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british cultureAnyone harboring concerns over the state of British culture should have had their fears laid to rest by the London Olympics’ opening ceremonies. British culture is well and truly dead. From the “signing” choir that could hardly sing, to the parade of “notable” left-wing figures carrying the flag around the stadium, the mish-mash of bad music, left-wing politics, and dancing that ranged from silly to abominable showed how truly decrepit Britain’s “thinking” classes have become, now that they rule without opposition from any meaningful political, religious, or ethnic quarter.

It was not just the race and gender balancing; after all, such symbols, combined with public monies, were what silenced meaningful ethnic opposition to the “multiculturalism” of state dependency. It was not just the overtly preachy scenarios (Peter Pan as a celebration of socialized medicine). It was the utter mindlessness of a marathon performance that turned the spirit of civilized competition into a very long episode of glee that showed just how little Danny Boyle (the filmmaker who orchestrated the fiasco) and his friends in the British entertainment industry have to offer. Even the network announcer, gamely repeating the liberal platitudes about unity and the “pride” of Britain in her socialized institutions, slipped when viewing the giant inflatable baby displayed in the Peter Pan vignette, asking whether it might be “creepy.” I hope he keeps his job; the better instincts of nature have become all too rare on the airwaves these days.

Of course, a nation that takes pride in broadcasting the “f-word” (and pretty much every letter word that is vulgar) along with cheery blasphemies galore during prime time, would not shy from mocking its own ceremonies. Indeed, Mr. Bean’s fantasy of cheating his way to the Gold was, on the whole, the best moment of the festivities. It is just that the now-familiar British conceit that one is truly “smart” only if one mocks whatever is serious has become quite boring as well as inappropriate.

I confess to finding the central vignette, of Britain uniting under the difficulties of industrialization to forge the rings that represent the Olympics, to be so vapid as to belie serious interpretation. I could only think how sad it was that the nation that produced Shakespeare has ended by celebrating Mary Poppins as its great contribution to the world, and summing up its philosophy with some anonymous techie’s text message “this is for everyone.”

Gee, thanks for that. I do not know what I would do without such empty gesticulations.

And that is the point, really. For all the attempts to show the “relevance” of popular culture through mind-numbing rock medleys and seventies-style film collages constituting nothing so much as an ode to individual autonomy, this great showcase of British culture was about as meaningless as it could have been. Civilization reduced to soundbytes—and soundbytes from sitcoms at that.

One might note that the “ceremonies” missed out on one chance to emphasize their commitment to political correctness: there was no paean to gay marriage. Then again, Boyle is probably planning on a sequel.

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13 replies to this post
  1. I'm kind of in agreement with you, but also kind of thinking you've gone a bit over the top with the "Got off of my lawn, you young whippersnappers!" thing.

    For instance:
    "and summing up its philosophy with some anonymous techie’s text message 'this is for everyone.'"

    This was a reference to Tim Berners-Lee giving away his creation of the World Wide Web. Hardly some "anonymous techie," and given he actually did give it away for free, hardly an empty gesticulation!

  2. Thanks to Mr Frohnen for a timely take on British cultural decadence and Olympian bread and circuses.

    British culture survives apace outside of the politicised sphere which includes state-dominated media and cultural education. Excellent classical concerts abound to sell-out crowds and some British artists even remember how to paint. But the wise consumers grow older, not sufficiently replaced by the young, and virtually anything cultural that is tainted by state funding is worse than dead as Mr Frohnen says, it is undead – a vampire seeking to bite and infect everyone it can.

    So come even to Mayfair and I will direct you to Wigmore Hall, which surpasses anything of its kind in American cities (possibly excluding New York) and similar venues. But in media and politics UK culture is worse than dead.

    To correct the good Mr Frohnen, gay marriage was not featured in the ghastly opening because it will appear as one of the newly-introduced 2012 Olympic Games. Over 500 metres, homosexual couples accompanied by a cleric or bureaucrat of their choice will tie the knot while international judges award them points for speed, style, fashion and so forth. Openly sexual athletic events are being considered for future Olympiads.

  3. What I am ashamed of, as British, is the thought that it could have been even worse. The Olympic "Torch" had been touring Britain ( in fact there are hundreds of them). The BBC showed them day by day but never mentioned that the Olympic torch was a Nazi addition at the Disgraceful Games of Hitler in Berlin in 1936 – it is pure Nazi symbolism. But "Don't mention the war".

