The best and worst of London 2012
London’s Olympics sum up a great deal that is brilliant about modern Britain. But, as the first few days’ events are broadcast, some harsh realities are breaking through the extraordinary magic of the opening ceremony.
There can be no doubt that the magnificent pageant in the new stadium was a spectacular achievement. The script, choreography and orchestration of a cast of many thousands included computer-generated imagery with 70,000 “paddles” to create moving images around the stadium came together in a communal effort to make for a memorable display.
To stage the £27 million event, Slum Dog Millionaire director Danny Boyle put together an expert team including writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. He says that Danny Boyle created a democratic space where no one was afraid to speak out. The creative team “worked so closely they were practically a hive mind”.
The result was a vision of Britain free of bombast and full of imagination and humour. It was a compressed story of rural orgins to the satanic mills of the industrial revolution. Poet William Blake’s anthem, Jerusalem, sung by a deaf and hearing Kaos children’s choir, could not fail to move.
The frenetic energy of 19th century capitalism was re-enacted by thousands of
performers dressed in poor workers’ outfits with black suited, top hatted bosses extracting their profits. The cranking up of four gigantic factory chimneys in the stadium as they belched out smoke was a high point. The account of history included trade unionists, workers and suffragettes demonstrating for their rights.
Then there was the evocation of children’s stories like Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, as reality and fantasy sprang up in rapid sequence. The pageant seggued into the 20th century with hundreds of dazzling white hospital beds, with comforting nurses seeing off frightening fairy tale monsters. It was enhanced by magically winged cyclists, decades of pop music, projected on to a domestic home, climaxed by Internet guru Tim Berners Lee and Grime singer Dizzie Rascal.
Some have criticised the ceremony’s thrust as too Marxist, left wing” and multicultural. Tory MP Aidan Burley’s tweeted that the “it was “the most leftie opening ceremony” he had ever seen, and too overtly political and multicultural (Cameron sacked Burley last year from his parliamentary post for attending a Nazi-themed party).
But after the euphoric dream back to reality. The spectacular sports performances could not hide large banks of empty seats, particularly in the best areas reserved for high price tickets and sponsors. Yesterday there were thousands of seats left vacant even though fans had been told sessions were sold out.
Embarrassed Locog organisers are desperately trying to fill seats with troops, students and teachers, but the cat was let out of the bag by culture secretary Jeremy Hunt who said that many of the sponsors and media members had not bothered to use their freebies. This was adding insult to injury considering that Britain’s leading black newspaper, the east London based The Voice did not get a single media pass and most Londoners could not obtain or afford admission.
And that’s not the only ugly aspect of the games. Tyrants from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, China, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Rwanda and Swaziland are being giving VIP treatment of course. Behind the Queen’s cuddly image is her real alliance with these monsters. Such as Dow Chemicals who are sponsors for the stadium’s “wrap”. Dow was responsible for the death of thousands of slump dwellers in Bhopal, India.
Not to mention McDonalds, Visa and Coca Cola who, with the enthusiastic help of the state, have established a brand dictatorship in the Olympic zones. Or the police who can arrest at will, as they did with some 182 cyclists on Friday.
It is too early to say what the lasting legacy of the Games will be. But whilst London 2012 will go down as the most commercially dominated and undemocratic Olympics in British history, it also demonstrates the potential of resources combined with will and imagination. It’s well past the time when humanity needs freeing from the monstrous prison of corporatocracy.
A World to Win secretary
30 July 2012