So, Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony was not really a show to open a global sporting event at all. It was a political treatise to expound the merits of collectivism and iconoclasm: capitalists, with wide-eyed brutality, destroying the idyll of pre-industrial England; workers united against the bourgeoisie; Suffragettes triumphant against the monstrosity of paternalistic Britain; the NHS shining like a jewel in the post-war crown of democratic solidarity; CND showing militaristic idiots how to bring about world peace; and then, the really bold bit, the multi-cultural nirvana of New Britain.
That was clear, right? Wasn’t it? We all know Danny Boyle is a Lefty, don’t we? He might be English, but Trainspotting was a film all about the devastation brought to noble Scotland by Tory England. The drugs simply provide that touch of colour all great films need. If someone else hadn’t already got to Braveheart, he’d probably have done that, too. And look here: his Wikipedia page says he might be English but he’s of Catholic-Irish descent. It all makes sense. He took that twenty-seven million pound budget and stuck it to Tory-Man.
Only I can’t say I noticed much of this at the time, and I don’t expect most others saw the show as a naked political statement, either. I wasn’t actually in the stadium during the show, so I could have missed the subversive (or conservative, depending on your perspective) point he was trying to make, but I saw it on TV with everyone else and it didn’t really strike me he was using the occasion to fight the workers’ battle in front of the watching world.
Admittedly, I thought some parts of the show seemed odd and out-of-place. Most people have an opinion. It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily right or worth listening to. Yet, CND? Something to stir pride? I don’t think so. At best they were naive optimists and at worst stooges of brutal communism. But their symbol, whether we like it or not, was a key icon of that era. And the NHS, like it or not, is something unique to Britain, and therefore perhaps worthy of inclusion in a show charting our historical progress. And what seemed like Act Three – the internet revolution – might not have quite captured the seismic nature of the change I’m sure he was trying to convey, and came across in parts as a little vacuous, but that’s just my opinion. I think placing Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, centre-stage excuses almost anything.
Sometimes we need to be pushed to reveal our opinions, but we all have them. The thing is, though, Danny Boyle was the one charged with creating the show, and when you give someone a job you have to let them get on with it. You have to trust them. Sit on their shoulder micro-managing their efforts and they’re likely to do one of two things: punch you, or produce something so timid and flaccid as to make the whole process self-defeating. If you don’t want to let them do their job, don’t appoint them in the first place. And just how easy is it, really, to create a show to satisfy the critical eyes of your home country, the world and the International Olympic Committee? Not very, I’d say.
A certain type of person tends to see everything through a political prism. In this country, these people are centred on what we call the ‘Westminster Village,’ branching out to include those who join incoherent pressure groups or religiously watch programmes like Question Time. I used to watch it, too, but then noticed that, despite the nobel efforts of some panelists, the show seldom escaped a white noise of ill-informed and deeply frustrating factionalism.
And this seems to be how a certain type has greeted Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. And yes, both political factions, Left and Right, can’t help but see politics at every turn. I’m not saying there was nothing political in the show. Most things in life have a political dimension on some level. Not including the NHS could be as political a statement as including the NHS, depending on who is making the decision. The thing is, I don’t believe most people see it this way, let alone care. The trauma caused by the Industrial Revolution, the advent of Trade Unionism, the Suffragettes, the First World War, CND and mass immigration are all facts, and to include them is not necessarily making a political point either way. People out there, in the country and the world, have other things to worry about than political conspiracies, and when the Olympics come to town they just want to watch the show and get on with the sport.
What most people saw was not a petty political stunt, but an Olympic opening ceremony with something to please most tastes. It was a great achievement, not least the sheer logistics and organisation of it all. How many people? Transition from pastoral to industrial? Elevating steel Olympic rings? Flying dove-cyclists? Two hundred flames to make one giant Olympic flame? A parachuting monarch? That Danny Boyle pulled it off should be celebrated, not scrutinised for political bias. If there was any political flavour to the ceremony, it was more likely the product of his personality. When someone creates something, they always reveal something of themselves. And had Julian Fellowes been given the job, no doubt it would have been just as impressive, albeit in a different way, and with his personal stamp, and people would have been crying a different sort of political bias. But either way, I’m not sure we should care, especially as most sane and balanced people watched the show for what it was – an Olympic opening ceremony, nothing more, nothing less.