The epic spectacle of the Olympic Games opening ceremony, courtesy of director Danny Boyle, with its dramatised depiction of Britain's social history taking centre stage at the expense of the pomp and pageantry which usually features when the nation celebrates its past, met with approbation not just in Britain but around the world. As a political statement, as these events undoubtedly are, Boyle's celebration of the NHS and multiculturalism at times brought it close to being a homage not so much to Britain's history but the history of the Labour Party.
When it came to the parade of the athletes, a particular high point for this writer was the sight of the Palestinian team marching proudly alongside the other nations; this despite the absurdity of Palestine being recognised as a nation by the International Olympic Committee while still being unrecognised by the United Nations. As a celebration of cultural and national diversity the parade of the athletes provided a welcome albeit temporary respite from a world in which the ethos of might is right remains the norm. Indeed, in an attempt to make this part of the opening ceremony more interesting, I tried counting the number of countries taking part that had once been a British colony in the 19th Century or attacked by the United States in the 20th. In this regard the quote of the night came from the BBC's Huw Edwards in response to the appearance of the Libyan team.
"Libya...a country still plagued by violence."
"No shit Sherlock," I felt like shouting at the telly at this point. "I wonder why?"
So, yes, as a piece of epic theatre Boyle's production was a tour de force, up there with anything Leni Riefenstahl ever created in terms of grand spectacle and the promotion of national mythology, doing a grand job of sweeping the audience up an emotive embrace of patriotic pride. Unsurprisingly, in the process of treating us to a powerful re-enactment of the industrial revolution, inconvenient truths such as child labour, mass poverty, and the exploitation of millions of people forced into its factories and mills were brushed under the carpet, as was the history and crimes of the British Empire. But, no matter, such trifling details were easily forgotten on the way to achieving that all important suspension of disbelief.
Yet, as with the feeling of deflation which commonly greets you when you leave the cinema after sitting through a blockbuster movie and are reacquainted with reality, so in the immediate aftermath of the opening ceremony have we been brought back down to earth with bone-breaking impact. The anticipated celebration of dedication, sporting achievement, and endeavour has been overshadowed by the unedifying sight of half empty venues. For the athletes who've committed years of their lives to the training and self discipline required to become an Olympian, who've thought of little else over the past four years apart from these Games, what must it be like to walk out to the sight of row after row of empty seats as you reach the climax of your quest for life-changing glory? And is it any surprise that the many of those empty seats are in the accredited sections of the venues concerned, made up of the ticket allocation sold to the event's corporate sponsors? To ask the question is to answer it.
There is a profound symbolism to be drawn from the welter of empty seats at the events we've seen thus far, a poetic justice that should not be ignored. For compared to what corporations such as BP and MacDonald's bring to the games they extract far more, up to and including the purity of heart and spirit which sport at its pinnacle embraces, with the empty seats evidence of their disrespect for the thousands of athletes, volunteers, and workers involved in making the games possible. This realisation, however, will come as small comfort to the thousands of genuine fans and ordinary members of the public who tried to get tickets but were denied during a ticketing process in advance of the event that was covered in controversy. Now we see why.
Clearly, the whiff of elitism and corporate greed that has enveloped these Olympics since London won the bid back in 2007 hasn't gone away. On the contrary, it is the ugly truth behind the euphoria of Danny Boyle's spectacular opening ceremony.
Let's just hope that the Prime Minister David Cameron and the rest of the Tories got the message loud and clear while watching it that the NHS - our NHS - is a part of the nation's history of which it can be genuinely proud.
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