The Unbearable Lightness Of Being British

Photo: Shimelle (cc)

The epithets attached to the Olympic opening ceremony piled up: eclectic, spectacular, monumental, shambolic, parochial, world-beating, hideous, embarrassing, filmic, and even inspiring. In its parts, the spectacle was all of these things because of the whole, which formed a gush of free-floating anxiety, a confession on a therapist’s couch.

Many commented on the ceremony’s focus on times past, in what viewers outside of Britain took as a flamboyant history lesson or, less charitably, as a statement of a country with no future. This was, however, no simple portrayal of past events, but a raid conducted to shore up a particular view that exists at this time; a malaise suffered here and now.

In this respect, it was significant that director Danny Boyle posed Britons as stoic victims of two world wars and not victors, inventors of an environmentally destructive Pandemonium (Milton’s capital of Hell) not liberators of humanity through the scientific revolution (where was Newton?). British school children are, indeed, more likely to be aware of the pollution created by industry than its role in making sure they can read history at all.

Many on the right in Britain balk at the ceremony's sugared presentation of our National Health Service, which has not been ‘free’ since soon after its inception and which now relies heavily on private finance to keep going. However, the mythology of our history here was not straight-forwardly ‘left’ or ‘right’ wing at all.

Caribbean immigrants to the U.K., arriving on the Empire Windrush, were welcomed with open arms this weekend–not immigration police and hostile locals. None of the suffragettes in the stadium threw themselves under the monarch's horses. Recent bombings were deemed worth mentioning (if not by America's NBC, which cut them from its broadcast) but not the more significant loss of life in the struggle over British rule in Ireland.

Even the punk rockers were robbed of their more ‘unsavory’ associations with drugs and rebellion. This was a thoroughly contemporary vision, deracinated and empty of traditional ‘politics’ or even ‘reality’. In Boyle and writer Frank Cotterel Boyce’s sensitive vision, we ordinary Brits became sick children, mourning soldiers, love-struck teenagers and harmless old rockers and anything else you can't argue with.

This is a British society in which the presentation of an idea always has an easier passage if it is attached to a victim or an innocent, rather than to a vision of the future. It is a Britain where schools are fortresses because children are very rarely attacked by madmen, and where families of the victims of appalling crimes, such as the parents of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, are expected to become policymakers.

This self-consciousness was summed up (and subverted) in the genius touch of turning Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, into a self-deprecating joke. It was beautifully done and, yes, ‘very British, Mr. Bond’. But as one of those teens, unable to finish a dance routine without stopping to text each other, might have said: WTF?

Everything seemed double-edged. Even an ideal like the celebration of heroism was presented more as an opiate’s dream than a hope, with ‘Heroes’, David Bowie’s theme from the heroin flick Christiana F, serving as soundtrack.

Britain’s lack of a future orientation has much to do with an arbitrary and defensive relationship to its history, as displayed this last week. The past haunts us like a Warner Bros.-licensed specter, but even these ghosts are more substantial than our tenuous grip on where we come from. The opening ceremony showed us a Britain where the past is not so much another country, but a Neverland where visions of tomorrow slip further out of reach.

As Bowie wrote: “I could be King, and you could be Queen”. Putting aside the literal constitutional impossibility of such an outrage, we forget now how any of us ever achieved such Olympian heights.

Let's hope the herculean efforts of the sportsmen and women—here to demonstrate human excellence—remind us.


  1. “Many on the right in Britain balk at the ceremony’s sugared presentation of our National Health Service, which has not been ‘free’ since soon after its inception”

    What on earth does this mean? I have used the NHS extensively in the last two years, and have not received a bill. Perhaps you have been conned by someone?

    1. It’s true – the correct phrase is ‘free at the point of care’, which it always has been and still is.  

      The fact that we are taxed to the eyeballs to pay for it doesn’t change the fact that the NHS still conforms to Bevan’s original ideal.

      1. I wouldn’t quite say ‘taxed to the eyeballs’.  Our National Insurance is still cheaper (on average) than what an American pays for good insurance coverage (from what I understand).  Especially when considering it also funds our state pension (which, I’ll admit, is more than paltry).

