bibelot #3: windrush
I’ve just now realized that there was an extended section of the opening ceremony dedicated to the Empire Windrush, the ship that landed in London in June 1948, carrying almost 500 Jamaican immigrants. The Windrush is now seen the symbolic beginning of massive Caribbean—and eventually from the rest of the empire—immigration to the metropole over the next two decades. Indeed, you could argue that the Windrush’s landing was the beginning of the vibrant, multicultural society that Britain has now become. This is of tremendous importance to me personally because so many of my family members, including my mother when she was 12, travelled by ship to London in the 1950s. There was the briefest glimpse of the Windrush during the NBC coverage, but only those in the know would have seen it. (You have to really know what you’re looking for to decipher something that vaguely looks like a ship in one frame, followed a few frames later by black men in Sunday finest striding around purposefully.) Originally I thought the fleeting glimpse was due to director Danny Boyle. Nope. It was NBC making another cut.
bibelot #2: NBC
I’ll say much more about the opening ceremonies later, but this needs to be said now: NBC’s coverage of the ceremony was abominable. The five hour tape delay (on the East Coast). Matt Lauer/Meredith Vieira’s bungled, tedious, and at times exuberantly ignorant or factually inaccurate narration of Danny Boyle’s display—with the ultimate low of Matt Lauer reporting as fact the idea that 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II had parachuted into the stadium. Bob Costas’s trite and at times offensive Parade of Nations facts—what did Albania do to deserve the note that some countries are just there to participate? The constant chatter of Lauer and Costas during various parts that they announced as highlights, ensuring that American viewers wouldn’t be able to see the wonder uninterrupted. The constant and poorly timed commercial breaks that broke up the drama—seriously, NBC, you can’t make it through a five-minute torch relay without taking a break? The subsequent rushing through of countries who had the misfortune of entering the stadium in the middle of a made-up commercial break. (It seemed as though Jamaica was going to be a victim of this, but apparently the group of Italy-Jamaica-Japan were too important to get the rush treatment—the first “commercial-break” nations to not be breezed over.) And worse, the realization after I emerged from my media blackout that NBC had not just broken up the ceremony, it had edited things out, including longer (and probably more sensical) music sections and a memorial tribute that included the 7/7 victims and Danny Boyle’s own father. There’s no question that my slightly negative impressions about the ceremony were due in large part to NBC’s horrifically inept presentation. Shameful.
[Edit: I forgot to mention what NBC deemed more important than the memorial tribute. It was more important, apparently, that we see Ryan Seacrest do an utterly banal interview with Michael Phelps than we take a moment to honor those lost, including those lost the day after London was announced as the host for the 2012 Olympics. Unbelievable.]
suggested reading: opening ceremony edition
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills.
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O Clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land!
William Blake’s “Jerusalem,” set to Hubert Parry’s 1916 music, is a classic English patriotic anthem. It’s the unofficial anthem of community organization the Women’s Institute, it was performed at the Royal Wedding, it’s performed during the final scene of the movie Chariots of Fire, and it’s sung before cricket matches. There are many who want it to be England’s national anthem. (“God Save the Queen” is the British national anthem, and there is no English national anthem. Another candidate is “Land of Hope and Glory.”) It’s a sublime piece of music, certainly one of the most beautiful hymn settings.
What’s important about “Jerusalem” (or its more formal title “And did those feet in ancient times”) is that it is explicitly and unambiguously English. There is nothing British about it.
So why does tomorrow’s opening ceremony draw so strongly from such a English cultural anthem, when ostensibly the ceremony is designed to welcome the world to Britain, not simply England? The British team is team GB (a designation that geographically eliminates Northern Ireland, even though the Northern Irish compete as Brits). There are venues in Scotland and Wales. This is not just an English affair.
Last month, film director Danny Boyle unveiled his plan for the opening ceremony, which draws heavily on “Jerusalem” for inspiration. And as the phrase “green and pleasant land” would suggest, a decent chunk of the ceremony is focused on the English countryside.
They’re playing cricket on the village green, dancing happily around the maypoles and singing for joy in the background.
Somewhere nearby, a family is enjoying a picnic in the meadow, where the countryside is dotted with livestock and the children skip innocently in their summer clothes.
This is the snapshot of a nation that will proudly welcome the world when the Olympics begin next month – an idyllic portrayal of everything that’s great about Great Britain. They have romantically labelled it a reflection of ‘our green and pleasant land’.
But yesterday, as artistic director Danny Boyle’s vision for the Games’ opening ceremony was unveiled, you could be forgiven for thinking it looked more like the land time forgot.
A more recent report gives us more information about the first “rural” act of the extravaganza.
A stage backdrop of hills, streams, meadows and a thatched cottage will evoke Britain’s rural past. The landscape will be dotted with live animals, including 12 horses, three cows, 70 sheep, three sheepdogs and a horse-drawn plough, along with milkmaids, picnicking families, an Edwardian village cricket team in flannels, caps and braces, and people dancing around maypoles.
At one end of the arena will be a recreation of Glastonbury Tor, with an oak tree on top and a festival “mosh pit” at its foot. At the other end will be a space for crowds recreating the Last Night of the Proms.
Boyle suggested he might even create artificial rain clouds for special effect, though these may prove unnecessary.