  4. A celebration of British children's literature that snubs "The Hobbit," "The Chronicles of Narnia," "Watership Down," and all of Beatrix Potter is like, well, the Olympics without foot-racing. Did Mr. Boyle want a scary villain for his children's nightmare sequence? Few villains are more ominous than Mr. McGregor chasing Peter Rabbit with a seive. What about Lewis's White Witch, who imprisons the innocent in blocks of ice? And then there is Gollum, all slimy self-pity living in a pitch-black cavern. Voldemort? He is more thrill-ride than nightmare, and his wand is effeminate. So much of classic British literature left to decay in the attic–I should not have expected more from a movie director, or at least this one.

    To "s masty": The Olympics already have a sexual event: women's beach volleyball.

  5. For those interested in learning more about the England that is no more, I recommend Roger Scruton's England: An Elegy. It's not just nostalgia – it's a vehicle for some of the most insightful reflections on politics and culture since Tocqueville.

  6. And my fears were confirmed by reading this post. I am given too much to despair, so I really wanted to keep an open mind during these opening ceremonies, but try as I might, that sinking feeling just keep creeping up again and again. Sure there were parts I liked, but over all it really was a meaningless waste of time, in celebration of things passing rather than things eternal, and most of them unworthy of that praise to begin with.
    I was surprised by how much the focus was on modern Britain, given how old the it is, one would have expected a little more history and less pop culture. While I like Mary Poppins and Harry Potter, it's odd that they were not in the midst of (as the author noted) anything from Narnia or The Hobbit, or other classic brit literature. In fact, when I saw the Potter stuff, I was quite sure the best book to come out of Britain last century, Lord of the Rings, would get a nod at least…but nothing! How…absurd. While one of the commenters mention Voldemort in a negative light, I actually think he makes a fine, spooky villian. But there were others that should have made the spotlight too.
    Past opening ceremonies have celebrated their hosts's historic heritage (just look at the 2004 Athens games), this one had to be the most vapid opening ceremony I have seen yet, apparently Britain is no bigger than it's pop culture and liberal platitudes. Ouch!

    And I'm surprised no one mentioned James Bond with the Queen! That had to be one of the funniest parts of the show…but also one of the more pathetic, like I said, it's odd no one here mentioned it.
    I recall Danny Boyle saying that alot of people around the world think the brits are a stiff, stuffy and aloof people, and that he wanted to show that deep down they are more than that (can't remember his exact line), needless to say, I think he went overboard.

  7. My thanks for the comments, additions, and corrections. As to Mr. Callahan's reference to Tim Berners-Lee giving away his creation of the World Wide Web: perhaps if this great humanitarian had approached his creation with prudence instead of hubristic bravado the web might have become a means for exchanging information and technology instead of the inescapable smog of drivel, powered by creepy, intrusive advertising targeted at users via spies embedded in the software they have no choice but to use. I do apologize, however, for referring to "this is for everyone" as an empty gesticulation. More properly, it is a self-centered justification for unleashing a tsunami of cultural sludge. And, by the way, Mr. Callahan, I've never minded kids playing on my lawn. But when their parents start defecating on it and laughing, I get upset. Have a nice day.

  8. This was clearly an extended re-work of Boyle's famous 1996 heroin-withdrawal fever sequence, complete with house soundtrack and creepy baby. This accounts for the otherwise inexplicable recurrence of hospital imagery.

  9. I thought the beginning was okay, what can I say, I like Kenneth Branagh, but it bombed really badly after the industrial revolution segment ended. And it only got worse.
    Oh, and gotta love Boyle's stupid fast/slow frame camera work that he throws into EVERYTHING he does. Wish they had Branagh directing instead.

  10. Dr Frohnen, I join you in frustration over the vast quantities of bilge on the internet; moreover its diluting and segregating effect on cultural, political or economic discourse. I wonder if the problem did not start with Gutenberg. Printing was easier than hand-copying manuscripts and increased the production of trash as well as knowledge. Posting some semi-literate, ill-informed screed online accelerates the problem and makes it harder still to winnow out the dreck. I am told that the Germans have a splendid word, verslimbessarung, which means (outside of its purely legal definition) the kind of 'improvement' that makes things worse. On the other hand I can still find useful materials on the web. What to do?

  11. The whole production was so sad, it was truly "a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The best part, the part described as a show-stopper by the Daily Record, didn't even make it to US television when NBC cut away to show an interview with Michael Phelps asking why he was not going to join the parade of nations.

    There were a few good parts, the flaming Olympic rings, pyrotechnics and the multi-petaled Olympic flame are worth complimenting. Whoever was in charge of fire did a nice job.

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