        1. Not to mention the fact that, at least as far as I know, nobody in the NHS receives bonuses for denying care.

          1. I really don’t know – but given the fact they have very limited budgets I can’t imagine that they’re in a rush to spend money. There’s still technically an incentive for them to deny care; if anything there’s more of an incentive. When you’re billing an insurance company surely you want to take them for everything you can get?

          2. Nathan – If you look at the statement a US health insurance carrier sends out (like mine, which lately run in the hundreds of thousands range), you will find that what the provider charges, and what ends up being the negotiated price is significantly different. Insurance companies try to pay much less than the actual bill… which is probably why the cost of healthcare is so jacked up in the first place.

      2.  Most of the growth in the NHS budget has been in the past ten years, mostly thanks to a rapid growth in doctor’s salaries and shortening of hours. As usual: greedy doctors fuck up health care the world over. Medical professionals really expect to be pampered for doing their jobs.

        1. Doctors used to work 70 hour weeks. Now they work 40 hour weeks.  I don’t think that’s greedy.

          1. That would be terrible if it was the case, but it’s not true. Here is the GP workload survey from 2006: – in the “Comparison with 1992/1993 survey” section you can see that the amount of hours worked by a GP partner was on average about the same, slightly less than forty hours a week.

          2. When I graduated as a hospital doctor in the UK I started working what was called a ‘1 in 3 prospective cover roster’. That means that 3 of us were responsible for the day to day running of our group of wards, 24/7. So we were awake for most of 32 hours, got a night’s sleep then did a normal day the following day before coming back to do another 32 hours. It got better — for the next 10 years I ‘only’ worked 80-odd hour weeks instead. But my contract said I was working 72 so that’s all I was paid…
            Trust me, it was shit. I think the ‘greedy’ doctors just got some back pay owing. The increased wage bill just surprised everyone because how badly we were shafted just got brushed under the carpet for years.

            There will be posters noting that GPs and hospital consultants work 40-ish hour weeks. That has pretty much always been the case and is for me now. But in the past, getting there was brutal and dehumanising. 

        2. As usual: greedy doctors fuck up health care the world over. Medical professionals really expect to be pampered for doing their jobs.

          Four years of pre-med. Four years of medical school. Four to eight years of residency. One to four years of fellowship for complex specialties.

          Yeah, those doctors are just lazy parasites.

          1.  I didn’t say they were lazy, or that they were parasites, just that they expect a lot of compensation, which is true. And the increase in GP pay since 2003 is pretty stark, see here, for example:

            Also, you’re describing training in the United States. In the UK, as with much of the rest of the world, there is no pre-med training (which is just a waste of time); you have four years of medical training at a university, two years of foundation training, and then some amount of time specializing or becoming a GP. See here:

          2. I think saurbh is still underestimating how long it takes to get to GP and specialist grades. I graduated in the UK 1992 after 5 years at med school and got my specialist registration in 2004. That’s 17 years of training, although I’ll admit I had some fun working abroad so that made it longer than for many.  In New Zealand where I am currently the minimum time you can expect to train before you could replace me in my current post  is 13 years, and many do more.
            So we do a job that takes at least 13 years to learn to a high enough standard to work independently. If we screw up then someone dies or is left disabled. If we stuff up that badly we probably lose our livelihood after being pilloried widely in the press and most of us have nothing else that we can do well enough to earn a living from. 

            Training and risk taking/risk mitigation like that doesn’t come cheap, sorry.

            (saurbh’s link also fails to factor in the large expenses slush fund that every MP has, and their rather cast-iron pension –which they are holding onto for themselves despite trying to get rid of the less advantageous NHS one).

          3.  Saurabh is incorrect.

            2008 OECD report on medical remuneration:


            GPs up to 3.5x average wage (low 2)

            Specialists up to 7x (low 1.5)

            Out in the rest of the world, medical training varies between the ‘American’ system (post grad degree, similar to some European countries) to something along the lines of the ‘old UK’ system (5-6 year undergrad).

            This allows you to become an intern.

            GP/primary training ranges 3-5 years once you get on a training scheme.

            Specialty training ranges from 3-10 years depending on the scheme and whether you can stay on or not.

            So given the data above, minimum 10 years gets you to junior partner in a law firm level or mid-tier management levels of remuneration.

