In all the excitement of Danny Boyle’s stunning London Olympics opening ceremony, I hadn’t realised there might be a second phase of pleasure to be had for us armchair enthusiasts. Shrilling out from the widespread sigh of relief that Britain did not suck in front of a billion global viewers is a crescendo of protest from a section of Britain who’ve had it easy for so long they’ve forgotten what intelligent criticism looks like: Boyle lifted that rock on Friday and look what’s emerged blinking in the light.
First off the block was Tory MP Aidan Burley whose instinctive reaction to the Olympics spectacle was to decry the inclusion of all those ethnic minorities that make up the fabric of Britain as “leftie multi-cultural crap”. He was quite speedy with his now notorious Tweet, while for his spiritual bredren it’s been like watching a dinosaur kicked in the tail and struggling to work out what’s just happened, proving that Burley’s brain-stem reflex is in better new world order than his mates.
Although Rupert Murdoch sensed political correctness, he is far too sly an old fox to express anything other than graciousness. (Watch out, Danny, your card may have been marked!)
Unlike a host of ill-wishing Tweeters such as @toadmeister Toby Young who saw “a £27 million Party Political Broadcast for the Labour Party,” and Stephen Pollard (@stephenpollard) who “Found the torch ceremony truly unpleasant and deeply unsettling. Paganistic crowd manipulation” and described the whole show as “a piss-take of a lefty wet dream”.
The climax of all this fear of “Other” was the hate-fuelled piece that stood out from some otherwise quite decent coverage in the Daily Mail online. “This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.”
On and on it went in the same unhinged vein until the inevitable complaints prompted someone on the paper to do a heavy edit. However, polishing a turd doesn’t make it any less of one.
Apart from those of us of a duskier hue and less-abled being represented, what was it that disturbed the complacency of our dinosaurs so much? “Spelling out ‘NHS’ is an ideological statement, like spelling out ‘Marxism’.” said one Tweet. “The UKshould be celebrating our traditions and heritage, not nutty socialism.” said another. Who’d have thought that anyone with fellow human feelings could find the wonder that is universal healthcare — a fine British invention — so upsetting? Or assume that the notion of public ownership in an equitable organisation of society for the good of everyone is not part of our tradition and heritage?
I suppose that depends on whose tradition and heritage you mean.
To think that I’d fully expected another stitch-up for the launch, such was the utter bottom-scraping build-up, as with the governments (Labour and Coalition) who sold our democratic civil rights to the lowest bidders in order to secure the 2012 games. For all I knew, Boyle might have been another chancer just like the former health and prime ministers, now carving up the NHS for their privatised personal gain. Or the ex-Home Secretary who’s now a director of G4S and running the largest private army in the world.
Or he could have been a vacuous TV showbiz mogul and given us a variation on the dismal Jubilee concert, or made an idiotic attempt to out-extravaganza Beijing on a quarter of the budget during a recession.
Instead, Boyle pulled a people’s Olympics opener out of the jaws of the plundering class who’d hijacked our games and tried to rip us off at every turn. (It’s only through the efforts of organisations such as 38 Degrees that some of the sponsors have been pressured into abandoning their avoidance of paying their fair share of tax.)
The opening ceremony transcended party politics and took us back to root values.
In an age where the media shamefully allows lies to go unchallenged every time a supine minister or businessman caught with his hand in the till says, “Look over there”, Boyle’s cri de couer is refreshing. The Tory narrative that we are skint and the poor have to pay for the bankers’ continuing excesses while the Sunday Times top 1000 is worth £440bn and corporate profits are at an all-time high is surely the sort of “crowd manipulation” a principled media should be challenging.
Instead it serves up the same dead-head business class in order to naturalise a status quo where the rest of us are fodder. How often do you see or hear a trade unionist or a working-class representative with the same pundit rights as Mary Portas, the Dragons’ Den gargoyles, Alan Sugar, Secret Millionaires, abusive celebrity chefs, Simon Cowell and the whole finger-wagging, knife-wielding shouty gamut of grotesques now laying down the law at every level in our culture?
When Boyle decided to have the Olympics torch entry to the stadium flanked by the thousands of workers who built it, he was saying a big screw you to the business chiefs who Pollard, Young, Burley et al would have had celebrated on this occasion rather than their workers: the construction bosses who sneer at ‘elf and safety, who destroy lives and blacklist anyone with enough of a conscience to seek to make the industry safer. You have more chance of dying on a British construction site than you do in Afghanistan.
Interesting that one slip of the mask can elicit such a howl of agony. The liberal press is unable to offer an analysis and, unlike the right, seems oblivious to the case being made, producing instead meaningless drivel like this.
On Friday, Boyle shone a searchlight allowing us to take stock of where we are now. The elegy was beautiful but we should do something to halt what he flagged up as being lost.
There are two great things to have come out of the London Olympics so far: the Thames cable car and the knowledge that there are still some brilliant people who can carve out a bit of space for the rest of us.
Ian Sinclair in LRB: My Olympics.
Sour grapes over Ye Shiwen’s swimming Gold. Although BBC commentators leapt to conclusions, it was an interview with the US coach that sparked fury following Clare Balding’s intemperate accusation within seconds of the win on television.
Anna’s food blog here: