural England, peasants happily toiling on the land, producing food and essentials in a contented harmonious fantasy. At this point I was feeling at bit sick as it seemed that I was about to witness yet another glossy unrealistic vision of the past.
But Boyle is far too intelligent to be fooled by bourgeois illusion. The rural green and pleasant land was ripped asunder by the explosion of industrialisation and the birth of capitalism.
Dark satanic mills rose up from the ground, tearing the earth and blacking the sky. No scantily clad nubile women dancing gratuitously around the stadium, the dancers were male and all clad. Workers grimy, dirty- clothed and exploited. The five Olympic rings, forged from the labour and skill of the fiery furnace and molten steel, rise up and link the five continents. Red hot liquid iron tumbling down upon the workers supporting the edifice.
A brief pause to remember all the victims of war, we were told by the talk over. But the BBC, unable to resist a chance to promote nationalistic propaganda, cut to images of British soldiers and Chelsea pensioners. Danny’s attempt at international unity torn to shreds.
Following the establishment’s hideous ‘Crappy and Horrendous’ we saw an excellent portrayal defending the NHS with real health service workers taking part in the event. My heart sank when it became obvious that Chariots of Fire was to be illustrated, however I was not to be let down by Boyle, when he brilliantly used Mr Bean to subvert the jingoistic nonsense that is this stupid film. Mr Bean texting and overtly bored by the whole chauvinistic nature of the film.
We moved onto the cultural creativity of the British working class, focusing on popular music since the second world war. Playing the revolutionary Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant was genius. ‘We’re so pretty, pretty vacant’ rang out around the Olympic Stadium. The dancers magically forming the peace symbol before moving on to the music of the most oppressed, many of them born and brought up within the shadow of the Olympic stadium, an area which was once a hotbed of work and trade unionism.
It was easy to identify the elements of the televised opening ceremony that were made by the BBC because each one of them was sycophantic and grovelling. Whereas Danny Boyle was challenging and uncompromising. The world’s greatest parasite didn’t appear in the stadium until after the first section of Danny’s epitaph that showed how her system tore rural life apart. I can only imagine how the Tories must have felt with giant NHS letters being made up of beds, how couldn’t you miss the metaphor. Although Tories are so thick they probably did.
I have a distaste of these often glorifications of nation and individualism. I feared that Danny Boyle would have surrendered to fame and notoriety. How easy it would have been for him to do a isn’t-Britain-great, but he didn’t. He showed how we were formed, he showed how we make and create everything that moves. He showed the contradictions inherent in the Olympic Games.
Once Danny’s part was over the vacantness of the event reasserted itself. Nationalistic self-interest and commercialism took centre stage. The Olympics tries to project an image of peace and harmony which was totally smashed by the Americans’ military uniform and their march into the stadium.
And there we have it, an opening ceremony that narrates the two great forces in society. Other than our undeniable advantage in numbers we also have our creativity and talent.