            Why isn’t saurabh complaining about lawyers and managers?

            Aeon’s comments about liability and lack of portability of the skill set are dead on.

      3. You should try lowering your taxes and paying $ 12K in insurance and still having to pay part of the bill.

      1. The claim that NHS is not free because it relies on taxes is hollow and disingenuous spin doctoring.  OF COURSE it depends on taxes.  That is what universal healthcare IS.  It’s a system in which everyone has access to healthcare supported by taxes instead of fee for service.

        1. I don’t have a problem with it. I actually think that we’re underpaying for our healthcare; supported by the fact that countries nearby with higher costs have significantly better service. Social Healthcare is, IMO, a good indicator of a civilised and supportive society.

          But I still struggle to rationalise it as free when I pay for it every month. In the same way as I don’t perceive rubbish collection as free.

          1. Well.  OK.  But in that sense it could never be free in any case, because it has to be financed somehow.

          2. @stephenl123:disqus 

            Of course you’re right; but my point is that it’s such an explicitly set-aside payment.  Unlike education (for example) which is funded by Income Tax, which in a roundabout way  is no longer my money, but the governments.

        2. All other things being equal, frankly I’d prefer to overpay for healthcare than to overpay for the military.

        3. It’s worth mentioning, too, that universal healthcare relies a lot less on out-of-pocket payments, co-pays, deductibles, and huge premiums paid to for-profit insurers. 

    2. I think that originally there was no intention to charge for optician’s services but that charges for spectacles were introduced soon after the NHS was founded. Or possibly dental services were initially free of charge and charges were soon introduced for dentures. It ain’t worth checking, though.

    3. I know, right? And besides, you guys in the UK have no right to complain. You jump on here, verbally abuse us USAians because of our dystopian health care system while we bawl our eyes out and shout “It’s true! It’s all true! We’re the ass-end of the world! Can you loan us your system? Please?” and then you have the gall to complain that your taxes are a bit on the high side.

      Sorry, had to get that off my chest. Of course you’re allowed to complain. Please continue.

      1. Actually, our taxes are blooming high, certainly by the time you don’t just count income tax, but add National Insurance, mindboggling taxes and duties on alcohol, cigarettes (not that I smoke anymore) and petrol, VAT at 20% and insiduous little money grabs like Insurance Tax.

        That, and the fact that you just can’t help feeling that a huge amount of that money just gets wasted.

    4. Nick. Thanks for the comment. Free prescriptions were removed in 1952, four years after the NHS started, to prevent “frivolous use” of the health service. Now England is actually the only place in the UK where charges are still made, with exceptions for the elderly and those on benefits. The point was that the myth and the reality are not the same and this stands for the whole “history” presented at the ceremony. Our relation to the past is mythologised to shore up prejudices about the present is the point. This damages both how we approach learning about the past and how we face the future. My son’s mother is a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service and will attest along with many others as to the desultory treatment the NHS (as an employer) dishes out. While we count our blessings we should be careful not to whitewash the problems. 

  2. What is this rambling woolly Tory nonsense doing on the usually sharp, informative, crisply-edited BB? Have you suddenly turned into the Daily Telegraph? Weird.

          1. Sorry, Rob – shouldn’t have said ‘Tory’. Actually, it’s the ‘woolly’ that’s most annoying. What on earth is the gentleman on about? No idea.

          2. @boingboing-ac69a1057edfcc8138896055948af5be:disqus
            I agree completely. Hope your comment doesnt get deleted.

          3. I’d agree with you about the article not being Tory, but chrism is spot-on about its rambling and wooly nature. This piece, which is getting at something interesting and shows potential to get there with style, is in desperate need of an editor.

            [yes, I know that kind of editing is not the norm here or on most group blogs, but you guys might want to do Wystan Mayes a favour next time]

          4. @3william: I don’t think it’s wooly. The style’s a little hard to understand, but the points are good. Why say your criticism meanly?

      1. would you prefer they conducted a fist-shaking denouncement of all the sordid chapters in UK history as an opening ceremony? maybe a long, gruesome public shaming of the memories of their dead ancestors. a nice long grovel? begging for forgiveness for the sins of their forebears?

        would that be better than a celebration of what they want “being British” to mean today?

        what exactly do you think an opening ceremony is supposed to be?