Background music is likely to include Land of Hope and Glory, The Jam’s Going Underground, and Chariots of Fire by Vangelis.
All of that is followed by a “dark, Satanic mills” act that depicts the Industrial Revolution.
This extensive coupling of the ceremony with “Jerusalem” raises some questions. First, what about the Celtic nations? Boyle says they’ll be represented through their national flowers, but is that enough? Whose Olympics are these?
And while all opening ceremonies inevitably gesture toward the past, does Danny Boyle run the risk of highlighting more of the stereotype of rural England rather than emphasizing the exciting multicultural society that the United Kingdom has become? It’s true that England is a more rural country than the United States. It takes less than ten minutes’ outbound train ride from almost any London station to be surrounded by the classic English rolling hills and hedgerows. Wales and Scotland are similarly rural. Nonetheless, the percentage of people actually engaged in agriculture isn’t all that high, so is focusing on the past and the countryside the best way of showing off all that modern Britain has to offer?
All that said, though, word is the ceremony is spectacular. Can’t wait! (In doing the final overview of a semester’s worth of British history and previewing key issues that the United Kingdom will face over the next few years, I told my students that, given labor laws and the recession, the London 2012 opening ceremony would inevitably be a less impressive display than Beijing. I hope tomorrow will prove me wrong.)
A few more ceremony details:
Keeping a secret
- over 60,000 people have seen most of the ceremony during a dress rehearsal but haven’t leaked anything, thanks to ingenious marketing, like the hashtag #savethesurprise
- what they have said is that it’s amazing
If Danny Boyle had handed out laughing gas and tax rebates at the penultimate run-through in Stratford he could not have got warmer reviews. Strangers when they got on the train, the spectators grinned and babbled wide-eyed to each other about what they had seen.
“It was jaw dropping”, “Amazing, I didn’t know where to look”, “It makes you really want to get behind them”.
“Splendidly British and magnificently bonkers,” said one. “If you’ve got plans Friday night, cancel them. Opening ceremony is out of this world,” said another.
…it is a spectacular, warm and, in places, emotional celebration of the UK. Whether it translates to the global television audience remains to be seen, but that could be less important than lighting the fire of the domestic audience.
Who’s lighting the torch? My money is on Sir Steve Redgrave, who won 5 gold medals in rowing in 5 consecutive Olympics. So far, he hasn’t had a prominent role in the Olympics (which is why Lord Sebastian Coe is out of my running). He is an Olympian (which eliminates David Beckham). And he’s won the most medals at the most number of Olympics of any living British athlete. (I could be wrong on that.)
Dark horse candidates: Roger Bannister (whose only knock is the lack of an Olympic medal) or David Beckham. Yeah, Beckham said it shouldn’t be him because he hasn’t been an Olympian, but I could see the organizers giving him a consolation for his shock non-inclusion on the soccer team. Surely he would have carried the flag had he been on the team.
- It surely won’t be two-time decathlon gold medalist Daley Thompson, after he said that track and field was harder than rowing, and so Redgrave wasn’t in the same league as him or Coe.
Former runner Lord Coe, chairman of Games organisers Locog, has been pushing for his long-time friend Thompson to conduct the honours on July 27, ahead of bookmakers’ favourite Redgrave.
When asked about the rivalry between Lord Coe and Redgrave, Thompson said: “Why would there be rivalry? In my opinion Sebastian Coe is the second greatest Olympian, after myself.
"Steve Redgrave is not in the same class as Seb Coe. He is a rower, but I think track and field is the toughest sport in the Olympics, which means the rewards are greater."
Asked if Redgrave was an obvious choice to light the torch as a five-time gold medallist, Thompson said: ‘I don’t think so. It depends on your opinion.”
As for Thompson’s own chances of being selected to light the flame, he said: “It would be an honour to do it. Nobody has told me that I am going to do it yet. I should be the most famous man on earth.
I don’t know what the criteria for doing it is. If I know what the criteria was or who was making the decision then it would be much easier to understand.”
Britain’s swimmers have confirmed that they will join Team GB’s athletes, track cyclists and rowers in missing Friday night’s opening ceremony at the Olympic stadium in east London.
Team GB has previously estimated around half of the 541-strong team will not attend, meaning major stars such as Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Mo Farah will not parade at the climax of the Danny Boyle-directed extravaganza that is expected to be watched by a worldwide audience of up to one billion people.
The British team are the last to enter the stadium, at what is expected to be close to midnight, and that was a factor in the decision. Goddard said: “It’s a long day, there’s a lot of walking involved, a party atmosphere I suppose, especially with it being the next day we need to stay relaxed and focused on our race.”
Even Keri-Anne Payne, the world 10km open water champion, will not attend despite not competing until 9 August. Lord Coe, the chairman of the London organising committee, has encouraged athletes to attend. He cited the proximity of the Olympic Village and pointed out that the athletes do not have to stay late if they do not want to.
Team GB’s 77 track and field athletes will remain in their training camps in Portugal and the French Pyrenees. “Charles van Commenee [the athletics head coach] does not think standing on your feet for several hours is the best preparation,” said a spokeswoman for the track and field team. “But it would be impossible for us anyway. We don’t start arriving until 31 July.”