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July 28, 2012

2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies: Populism Abounds


Industrial Revolution ore

Apropos of British history, the current crippling and unending recession, honor to the socialist state (under attack, as it is), and perhaps, above all, a half-Dickensian, half tonque-in-cheek response to China’s high tech and perfectly synchronized Opening Ceremonies four years ago, the scene of Brits moving from agrarian roots to forging ore in the middle of Olympic stadium amidst suffragettes and all sorts of Oliver Twists felt unpretentious, indeed.

It was that, and all the marching up and down that funny grass hill.


And then, there was the hilarious segment with the Queen and James Bond. As I tweeted:

Queen bumps Hillary to Silver in race for the cool.

Screen shot 2012 07 27 at 9 18 37 PM

Screen shot 2012 07 27 at 9 17 23 PM

What was most brilliant about it, though, was how it exemplified and perpetuated a brilliant strategy by the monarchy to seemingly breakdown the strict social hierarchy between royal and subject. Using pop culture, populist gestures and accessibility, as well as a heaping dose of humor and surprise, the Queen — just like the Obamas — understands that to maintain your tenure these days in exalted status necessarily involves the common touch. Hence, all the love from ground up. (Here’s the video if you happened to miss it.)


As I tweeted: I had this hallucination that the #2012LondonOlympics opening ceremony actually celebrated a National Health Service.

NHS Beds Olympics

English photographer Ciara Leeming tweeted back:

“that stuck us as especially interesting given that our government is hiving off bits of it for privatisation at the moment.”

Olympics NHS close up

To which I replied:

“Certainly appreciate your point and current predicament. The acknowledgement from here was stunning though.”


Finally, even though the star-struck NBC anchor only wanted to talk about the Queen, the Queen, the Queen, Danny Boyle did manage to mention the theme of inclusion, his favorite touch being the construction workers who helped build the stadium lining the tunnel as the welcome committee to the torch runner, Steve Redgrave.

Just how populist or, dare I say, socialist England or, certainly, the Nike Visa Games truly are is highly debatable. But last night was a people’s show.

(photos: AFP, Getty, Reuters, Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post)

  • Tom

    “I had this hallucination that the #2012LondonOlympics opening ceremony actually celebrated a National Health Service”… It was no hallucination. Given that Danny Boyle produced the Opening Ceremony, you can be 110% assured it was a celebration of the NHS. England (and other parts of the UK too…) is a country who’s people believe that the state should invest our taxes to protect the weakest in our society. It’s a belief that transcends partisanship. Maybe more people will now understand just how important the NHS.

    I’m not one of those who carries a flag or boasts of my nationality. But last night I felt good that the London Games chose to use a volunteer army from around the country to celebrate those who built this nation right from the days of the Industrial Revolution: the engineers and scientists who designed the way; the workers who made it happen; the nurses who heal those who fall; the right of women to vote; and the immigrants that moved here to act as the engine room – even in the face of wicked racism – and who then became of the basis of a glorious multiculturalism. And in the middle they found time to remember – by singing a hymn sung at every miner’s funeral – those who died in terrorist attacks the day after London was awarded the Games. 

    Anyone who wanted a glitzy, death-defying stunts, in your face thing – or who expected a 70 year old Paul McCartney to sing like he did 40 years ago – will have been disappointed. No, last night’s event was an honest and thoughtful piece that had a strong message at its core. Maybe the Conservative Mayor of London, the Conservative Prime Minister and the Conservative Chair of the London Organising Committee squirmed a bit. But thankfully they allowed Danny Boyle to do his piece. 

    Sorry for going on at length – I’m not normally this verbose :)

    PS Read this if you have a moment:

  • boomerangst

    Well done, Tom. Although I am an American with 300+ years of ancestors in the US, my DNA is 95% British Isles and I was teary through the entire production. Thanks for the link, too.

  • black_dog_barking

    I have know idea what is represents ( didn’t watch the ceremonies ) but that magnificent tree on the hill is a very intriguing image, the flags, the wandering path to the top of the hill, the verdant green, and the myriad spikes of color from the planted flags … captivating. Are we conjuring the Faerie Queene and renaissance here?

    Don’t get much of that kind of aesthetic over here in the colonies.

  • molly

    Oh, come on, IOC!! That segment with Herself was the best thing you’ve broadcast in years!!

  • LanceThruster

    I haven’t followed much of any sporting event in years and that isn’t likely to change, but as was mentioned by another, I love the visual of the colored flags against the lush greenery with the magnificent tree at the crest. I also like the return to human scale (though what I saw of the Chinise mega-production was also impressive). Just as Super Bowl halftimes seem a bit of overkill to me, too much production takes away from the focus of these contests.

    I might watch again someday if it was just about the very real excitement of competition, and not the embarrassing jingoism that US coverage entails (and put he bulk of the human interest peices elsewhere, like bookends).

    Just show the goddamned events!

    Good for you London and UK. And much thanks for mentioning what an insufferable twit the Romneybot is.


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