          1.  Of course. Because Beijing had such an excellent sequence showing the tanks rolling on Tienanmen Square, and hardy Tibetans rebelling against invasion. Just like Sydney had a long skit about the Stolen Generation in between the dancing sheds and lawnmowers.

            Opening ceremonies are cliched puff for tourists ticking off as many stereotypes and famous, anodyne references that a foreign TV audience will recognise as possible. It always is.

            Overanalysing a trivial song and dance show to death is what’s boring.

          2. @boingboing-9ce163c62424ac85f2f8bb64935f4ff8:disqus  The part where they hung a Victorian street child for stealing an apple was pretty neat, the reenactment of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a bit jumbled though.

    1. I don’t actually know whether it is Tory at all because it was difficult for me to understand. I’m not a native speaker, though I usually have no trouble reading English. But when the style gets a bit complex/unusual, I do have trouble getting the point. It is a shame: what I do understand looks genuinely interesting.

  3. Did anyone expect an olympics ceremony that WASN’T sugar-coated?

    My principal problem with it was that it stuck with no idea for more than 15 seconds, for three hours – it was like the inside of an ADHD sufferer’s eyelids.

    1. This is hardly the time to look to the future either at the end of a long reign in a jubilee year.

  4. There shore are a lot of fancy $5 dollar words in this here post.  *spits tobacco juice on floor, wipes chin on sleeve*  Can’t say I cotton to it.  Nosir, can’t say that I do.

    1. *glances down to comment section*

      Better git the dogs in, Nash.  My knee’s bin achin’ and lookee yonder.  Shitstorm’s a-comin’.

  5. I’ve read this through a couple of times and I’m still not entirely sure what the point is. I *think* that it’s saying that a prime-time live entertainment show wasn’t hard-hitting enough, that it skated over some historic episodes, but not all of their nasty elements. It didn’t investigate the racism, deaths, abuse of power or any of the other big, horrid things that happened. WTF?

      1. Technically, they haven’t been drunk with actual power since about 1914.  Except for possibly the brief episode in the Falklands.

        The illusion of power and importance, now that sounds more like it.

        1. The readers of the Daily Mail, at least, are taking the end of empire rather badly.

    1. At the risk of putting words into Mayes’ mouth, I believe the thesis is that wooly nature of games’ opening and the mixed reactions to it reflects a deeper confusion about what they hell the national character is supposed to be. This is Britain’s chance on the world stage to reaffirm it’s convictions and tell its story… to remind people of its place in the world. But now that they have the chance, they’re left wondering “what DOES it mean to be British these days?”

      From the editorial, Mayes gives me an impression that Britons as a people are beat down and have lost optimism. They have nowhere to go into the future as trailblazers, so they have no recourse but rewrite their past: they aren’t a prime mover on the world stage, they’re stoic victims of war, terrorism, and their own misguided industry. At the same time, the history of its people isn’t riddled with internal tumult and rebellion, but is a relatively cheery tale of random waves of integration.

      In short, for hundreds of years Britons used to do things, now they just have things happen to them. There is no driving narrative to the country anymore. They don’t know where they go from here. If there ever was a driving narrative, it petered out and can’t be used anymore. The best they could do is a rambling collection of historical touchstones and movies that you’ve probably seen.

    2. My takeaway was that he thought there should have been an RUC vs IRA spectacle in the arena. Would make a good opportunity to air an extended Phelps interview in the US, I suppose.

  6. You could write a year’s worth of classes on the opening ceremony, and the many different interpretations of it. Five days later people are still talking about it, trying to make sense of it.    

    In many ways it was a presentation of the British for the British, with many jokes and symbols that probably only the British understand. Did it miss stuff out – of course it did, it still would be going on today if it hadn’t.  

    It had the fight for women’s rights, the Jarrow march, the dark satanic mills. It had the Eton boating song, the Queen and the army. The NHS wasn’t in there so much because it is great, but because it is important and that the nation values its importance. 

    It showed a nation that values humour, individuality, tradition, music, literature, reverence and irreverence and can feel this is for everyone. It was of a nation that can be contradictory, finding its place in the modern world but having the self-belief not to worry about the uncertainty of the future.

