Like a billion other people around the world (literally!), I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last night.
All four-and-a-half hours of it. (I hadn’t any other plans for the evening, and I’m rather glad of that, as they’d have been shot!)
The theme of the entire production was “Isles of Wonder,” and while I’m glad that it thus paid attention to the fact that there is more than one island in the United Kingdom, and in fact it’s four different countries and cultures (though shame on them for choosing “O Danny Boy” as the song to represent Northern Ireland!), I have to say that “wonder” was the larger part of my experience with a great deal of what I saw. Part of that is a negative comment: I wondered what they were thinking and how they decided upon some of the things which they did–while also not at all faulting the creativity of Danny Boyle, who clearly is someone who gave everyone watching a spectacle that I’m sure they never would have thought possible in a million years. But, part of that is also a supremely positive comment: I wondered how in the world a lot of this was engineered, because the set-changes and variety of what happened, including hoisting this gigantic ring into the sky, and then four other ones appearing floated in out of nowhere, a lot of aerial maneuvers and such, and a ton of surprises (100-foot smoke stacks coming and going, etc.), it was quite astonishing.
However, one good aspect of it was that the scale model of Glastonbury Tor that was an essential part of the set throughout the ceremony is something that now many people not familiar with Britain will now know about–sort of. Of course, I’d have preferred there to be a great deal more explicit reference to the polytheist past of the Olympics, as well as of Britain in general, but Glastonbury Tor is about as much as we’d get…and, as I said, it did remain as an essential part of the proceedings throughout, being the setting for where the flags of the 204 nations competing in the games were placed after the athletes marched in. I’ve been to Glastonbury Tor, and it (as well as other sites in the town of Glastonbury) remain rather large and important in my own personal mythic imagination. We also did get William Blake’s “Jerusalem” sung, and the rather perverse pleasure of hearing a boy soprano sing the phrase “satanic mills” in the process!
And, what I said yesterday about the giant Voldemort and Mary Poppins? Yep! It happened just like I thought it would! (Which is to say, like I heard it would!)
One other thing I’ll say they definitely got right: diversity. The people of modern Britain are very racially diverse, and the ethnic/racial composition of the many different actors/performers/volunteers in the opening ceremonies certainly showcased that racial diversity, particularly in the area of East London where the Olympic stadium is located (a place I’ve hung out in quite a lot over the years). And, there was also a good deal of visibility for the disabled, not only in the children’s choir (called “Chaos”–?!?) that was made up of signers and singers who did “God Save the Queen,” but also in various scenes in the opening ceremonies, there were people in wheelchairs–not many, granted, but they were there and were part of it, and that’s quite excellent. (Of course, the Para-Olympics are also taking place there now, too, so that’s good as well!)
But, what was my favorite moment in the whole thing? Not the Queen’s James Bond entrance, not David Beckham, not Paul McCartney…but, Mr. Bean/Rowan Atkinson.
Now that was brilliant! (And if you didn’t see it and don’t know what I mean by this, go and look it up on YouTube–well worth it!) A lot of the music throughout it was good as well–not only the song choices from British music history that are well-known and memorable and were tasteful and appropriate, but also some of the new incidental and thematic music for the various spectacles, which was done very nicely, I think.
I’ll leave you with one further thought for the whole thing at the moment.
This is the very hot, very skilled, and very openly gay Matthew Mitcham of Australia, champion Olympic diver, who will be at the games this year as well. He’s one of only twenty openly gay athletes in the entire Olympics, which I find utterly dumbfounding that there would be so few. (Though, as that article shows, there’s an awful lot of lesbians–the vast majority, in fact!) While a great deal of sporting activities are thought to be “über-manly” and so forth, nonetheless, there must be more who just aren’t saying at this point…out of thousands, that there are only twenty is ridiculous. Though, I also have to add what Mictham said in ’08, when the games were in Beijing, from the above article:
When fellow Australian Olympians Russell and Lauryn Mark of the shooting team complained that they couldn’t stay together in the Olympic village, saying it was anti-heterosexual descrimination and that gay couples could stay together, Mitcham spoke out against them on Twitter. “Since there were only 11 out gays across all nations [in 2008], I’d hardly consider that a ton. Known couples are split anyway.” He followed it up with, “The last thing I need is a sexually frustrated breeder with a shotgun being cross with me. No comment, thank you very much!!” So he’s pretty funny.
And, also, just damn pretty! Best of luck to Matthew, and to all of the athletes from all over the place! Human excellence should not be a matter of nationalism, in my opinion, so all of these athletes deserve respect and honor for even being able to go to the Olympics in the first place, I think.
Phlegon of Tralles, one of Hadrian’s freedmen, wrote a variety of works which have survived in fragments, and others which have not. One of them is the Olympiads, a text that summarized the victors in each of the Olympic games (from their start in 776 BCE), as well as interesting events which took place in those years. Only a few small fragments of his text survive. Of course, there’s one Olympiad that I’m interested in more than many others: the 227th, in which Antinous died. (And, wouldn’t you know it, that’s one of the sections that has not survived–drat!) Well, here’s hoping that the 30th modern Olympiad marks a year in which the ravages of the Industrial Revolution (which was on prominent display in the opening ceremonies by Boyle) are at last turned aside, and the gods are remembered, both “In Englands green & pleasant Land,” and elsewhere as well!