Yesterday evening, the London Olympics opening ceremony was on TV.
There are estimates of about a billion people worldwide watching it.
Before the athletes entered the stadium, there was a show, reminiscent of a giant musical.
The theme of the show was British history, from the age of William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I, till Queen Elizabeth II today.
One cannot blame the organizers for not showing in a show of just over one hour all the complex details of over four hundred years of history.
However, one should criticize their view of British history: basically one where conflicts between establishments and oppositional movements from below are airbrushed away.
At several moments in the show, frictions in British society could have been shown, and were not really shown. Maybe because the 2012 London Olympics are called “The People’s Games“, but are in fact disfigured by ugly touches of elitism. Even though the collective lighting of the Olympic flame was a welcome positive side.
I mean with those moments where frictions in British society might have been shown, and were not really shown: poet and visual artist William Blake; the industrial revolution and the working class; the suffragette movement; World War I; 1970s punk rock music; the National Health Service; and the athletes-torturing Bahraini Prince Nasser al-Khalifa, presumably present at the ceremony along with other anti-democratic despots.
This video says about itself:
William Blake despised the State, and believed it’s mission was to crush the soul of man.
Whether it be the state of Government, or the State-sanctioned Church, he believed that every man should create his own system, or be enslaved by another’s. As a child, he saw angels in the trees in London’s parks, and he conversed with angels for the whole of his life. But nothing enraged him more than the brutality of State toward the individual. How ironic then that the top private schools (where future leaders are shaped) should have adopted the lyrics of Blake’s Preface To Milton (now named ‘Jerusalem’) where they sing it as a nationalistic paen to a faux-conservative Britannia – and whose ancestors themselves forged the very ‘dark, Satanic mills’ that so offended Blake.
Blake was never recognised in his time, but anyone who values art and liberty should celebrate his eternal spirit!
Music by the Verve, recitations by Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi, and some other guy I’ve forgotten the name of – animation from the 1970’s London Tate William Blake Exhibition. Oh, and some footage by that 1960’s documentary about hidden London, with James Mason.
At the ceremony, William Blake’s well-known poem “Jerusalem” was sung. That William Blake was a critic of the British monarchy and ruling class was not mentioned.
The industrial revolution was depicted, the transition from farms to factories, with big smokestacks going up, workers toiling, and gentlemen in top hats. However, the labour movement, Karl Marx writing Das Kapital in the British Library, the rise of trade unions and socialist organisations, was not shown in the Olympic stadium. Not even with a small red flag.
The movement for woman’s suffrage was indeed shown briefly, with women in early twentieth century clothes wearing signs. Not shown was the governmental violence against that movement.
World War I was shown by people remembering dead soldiers with poppies. Not shown (though the musical-like format might have done that) was how those soldiers had died horribly in their trenches. Let alone that later wars, like the present one in Afghanistan, were shown.
Several music styles from Britain were shown and played. Among them was 1970s punk rock, represented by best known punk band The Sex Pistols. However, they did not choose the two best-known Sex Pistols songs, the anti-monarchy God Save the Queen, or the anti-government Anarchy in the UK. They choose the less controversial lesser known Pretty Vacant.
Part of the show was hundreds of National Health Service employees dancing. That gave an impression of very many NHS employees doing excellent work. That is right; but the present attacks on the NHS by the Conservative government, the cuts and privatisations, went unmentioned.
After the “musical”, the national teams of athletes and officials marched in. Often, when a team came in, the TV cameras zoomed in on a royal family member, president or minister from the sport team’s country.
They did not do so when Bahrain marched in. Maybe the media were too embarrassed to show athletes-torturing Bahraini Prince Nasser al-Khalifa.
Occupy London writes:
We’ll be honest: we hadn’t expected an awful lot. The run-up promised little more than an advert to help sanitise the image of some of the Olympics’ grand sponsors. We saw bread and circuses for an austerity-wrought city that feels like it doesn’t have a great deal to celebrate, a city which the global corporations and financial instituitions have done their best to tear the heart out of.
We’re pleased that Danny Boyle produced an opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics that bore a closer resemblance to the country we recognise than most of us had expected. We’d like to thank him for placing collective action, dissent, humour and – above all – our public services at the heart of his story about what we can, very occasionally, feel proud of.
However, while the Olympic opening ceremony was watched by millions tonight, a very different spectacle was rivalling it for the attention of many on the streets of east London and Twitter users who were following the #criticalmass hashtag.
A peaceful good natured mass cycle that has happened on the last Friday of every month for the past eighteen years was met with police aggression, pepper spray, violence with truncheons used, kettling and multiple arrests. Red London buses full of confiscated bicycles present a very different image of what this city means to the people who live in it in 2012.
A very different type of Olympic spirit coursed through east London’s streets yesterday as demonstrators marched against the “corporate” Games: here.
Bahrain and the Olympics: here.