    1. Five days later people are still talking about it, trying to make sense of it. 
      Surely that means it was a success.

  7. Whats this nonsense about the NHS “now relies heavily on private finance to keep going at all”?

    PFI is one of the chief methods used by the political right* to siphon off as much NHS money to private profits as possible and damage the NHS in the process. It’s something the NHS is saddled with, not relies on

    (* both main parties included)

    1. Kind of agree, but the main motivation behind PFI is that it allows you to replace cheap government debt with expensive private debt, thus massaging about your public borrowing.

      1.  Yep, that too. Good for manifesto fictions.

        It’s somewhat akin to buying a house with a credit card. Won’t show up initially on your bank account but will cost you several multiples of the cost in the long run…

        The motivation is to give as much taxpayer money as possible to the private sector whilst giving some good election lies.
        PFI and privatisation are dire for public service, but very profitable for the ultra rich, which is why they are used.

  8. Surely the fact that everyone has been able to interpret it in whatever way suits their particular philosophy suggests that Boyle (and Cotterel Boyce) got it pretty much spot on?  A similar thing regularly happens to the BBC, which is likewise portrayed as being rabidly left-wing or right-wing depending upon the needs of the writer.

    I mean, what about the obvious “we needed the Americans to parachute in and save us” symbolism of the Lord Voldemort section?! 

    1. That’s the sense I got from the OC show, too. Though given that this was a spectacle aimed at an international as well as a domestic audience, an artist’s statement from Boyle and his team would have been of interest.

  9. >Caribbean immigrants to the U.K., arriving on the Empire Windrush, were welcomed with open arms this weekend–not immigration police and hostile locals. 

    Where in the ceremony were the Windrush people welcomed with open arms? They walked through the stadium looking rather confused.

    I’m not sure what the writer means by immigration police. From Wikipedia:The British Nationality Act 1948 was passed to allow the 800 million subjects in the British Empire to live and work in the United Kingdom without needing a visa. These people filled a gap in the UK labour market for unskilled jobs and many people were specifically brought to the UK on ships such as the Empire Windrush. 

    It wasn’t until the late 1960s that immigration restrictions came into place. Some people were hostile to the immigrants yes – the infamous “No dogs, no Blacks, no Irish” signs in the windows of rentable accommodation. But again, where where in the ceremony were the Windrush immigrants welcomed with open arms?

  10. > It is a Britain where schools are fortresses because children are very rarely attacked by madmen

    I’ve read this sentence a number of times and still don’t understand it. 

    1. It’s a comment on the typical overreaction to spectacular but rare threats (i.e. madmen attacking kids in a school lead to CCTV etc), while common but unspectacular threats (e.g. road traffic accidents) are overlooked.

      A.k.a. as security theatre – I recommend Bruce Schneier’s blog.

    2.  I think he’s trying to make a point about Britain having become a fearful nation (e.g. reacting to those rare but horrific school shootings by locking down all schools). I can’t really be sure, though, since the article is so muddled.

      If that’s what he’s saying, I wouldn’t say that the UK is unique in this regard. This blog spends a good deal of time discussing how American security authorities react in the same short-sighted way to outlier events.

      1. Is that why schools in Britain do it?  In my neck of the woods in the U.S., it has less to do with shootings, and more to do with the number of kids whose parents have split, only one parent has custody, and the other parent snags the kid from school.

        Rare, but not as rare as school shootings.

    3.  It took effort, but I parsed it to mean “It is a Britain where schools are built like fortresses because children need to be protected from gunmen… no matter how rare gunmen actually are”.

      The “rarely” gets in the way here, because it makes it sound like fortresses are sane the response to a rare event. If he had said “occassionally” — which conjures up a mental image of something that happens every other Tuesday, so long as traffic isn’t too bad — it would be less of a stumbling block, but also contradict what he was going for.

      (Tip: if you can’t express two separate thoughts in the same sentence, don’t put them in the same sentence.)

      1.  “Occasionally” would have been a better word choice, but “It is a Britain where schools are fortresses because children are (incredibly rarely) attacked by madmen” would also work.

