On the opening night of the 2012 Olympic Games, I wrote about Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, and its message to the coalition government. I’d initially approached the opening ceremony with trepidation, but was rapidly converted to a kind of awe at the skill and subtlety of Boyle’s creation, as it both lauded and lamented the best of what made Britain great. It was a layered, intelligent work, both superficially enjoyable and replete with meaning, as well as mounting an impassioned defence of the NHS, which is under sustained assault from the current government.
Given the different context, and director Kim Gavin’s avowed intent of creating ‘the best after-show party there has ever been’, I felt a different kind of trepidation tonight – and so far it’s been entirely borne out. I don’t want to be unfair to Gavin, but where Boyle’s ceremony was deep and multifaceted, Gavin’s has been shallow and superficial. Given that it’s the ‘closing party’, maybe that’s inevitable and understandable.
Or maybe there’s more to it than that. Gavin – a close associate of Tory supporter and avid tax-dodger Gary Barlow – may have had another aim in mind when he devised tonight’s ceremony. In English law, the final statement made to the jury is given by the defence lawyer, so that his words of innocence are the freshest in the ear and mind. Where Boyle’s event pointed an unmistakeably accusatory finger at Cameron’s government and party, Gavin’s – shiny, sparkly, shallow and ‘feel good’ – seemed to designed to mask, or at least distract from, the dire situation of the UK and the dire government performance that has led to it, and then consistently worsened it.
Glittery costumes, huge billboards of fashion models and then the real thing – surely superficiality incarnate in a time of austerity, dressed in frocks that would cost a year’s wages for most people, and far more than a year’s for some; street-sweepers looking far too happy to bear any relation to the reality of public-sector workers robbed of pensions, put out of work or at best forced to endure lowered wages, living standards and public standing; surreal costumes for the Petshop Boys and Annie Lennox; Russell Brand surreal atop a psychedelic bus as Willy Wonka, inviting us to lose ourselves in a world of hedonism and fantasy; idealised, shopaholic dancers spinning in joy as they twirled carrier bags – if Boyle’s show was typified by the ‘swinging 60s’ segment portraying discovery, liberation and potential, Gavin’s seemed more to capture the spirit of the 80s and 90s, of people intent on consumption and, yes, on partying. Torches and lanterns spun and wove. It felt like a shiny object being swung before the eyes to distract and hypnotise. The tribute to John Lennon and the inclusion of his and a Beatles’ song or two proforma, de rigeur rather than heartfelt, ‘Imagine’ somehow more like a call to embrace globalisation. Lennon must be turning in his grave.
And yet it all felt a little too eager, too frenetic – too forced. Like the band playing as the Titanic slipped below the waves, or Nero fiddling while Rome burned. To call it ‘desperate’ may be going too far, but the whole event was suffused with a determined, not-quite-real jollity. Some brilliant music to be sure (who can fail to enjoy Fatboy Slim?!), even if some of the older acts can’t sing any more – but with the feel of people determined to have fun even though they know tomorrow’s Monday and is going to be the same old s**t. ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ – or ‘It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to’?
A small, brief bright spot was Jesse J’s ‘Price Tag’, exhorting us that ‘it’s not about the money’ and to ‘forget about the price tag’. But the problem is, that for this government, it is all about the money – taking it away from those in need so that more can be funnelled, more quickly, into the pockets of those who already have plenty – the so-called ‘wealth creators’, even if all the benefit of the wealth goes to that small ‘elite’. Even Jesse J and her co-performers circled the stadium in white, open-top Rolls Royces. My irony meter blew up yet again.
And then the Spice Girls, symbols if ever there was one of a ‘have fun’, get-rich, consumerism mentality. Hmmmm. Yes, tonight’s ceremony is definitely far more about creating that ‘after-party’, sing-along, feel-good factor than about celebrating ‘the best of Britain’. And here’s why:
In Roman times, the ruling elite organised Games as a means of control and distraction, to keep the populace entertained and diverted so the masses wouldn’t take an ‘excessive’ interest in politics and thus interfere with the aims and plans of the rulers. Vast sums of money, and a great deal of planning, went into ensuring that these aims were achieved.
The Conservatives didn’t arrange the London Olympics – the right to stage the Games was won under a Labour government. But they will most certainly be hoping fervently for a ‘bounce’ from the Games. Cameron has already been working overtime to bask in the reflected glory of various GB athletics heroes. They deserve it, he doesn’t – but the Tories hope that the feel-good factor and afterglow will rub off on them, or at least keep us all feeling warm, cosy and content for a while – long enough for them to get away with more of their measures, distracted enough not to notice what they’re doing and why, or to be bothered digging too deeply into what the effects are on those who have nothing to party about. Long enough for the usual, mind-numbing cycle of TOWIE, X-Factor, soaps and reality TV to kick in and keep our minds of the crimes going on under our noses.
Team GB has done us all proud, and quite rightly there will be a lot of re-living of the glory moments over the next few weeks, and feting of the victors and over-achievers. There’s nothing at all wrong with enjoying it, with sharing in the joys and tears, and in remembering the 2012 Games as a fantastic, memorable event, perhaps even one of the greatest Olympics ever.
But please. Please. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from the far more enduring, more important realities that we face under this woeful, malignant government – and which will continue for a long, long time after the Flame is extinguished and the medals are gathering dust in the homes of those who’ve earned them. Don’t forget the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the sick, the exploited, the demonised, the underpaid, overworked and vilified public-sector workers. And don’t forget that this government is determined to worsen the plight of these people whom they should be protecting and valuing. Call me a curmudgeon or killjoy if you wish – just don’t forget. Don’t give them a respite.
Whether Kim Gavin’s message is deliberate, inadvertent or Freudian, please don’t ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and turn a blind eye to what’s going on in our country, and to who’s doing it. That song may be genius in a Python film, but in real life it’s falling into a Tory trap and playing a mug’s game.
That’s exactly what Cameron’s government would love you to do.