Home / Culture and Society / The London Olympics Opening Ceremonies: A Brilliant Shot Across America’s Bow

The London Olympics Opening Ceremonies: A Brilliant Shot Across America’s Bow

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Most people who watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing were astounded at the sheer spectacle, the grandeur, the enormity of the effort the Chinese expended in presenting their nation and their heritage to the world, and not a few said to themselves, “Wow, what a tough act to follow!” How could England even hope to compete?

Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle chose not to compete; indeed, he stated that the “Beijing games liberated us.” Instead, he gave the world the quintessence of all that is British: the stiff upper lip in the face of near-insurmountable odds, the indomitable will that drove history’s greatest empire and foremost proponent of human rights, and the cultural domination of modern civilization, all juxtaposed with the purest expressions of England’s national psyche: self-effacing humor and whimsy.

Much of the world, and particularly those in China, had to be wondering at the chutzpah of the British who had the utter gall to introduce rock-n-roll and hip-hop to a ceremony steeped in history and tradition. They had to be shaking their heads at the Voldemort blow-up doll, the “doves on bicycles”, and above all, Mr. Bean. But to those who understand, who have a clue when it comes to the British mindset, it was brilliant. Piers Morgan said it best: “I love this already — mainly because it’s so British it will be confusing the hell out of the rest of the world.”

But there was an underlying theme to Danny Boyle’s presentation, one that any longtime player of Sid Meier’s Civilization should immediately recognize: the cultural victory.   John Bull was tapping Uncle Sam on the shoulder and saying, “Excuse me, old chap, but perhaps you should check the score. You see, I’ve already won.” In Sid Meier’s Civilization, A “cultural victory” represents the degree to which a civilization has spread its culture throughout the rest of the world, whether by trade or conquest or clever use of the media.

That’s precisely what England showed us all last night: from human rights to tuxedos and top hats, from rock-n-roll to Harry Potter, from the Industrial Revolution to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, there is not a civilized corner of this planet that has been left untouched, that is not to at least some extent dominated by English culture. If the sun never set on the military dominion of the Union Jack in centuries past, it is true now more than ever that the sun will never set on the cultural dominion of the British Empire. All the proof one needs to see is the ubiquity not only of modern music and formal attire, but of the English language, of modern democracy itself.

It had to be circumstance, mere happenstance at this moment in British history that Mitt Romney was busy embarrassing himself and the GOP, and an even greater irony was Danny Boyle’s celebration of the NHS, England’s National Health Service that helps the English, that enables England to remain at thirteenth on the list of nations by life expectancy, where seven out of the top twenty nations are current or former members of the British Commonwealth. One couldn’t help but compare the success of the NHS to America’s joke of a system that has consigned our nation – the richest in human history – to thirty-eighth on the same list. Did Danny Boyle deliberately include the NHS in the ceremony as a shot across America’s bow? We’ll likely never know for sure, but it sure seems that way.

Sadly, this lesson will be lost on most Americans, particularly those of conservative bent. Few of us will comprehend the lesson that Danny Boyle was giving us, that while America’s influence in this world is currently unmatched, we stand on the shoulders of a cultural giant, at varying turns in the metaphorical form of a Beefeater, a bulldog, or a lion, but always proudly emblazoned with the Union Jack. We Americans should regard them with deep respect and admiration. Our current president understands this. The GOP’s current nominee for president obviously does not.

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About Glenn Contrarian

White. Male. Raised in the deepest of the Deep South. Retired Navy. Strong Christian. Proud Liberal. Thus, Contrarian!
  • It is the British National Health Service, not English.

    Actually it’s neither. It’s simply the National Health Service.

  • Being British it is annoying when you Americans get this wrong.

    I’m frankly astonished that every day’s news doesn’t feature yet another story about an American tourist in Scotland or Wales who got beaten to death for explaining in a loud voice how much he was enjoying his vacation in England and getting to know all these English folks.