  11. Wystan – you complain that Boyle posed Britons as stoic victims, and then two paragraphs later complain that he omitted to mention a victim of the Suffragette movement.

  12. As a long-time Anglophile, it worked for me. It was, like the Beijing ceremonies, a celebration of the host nation’s contributions to civilization, with artistry and spectacle.  But while China’s aim was to awe the world through flawlessly-deployed mass human power, the Brits expertly mobilized their soft power, based on their clearly foundational status as having the first global empire, first industrial revolution, first human rights awareness,  etc, etc. Plus, they kept a Monty-Pythonesque sense of humor about it–impressive!

    You try summing up 1000 years worth of contributions to the world in a stadium.

    1. (Disclaimer: I’ve lived here for more than 10 years but I’m not British.)

      I think that occasionally the British view felt forced — like the Four Nation Choirs, a patchwork of songs with very different content and origins, only sharing the status of unofficial national anthem for each home nation. The moment felt very politically-correct and didn’t really do it for me.It was extremely British at times (the industrial revolution, Bond, Bowie, punk), and occasionally very English; but the truth is that Englishness is mostly about being elite, and Britishness about being a whole, and I think Boyle privileged the latter over the former. After all, he’s a fervent Roman Catholic from an Irish family raised in the North of England, so he’s never really been part of (or interested in) the classic English establishment flowing from Eton and Oxbridge. This was mostly a good thing, but it did result in glossing over the best parts of their XIX century history (Industry and Empire did spread liberalism and Enlightenment, in their own way, but Boyle is more in tune with the fanatic William Blake and reduces it all to a Lowry painting).

      Having the flirty couple being non-white was a very “London” thing, though. Contemporary UK is multicultural, no doubt, but nowhere as much as London; I think it was slightly disrespectful (if bold) to ignore the fact that whites are still the overwhelming majority in Britain, and will probably be for the foreseeable future. Also, the truth is that African and Caribbean minorities are in steep decline; outside of London, multicultural UK is almost exclusively an Asian affair. So that part I think was a bit disenfranchising for pretty much everyone.

  13. Mind you, it was still fab and a woman friend of mine was one of the nurses in the NHS sequence.

  14. It’s the Olympic opening ceremony, not Ken fucking Loach. I don’t think anybody had the right to seriously expect the NI troubles or drug abuse to be depicted. It certainly had more meat in it than any other ceremony I remember from the last thirty years or so.

  15. My impression of the ceremony was that Boyle was showcasing two things about the British:

    1) Things the Brits are proud of: Literature, music, healthcare, and technology.

    2) That they built modern Western civilization.

    It was less about establishing the UK on the world stage or charting out their important future, but reminding the world that the UK is and has and continues to be an important center of culture and business for the world.

    I was a little bit peeved that the music medley skipped through one of the UK’s biggest music contributions: punk. Maybe there was a little bit of The Jam, but where were the Clash and Sex Pistols? They were both a BFD.

    1. they played Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols, with pogo-ing punk avatars, but NBC cut this and played commercials instead. You can find a (not great) video on youtube –

      And they had The Clash’s London Calling too, although I can’t find any video evidence.

      1. I thought I heard the first few words during the trip down the Thames. Not enough to hint too much at the actual meaning of the song.

        1. You’re right.
          Close to the beginning, there was a video sequence flying down the thames where they played the opening to “god save the queen” — and cut the song off right after the first line.

          For anyone not familiar with the song:

          I think the director didn’t really care about many of the topics adressed. It was just a nice shallow muscial-type representation of what ot could have been. But then, if you are looking for profound artistical/historical/political insight in the opening ceremoy of Olympic games, you’re doing it wrong.

  16. Well, our ceremonies 2 years ago had giant fucking inflated Mounties and Beavers while a goofball sang awkward showtunes, so don’t feel so bad.

    1. To be fair, that was the closing ceremony, where we had the leeway to indulge in a bit more camp.   The opening ceremonies was a very serious affair with mountains, snow and native people.

  17. My only complaint about the opening ceremonies is that they didn’t have David Tennant, dressed as Doctor Who, lighting the Olympic cauldron.  Like he did in an episode of the show a few years ago.

