One of the weirdest experiences in my life was sitting in a mud hut in a remote part of the Kenyan Rift valley watching a Newsnight interview with David Blunkett on a widescreen t.v. with half a dozen Masai courtesy of a petrol driven generator and a satellite dish perched on top of the thatched roof. While we were watching the Olympics opening ceremony, Mrs. R. and I were asking each other how this would go down in the Masai Mara.
So I decided to take a quick trip round other cultures to see how it had played out:
Take the Tories for a start: “The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?" wrote Aidan Burley, the Conservative Party MP who was fired as a ministerial aide after revelations he attended a Nazi-themed stag party in France last year. "Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows.”
So much for our own endangered species. What did the capital of a communist state make of it:
“London's opening ceremony was a far cry from Beijing's. Even the director of the London Olympics ceremony complained of the budget being too small, having only 27 million pounds," Haluo-yuan wrote on Sina Weibo, the largest blogging site in China, (where state censors block Twitter).... "There's no comparison with the formidable China." London's Olympic opening ceremony certainly was interesting, but it can't be said that it was superior to Beijing's. It can only be said that each had its merits," wrote Zhang Yiwu.
Given that the current concept of the Olympics ( a bit of sport sandwiched between two overblown extravaganzas) started at the Los Angeles games, I thought I’d check out the L.A. reactions:
“It’s hard to imagine any other nation willing to make so much fun of itself on a global stage, in front of as many as a billion viewers. It takes nerve to look silly; the cheesy, kaleidoscopic history lesson that took Britain through its past, from pasture through the workhouses and smoke stacks of the Industrial Revolution to World War I and, of course, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” was like a Bollywood version of a sixth-grade play.” ...... “If there is a through-line to be untangled from its $42-million, cast-of-thousands, higgledy-piggledy progress through modern Britain, it might be something like, “Sorry for the unintended consequences, but we did give you steam engines, great pop music and comedy and the roots of social networking. It was ugly there for a while, but we’re all right. and everybody dance now.” ....”overwrought pageantry, stuffed unnecessarily with symbolism and mushy sentiment, most of which I cannot identify, much less comprehend.”
The New York papers thought that:
“It was really a parade of British whimsy: sheep and milkmaids, factory workers, the Internet, Mary Poppins, the queen and a snippet of the Sex Pistols’ rendition of “God Save the Queen,” and, oddest of all, doctors and nurses jitterbugging on hospital beds in a tribute to the National Health Service.......But with the production tossing out historical and cultural references at a rapid rate, even the most ardent Anglophiles in the audience may have felt some allusions whiz over their head like an airborne nanny........a display of humor and humbleness that can only stem from a deep-rooted sense of superiority.”
Then there were your average punters on the usual chattering sites having a moan:
“How do you do four hours of anything in England and not include Elton John? If I could pick three Britons to have dinner with, Elton John is on my short list, right behind Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic cyclist. An entire tribute to the history of British pop music, right down to an East London rapper, and no mention of Elton John? David Bowie, but no Elton John? Annie Lennox, but no Elton John? Isn't he Sir Elton John? I'm not asking for a medley by Sir Elton, but the man can't get a mention?The man who rewrote "Candle in The Wind" for Princess Diana gets shut out? That, boys and girls, is intentional.”
“ If I ran the Olympics, regardless of where they were held, the opening ceremony would be capped at 90 minutes. There would be a flyover (go ahead, I dare you to find someone who doesn't like a flyover), the march of the athletes into the stadium, some contained artsy presentation that accurately reflects the host country's primary passion (in England's case, it could be a reading of Shakespeare, a mini-concert by the Stones, David Beckham bending it or a James Bond car chase; I'd take the latter), then the lighting of the torch. That's it. Cue the band, get everybody home safely and start the damn Games already.”
“It was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort of event, and I may have just blinked and missed the sink.”
I’m sure my friends on the Masai, who don’t have a kitchen sink, but do have a satellite dish, enjoyed every minute of it. What they made of hasty references to EastEnders and the NHS, to Gregory's Girl and Mr. Bean, is anyone's guess.
I have nothing to say and I'm going to say it.