  • G2

    Please, it’s Britain, not England. Britain is not England, so why do you class it so? Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is not England yet this Olympics represents The United Kingdom Of Great Britain, NOT ENGLAND!! Do you get that? England is not represented as a country in the Olympics – why because it is PART of Britain. Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland = Team GB. Get it? Being British it is annoying when you Americans get this wrong. It is the British National Health Service, not English. Please, get this right at least! Tell me, Glenn, why do you keep getting this wrong?

  • Deano has it right, of course. This is a splendid year for our nation, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Andy Murray almost winning Wimbledon and now the Greatest Show on Earth.

    And we want to celebrate it. Culturally and historically we’re well aware that we’re far, far deeper and richer than our upstart cousins from across the Frantic Ocean, and we feel no need to “show them up”. It would be a bit like Charles Dickens bragging about his authoring exploits to a local newspaper horoscope writer from Scunthorpe.

  • Igor

    Paranoia is normal US reaction to foreigners. We always assume that foreigners what to kill us, rape our women and children, and steal our gold.

    First time I visited Europe I had my head pulled down between my shoulders, reflexively glaring out with my eyes darting all round, ready to lash out at the slightest offense. Of course, I had landed in Paris, the hell of Americans!

    I went to the railroad ticket booth and asked the phrase I had repeated to myself crossing the Atlantic: “on bee-yay pore la Air-A-Air por lay Hal, see voo play” and got , not only my ticket, but a big friendly, even intimate, smile from the woman behind the counter. No problem! Two phrases that everyone should know from their good home: please and thank you.

  • Glenn, I wasn’t shooting the messenger at all, that is just your resident insecurity syndrome again.

    All I did was point out two factual inaccuracies and point out that Piers Morgan isn’t really the best person to bring into a reputable topic of conversation such as the Olympics.

    In other words, try and get your paranoia under control before you start shooting at random. Oh, wait…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Deano –

    Quite so. Good comment.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Chris –

    FYI, I don’t hold Piers Morgan in the highest of regards, either – yes, I was aware of his knowledge of the phone bugging scandal since it was first reported…but that doesn’t make his quote wrong. You see, I try to concentrate not so much on who made a statement, but more on the worth of the statement itself. I’m not always successful, but the practice does seem to enable me to be able to often (but not always) treat others with respect even when they’re quite disrespectful to me.

    In other words, look more at the message and try not to be so quick to shoot the messenger.

  • Some minor corrections: It’s not England, it’s the United Kingdom; it is British culture not English culture; and Piers Morgan is a scumbag who is lucky not to be up on charges for his alleged involvement with the media phone bugging scandal so I’m not sure that quoting him is entirely appropriate…

  • Deano

    Not to disagree, but I suspect the primary focus of Boyle and the other planners was showcasing Britain (as you noted, culture and achievements, which are not inconsiderable), not sticking one to the US…

    Shocking I know, but how things play in America or what Americans think isn’t always the first thought on everyone else’s mind.

  • Igor: British teeth only ever seemed terrible to Americans, and only when Americans compared them with their own mythical pursuit of oral perfection. As in the US, there are many sets of horrific gnashers gracing the Sceptred Isle: they’re just not allowed to wave them about on TV. (Well, not usually: Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are notable exceptions.)

    A lot of dental care is actually not covered by the National Health Service, because of a law brought in by the last Tory government about 20 years ago that allowed dentists to opt out – which most of them promptly did. I think most people visit private dentists for their regular exams and cleanings, which are reasonably priced, and fall back on the NHS if they need something major and expensive done.

  • Igor

    Good article, Glenn.

    Yes, we’ve wasted our opportunities preening before the mirror while our country deteriorated.

    I was contemplating the comparative dental care of USA and UK recently. Years ago we were revolted at the horrible state of the Brits teeth. It was an ugly joke. Meanwhile our USA dental care seemed to get better every day. But now I notice that every Brit I see, whether on TV or in person, has a healthy mouthful of good teeth, and the ordinary Americans I see have terrible teeth! Of course, famous people have good teeth, but the incidental people in news stories look terrible. They can’t afford dental care. It’s expensive and excluded from health insurance policies.

    It’s a total reversal of fortunes.

    We need a National Health Service.