  18. Nostalgic, not to say hauntological, retromania. So that’s all good then. The only thing that bothers me (apart from the sheer length of the thing) is how all that anarchic rebellion from angry young people gets absorbed into the historical myth. ps #WeLoveTheNHS

    1. anarchic rebellion from angry young people gets absorbed into the historical myth
      Because a historical myth?

  19. Not sure what sort of “future orientation” the article’s author expected to see in the opening ceremonies. Depictions of the first British colonists on Mars? A dance number about how scientists at Oxford make humans immortal? A profile about the glorious reign of Queen Elizabeth the 9th in the 32nd century? The Olympic opening ceremony is a celebration of the host country’s culture and achievements, which means it has to deal with the past and present, not with what might be in the future. I think Danny Boyle did a pretty good job on it.  

  20. The opening ceremony left me with a single thought: I want a bed you can bounce on with a white duvet that lights up. You can keep the sport.

  21. If any of you read comic books, the first half of the opening ceremonies reminded me of the story arc of the last 3 issues of Journey Into Mystery, #639-641, written by the excellent Kieron Gillen. The story revolves around Chris Claremont’s pastoral Otherworld Britain at war with a metaphysical Industrial Age Britain, and the whole affair is arbitrated by Loki (who is now a mischievous but semi-conscientious teenager, if you haven’t been following since Thor’s latest death).  

  22. London has been dubbed a cultural “powerhouse” as a report was released showed it performed strongly in a series of indicators from museums to comedy performances compared with major cities around the world.The World Cities Culture Report, which was released today, compared the cultural standing of 12 major cities including Paris and Mumbai to Shanghai, New York and Tokyo.Munira Mirza, deputy mayor for education and culture of London, told The Independent: “While it’s hard to say one city is on top, on a number of indicators, London is rightly pretty high,” before adding: “When I saw the data I was reassured that we were still doing well.”While she hailed the performance of the formal institutions including the galleries, theatres and heritage sites – “all the things you would expect” – she added: “We also do surprisingly well on the number of festivals, and books taken out of libraries. London has a diversity of different art forms. We’re strong across a range of areas.”The 60 indicators studied showed different strengths among the cities, which also included Istanbul, Sydney and Johannesburg, according to the report London was “strong in almost every category, with a great stock of cultural infrastructure, and high participation and attendance rates”.Among the highlights was it topping the number of museums with 173 beating competition from its nearest rival Berlin, which had 158 and Paris with 137. More than half the adult population visit a major museum or gallery at least once a year, the highest of any of the 12 cities.London has the most World Heritage Sites, along with Paris, with its four including the Tower of London, as well as the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. It has a further 18,900 historical sites, the second most behind Istanbul.

  23. Shame on Danny Boyle for not not using the opening ceremony as a piece of highly politcised social commentary, lambasting our political and public institutions and generally revelling in how shit THE ENTIRE COUNTRY IS! I mean really. *tut*

  24. What exactly is the point to this article? Its a complete mess, which is quite ironic as the author seems to be accusing the Opening Ceremony of the same thing. Probably. Its hard to tell.

    Personally I liked the show and I’m not alone there. It was fun and light-hearted with some great darker moments. To say the Opening Ceremony focused on the past is correct, but it’s also a ridiculous criticism. It was about what we, as a group of nations, should be most proud of. It was about the best bits of our history and the events and cultural keystones which made us what we are today. It was not a time to dwell on mistakes! Or politics. If you think it was, you’re really missing the point of the show.

    I also find it highly amusing that some Brits take it upon themselves to declare Britain is having some kind of crisis of identity. Maybe you are, but don’t lump us all in there with your personal identity issues.

  25. This article reads like a jealous smear upon a long envied rival. On top of this universally praised ceremony is more good news for the UK no doubt to the chagrin of the writer of the original piece.. The UK has just been named as a Cultural Powerhouse by The World Cities Culture report, due to its theatres, art galleries and its leading number of World heritage sites. It also has more museums than Paris or Berlin and a great stock of cultural infrastructure. The report is freely available online and well worth a read.

  26. I am friends with a lot of very world weary, cynical people, whom I thought would hate a British Olympic opening ceremony (like I thought I would). The response from them and me has been wholeheartedly positive. It’s changed a lot of people opinion towards the Olympics and given the whole of London (and the UK) a really positive boost over the last week. Unlike anything I have seen for decades.
    So why the whingy article here? 

