I’m probably in a minority of one but I think Danny Boyle got the whole opening ceremony thing wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, many parts of his presentation were bordering on the magnificent, particularly the imagery of those dark satanic mills. I still see those towering, bleak, industrial-scale chimneys vividly looming ever upwards, and the emerging industrial proletariat resplendent in its new found misery. And who can forget the forging of the fifth Olympic circle right in front of our eyes. And the childhood fantasies produced by Boyle, the dreams and the nightmares, was something a little bit special. Yes, there were some parts which were somewhat banal and others that were just plain idiotic, like the concept of a pre-industrial rural idyll, but overall it was a most impressive spectacle. All of us can pick minor faults, but it had what most nations would singularly fail to achieve – a sense of national self-deprecation and it is for that that Mr Boyle should be most heartily congratulated for. Which other national head of state would have engaged in such a piece of spoofery.  While, I despise the monarchy and everything it stands for, on this one occasion, it’s a well done to Mrs Windsor.

No, my criticism of Boyle is a much wider one, and one that is directed at all recent Olympic opening ceremonies. On the one hand the Olympic ideal is supposedly all about the human family coming together, yet at the first opportunity the host nation be it Britain, Greece, China, Catalonia, Australia, or the USA are busying themselves with promoting their national story, and a highly romanticized one at that. To my way of thinking the opening ceremony of any Olympic Games should be one principally of internationalism. That inevitably will have a national slant but nevertheless the direction should be one of global humanism not national hubris and petty boasting. Ok, Britain has its free national health service but so too did the former Soviet Union and its East European satellites. We are not nearly as unique as we like to pretend.

Today, humanity is more imperilled by global crises that at any time in its ten thousand year history of ‘civilisation’.  Most of those problems could be said to drive from one central factor – the corporate ownership of our collective wealth. Stemming from this anachronistic socio-economic reality; the 0.1% lauding it over the 99.9%, comes all our other economic, social and environmental woes, not least being the fact that some three billion of our fellow citizens still do not have even their most basic of needs met. Fourteen million children dying each year of malnutrition ought to provide some food for thought for the Danny Boyles of this world but instead he chooses to celebrate fifty years of British pop culture, much of which was little more than light commercial tat.  

I don’t expect the host nation to beat itself up publically for its past sins, but a spot of self-deprecation only gets you so far. No nation can really move on successfully without acknowledging its darker past. Bringing on the Windrush was a nice touch but what of the signs that greeted the new arrivals: NO JEWS, NO IRISH, NO DOGS & NO BLACKS. And where did that blind prejudice towards the immigrant come from?  - Centuries of slavery and colonialism – the very basis of our current British nationhood. England would never have become the ‘workshop of the world’ without the plunder of people and resources from its global network of colonial possessions. But no hint of this stark reality from Boyle, nor of the decades of official support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In fact the entire epoch of colonial expansion has been airbrushed out of British history, not just by Boyle, but by the British establishment generally. As for Ireland, Britain’s first and possibly last colony, not a mummer from Mr Boyle.

None of this past history is irrelevant to our current predicament. The age of colonialism and imperialism is coming to a bloody climax. All that finance capital concentrated in just a handful of bank accounts has created the most explosive economic scenario the human race has ever faced.   For make no mistake, when the Olympic caravan moves out of town, the terrifying reality of global economic meltdown will still be on our doorsteps. The Olympics have been a temporary blessing for the Tory, old Etonian elite and the likes of Barclays and HSBC, for while the collective attention has been on the running track, the media has got bored with the issues of corporate tax evasion and drug money laundering by our high street banks. While we have been transfixed by Boyle’s magical sequences, we have taken our eyes off the looming sovereign debt crisis that threatens to engulf us all. It is now Asia that is the workshop of the world and Britain must now learn to make its way without recourse to foreign plunder and imperialist exploitation. Bigging up Britain will not change that reality.


Just how you address all these global, interconnected problems in an Olympic opening ceremony is no easy matter, but address them we must. Indulging in national fairy-tales may be reassuring for the moment but reality has a nasty habit of reasserting itself. One thing is for sure, there are no longer any national solutions. We must grapple internationally with our common legacy of chronic under-development alongside criminally obscene corporate wealth. Regulation, accountability and transparency must sweep through the entire international finance system. The whole rotten edifice must be brought under social control. The so-called national interest must be subordinated to a global plan of development.  And it is high time that our cultural pursuits, be they sporting or artistic,  reflect this new international imperative.  Seen in this light, you can see just how anachronistic and irrelevant Danny Boyle’s presentation really was. 

Where do we start? At events like the Olympics, by celebrating an international culture of world music, film and the arts rather than focusing on obscure national tit-bits, however endearing to the local population, a genuine internationalist message can be created.  A simple concert showcasing the best of culture from each continent would be a relatively cheap and humble way of opening the Games and immediately set the tone of inclusivity. I’ve seen it done on a small scale in some wonderfully diverse inner London schools with the students themselves performing, and so moving was the result that it brought a tear to the eye of this old, bitter and twisted cynic.

The host nation would of course have the privilege of opening and closing the concert so there would still be a place for the Artic Monkeys and Sir Paul McCartney if that was the best we could come up with.  Personally I would find room for a Linton Kwese Johnson, a Tracey Chapman and a Ray Davis. And what about something from an Alan Bennett, a Ken Loach, a Dennis Potter or a Mike Leigh, all of whom explore both the national psyche and the broader human condition. Surely British culture is more than the sum of a few pop songs however catchy they might be.

No, I am convinced that an international concert is the way forward. I can see it now. Dancers from Bangladesh, a singing troupe from Afghanistan, contributions from Indonesia, Vietnam, from Morocco and from Southern Africa. The Americas could be represented by their indigenous peoples, those that managed to escape the genocide of previous generations. Europe might be usefully represented by some of its more marginalised communities; the Celts, the Basques and the Romanies. And with a strong minded arts director who was confident enough to shun political interference, the concert could avoid sliding into an international version of the woefully demeaning European Song Contest. The sponsor might be someone like UNESCO or UNICEF to avoid being tainted with profit hungry and manipulative corporations.

It’s just an off-the-cuff  idea, but I’m warming to it already. The thought of Rio serving up Samba dancing Brazilian beauties while millions of malnourished Brazilians rot away in the surrounding favelas and slums is just too depressing to contemplate, but you can bet your last Brazilian dollar that as we blog some high-flying Brazilian Danny Boyle type is conjuring up just such a sanitised South American fiesta fit for a global corporate audience.  As for the dwindling numbers of indigenous peoples of the Brazilian rainforest, they are unlikely even to receive an invite to the Rio party in the same way that residents of the Tower Hamlets will watch the whole multi-billion London  circus pass them by. 

End JPK Copyright 29/7/12

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