Why I’m the curmudgeon over Danny Boyle’s Olympic distract-a-rama
It’s the internet, stoopid. And the crumbling of our brains. That, I’ve realised, is why I’m the blight at every enthusiastic mass-praising of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony.
“Wasn’t it marvellous!” Brit-crowds crow. The gang was still burbling about it when I was in London last week. Mass adoration always irritates me. Unless I am the recipient.
But the lemming-like rush to declare it was such a fabulous event made me think of Leni Riefenstahl or Cecil B. De Mille and those grandiose cinematic extravaganzas which were calculated to make the poor schmuck in the cheap seats drop his popcorn.
Well, it was technically astonishing, and an awful lot went on. Then you’d expect at least those qualities for your £27 million.
However it was all over the place, and to my mind failed to fulfil three key requirements: was it a good piece of entertainment for the people in the Olympic Stadium?
Was it lucid and compelling for the vast television audience?
Did it act as an introduction to the great sporting event it was to usher in?
Taking the last first, the spectacular obviously meant to knock people’s socks off and be the memorable part of the evening. But the Olympics is about talented and dedicated athletes, not about directorial ego.
Was it lucid for a television audience? Probably more so than for the punters in the arena, who could only see bits and didn’t have the long-lens benefit of the cyber- and TV viewers.
But it was still very bitty – ooh, there’s Kenneth Branagh, now forget about him because the grass is all disappearing, there’s Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web, now there are people on hospital beds and lots of dancing and finally, finally, it stops. It was a mass of ideas and half-ideas stuck together with verve, chutzpah and lots of money.
Had the theme been Berners-Lee’s incalculable gift to society (he’s a Brit after all) and that alone, it would have been clear, clean, and obviously afforded all sorts of spin-offs. You can get anything on the Internet, and a brilliant creative person like Danny Boyle could have chosen from a myriad possibilities. Choice, however, was not the keynote of the night, but rather a philosophy of throw everything in. And that does, in fact, mirror the effect of the internet on our lives, but no clear line was drawn between Berners-Lee’s fleeting appearance and the rest of the show. No, the ambition was bigger than that.
As Charlotte Higgins wrote in The Guardian, “it was bewildering enough, at times, to its domestic audience; abroad it must frequently have been plain incomprehensible.” (Although she went on to explain that it made sense to the British, saving for some stuffy Tories.)
It sounds a bit like the disdain for dreary old ‘facts’ that is being displayed by the Republican presidential campaign in the US. Lord, why should anyone be able to understand this fiesta? That would be commonplace and predictable.
The Olympics opening ceremony ritual has gotten out of hand, with the Greeks and the Chinese much to blame for their ludicrous shows that went on way too long and cost way too much. Maybe Rio will calm things down a little. Maybe.