  27. Wow, Wystan must be a real hit at parties. It’s been a while since I read such a po-faced, overly serious, self-important article. It was a fun opening ceremony, British to the core. It was also by far and away, the most original opening ceremony of any Olympic games in my lifetime. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but not sure it deserves to be infused with so much sinister subtext…

  28. Overlooking the link to, complaining about the Spanish outfits without a mention of the ceremony itself, Have a look at their front page to understand the quality of this publication. These guys used to fill my letterbox with free rubbish when I lived in Stoke. It must have taken some time to find this link. Please Wystan, next time you want to write such awful grumpy fluff, keep it to yourself.

    1.  Thanks for pointing this out. Those links at the top of the article are really deceptive. The shambolic link is for an article written before the Opening Ceremony even started.

  29. Wasn’t the end of Empire in the 60s? You won’t believe the amount of time me and my friends don’t spend talking about it.

    …and while I’m here, what’s all this rubbish about the UK being unsure of its future? We’re a small European nation thanks and we know it. Think of us as Holland but with more drugs or Belgium but with better music.

    Time to adjust your stereotypes folks!

  30. I don’t really get all the handwringing. To me (as a UK resident (Welsh)) it looked like. Hello, we’re Britain, we know we’re not flavour of the month, but, rest of the world, you quite like our stuff and here’s a brief montage of some of it. As for the ‘forced multiculturalism’ others are complaining about, it didn’t occur to me that the couple were mixed-race or the some of the Brunels were black, I just saw people. 

    I don’t think Britain has lost its way or is uncertain of its future, we’re a mixed-up people who absorb our conquerers into our culture. Michael Wood has a hugely interesting series on the BBC at the moment called The Great British Story: A People’s History which pulls back from all the bombast about Empire, war and conquest. Definitely worth a really good look. 

    1. …I’m with you David.  I don’t really get all the hand wringing. There was a story. It had music and dancing and stuff.  Everyone there had a good time. It started the Olympics. 

    2. That series looks fascinating; hopefully PBS will pick it up in the U.S.  They pared Story of England down to a four-parter here.

  31. The most surreal part for me was that dystopic segment where the green turf is being stripped away and the huge belching smokestacks are ascending, with Kenneth Branagh blithely overseeing the Progress.  All I could think of was the movie, “Brazil.”

  32. The opening ceremony was great…It really was!

    Unless you are one of the minorities in the ‘United Kingdom’ who happens not to agree with David Cameron’s overtly pomposterus rabble rousing Victoriana influenced patriotic fairy tale.

    I’m a Scot and I found the majority of the themes expressed in the ceremony completely alien to me. It just seemed like they (the Tories) were rolling out another excuse to wave the Union Flag in a pathetic attempt to show how unified our nation is.

    To be honest – and please excuse my crudity – I would not be surprised if they had a team of specialist working to make sure that William is shagging Kate right royally – on a rota system – to ensure we have another excuse to wave that bloody flag again soon with the announcement of a Royal pregnancy (and if it’s a daughter what’s the betting they call it Diana…Ahhhhhhh!).

    This almost perpetual Britaniaolypajubaleeathon is really starting to irritate now – to the point where some of the Celtic members of Team GB have decided that they cannot bring themselves to join in the fraudulent festivities and sing ‘God Save the Queen’. Good on them, but I would of rather they have exposed the ridiculousness of the whole thing by refusing to compete at all.

    1. Cheer up fella!, its not as bad as all that, you need to turn that Celtic frown upside down. 

      Make yourself feel better by singing Flower of Scotland over God save the Queen at medal ceremonies then obsessively counting the number of times Americans refer to the UK as England and then ranting about it to your friends.

  33. “British school children are, indeed, more likely to be aware of the pollution created by industry than its role in making sure they can read history at all.”

    Yes, and in the U.S., school children are more unlikely to learn how much the sciences advanced under Nazis.

    I mean…what?  Could you expand on that?  Are you angered that industrialists aren’t glorified?  I understand that industrialism helped the West become more prosperous, but…what?

Comments are closed.