Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mad Analysis: The Olympics

It is time for the Olympics again and it is starting to feel like a tradition for me that every time they roll around I find something to get really upset about. Let me say at the outset that, unlike some very fine people with whom I am usually in agreement, I do not dislike the Olympics. In fact, it’s about the only thing “international” that I don’t dislike. I love the countries of the world coming together in non-violent competition, I love pulling for my favorites, I love the determination and great athletic skill on display. There are so many moments that are so emotional I fail to see how anyone could not be moved by them. For example, wrestler Carol Huynh winning the gold medal in Beijing, seeing her with tears rolling down her face as the whole crowd sings “O Canada”. I defy anyone not to be moved by that. Another was Mary Lou Retton in 1984 scoring a perfect 10, twice, to win the gold medal. I don’t know much about the judging of vaulting or gymnastics in general but I do know that a perfect score in any event is almost unheard of. And of course, for Americans anyway, beating the Soviet hockey team at Lake Placid in 1980 would be pretty hard to top as far as emotional moments go. For monarchists there has also been a long history of royal involvement in the Olympics with many royals serving on the International Olympic Committee. Many have even participated. Today we even have the example of Monaco in which both the reigning monarch and the consort are former Olympians themselves. I love the Olympics.

Something else I love is the United Kingdom. I have good reason to. I speak English, I have ancestors buried all over Great Britain and Ireland, I studied British literature at university, I love the British monarchy, the British Empire, those great old British values of hard work, determination, ambition and stoic courage. I love the culture, I admire the great heroes of British history and the whole, long British story. The United Kingdom has a matchless record amongst the countries of the world and one that every Briton should be justifiably proud of. All that being said, as I watched the opening ceremonies on Friday night, I’m sorry, but I thought it was horrible. I kept waiting for it to get better and it only seemed to get worse and worse. There was very little about that whole ‘performance’ I could even recognize as British. I began to wonder just how out of touch I am with the mainstream of the land of so many of my forefathers. Is this how the British think of themselves? Was that display an example of what defines the modern United Kingdom? Grubby faced laborers, suffragettes, storybook villains, socialized healthcare and clips from sitcoms (some of which were American)? No bold explorers, no Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson or Captain Cook but Harry Potter, Mr. Bean and the NHS? Really? And, by the way, I have nothing against Mr. Bean, he’s very funny, but is a comedic daydream of cheating in a foot race the best way to open the Olympic games? And I really didn’t understand at all the little episode with the young couple and the salute to pop music. Were they even supposed to be British? Am I terrible person for wondering?

I cannot, of course, fail to mention the Queen. When the announcer said the ‘royal arrival’ was next, I thought, ‘finally, we will get some class in this thing’. It started out well enough. 007, James Bond, going to Buckingham Palace. That was okay, and I thought, ‘that’s neat, 007 is going to escort the Queen, that’s sort of fun and cool’. Then it was a helicopter instead of a car. Okay, fine, no reason to panic. Then the statue of Sir Winston came to life and we officially entered tactlessly silly territory. Then, of course, came the fake skydive into the stadium. To those who were impressed, I’m sorry, that just seemed ridiculous to the point of disrespectful to me. And after that time when some of what I considered the most tasteless parts of the show came up, I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe they’re showing this sort of trash in front of the Queen!’ Yes, they suckered me in at the beginning with Kenneth quoting Shakespeare and before it was over they seemed to be on a mission to remind me of everything I like least about the British Isles these days. And please, please, can someone tell me if Sir Paul is the only celebrity on retainer for these sorts of things? I never disliked the man but I am really getting tired of him. At every single major event in the U.K. it seems that Paul is always the main star. Is it just because he’s the oldest surviving British celebrity these days or is there something I’m missing?

What was I expecting? I can’t say exactly but maybe something with Irish dancers, Welsh choirs, some Scottish highlanders, something English in the Tudor era fashion, maybe a nod to the navigators who sailed forth from the shores of Britain to plant the seeds from which sprung the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on. Of course celebrating the legacy of the British Empire would never be tolerated but when I think of celebrating the best of what it means to be British, British culture and so on, I don’t immediately think of commemorating the industrial revolution in interpretive dance following by a salute to the National Health Service, 70’s disco dancing and clips from The Cosby Show. To everyone who was impressed and enthralled by it all, I do apologize for being blunt. I hope I don’t receive the Romney treatment but in the opinion of this viewer, I can hardly come up with anything positive to say. I don’t get it. To me, it seemed awful. Just awful. Yes, the industrial revolution was a hugely important event in history and Britain led the way in that, but do you really want huge belching smokestacks as part of the opening ceremony of the Olympics? And why was Mohammed Ali there? Seriously, to me, that just seemed embarrassing. Let the man be and have his privacy and stop using him for a living history exhibit.

Of course, every time the Olympics comes up it seems that someone pulls something in an effort to annoy me anyway. This year it got off to a sure-to-be-controversial start with the Greek Olympic Committee banning from their team the triple jumper. Let the hate mail flow, but I thought that was stupid. Athletic competition is supposed to be about performance, not political opinions or how ignorant your sense of humor is. I never like to see people or nations banned from the Olympics because it highlights those who are not banned. For example, Rhodesia and South Africa were banned from competition because their teams were segregated by race. Yet, not only were athletes not banned but Olympic games themselves have been hosted by the likes of Nazi Germany, Communist China and the Soviet Union. I don’t know what kind of girl this Greek athlete is but kicking her off the team for being beyond the pale of political correctness seemed all the more odd to me as I watched the parade of nations and saw the flags of Cuba, Red China and North Korea being proudly carried in. If you can’t be consistent in drawing the line, just don’t pick up the marker in the first place. Don’t ban anyone I say, just beat them on the field of competition. It won’t happen of course, but that put a sour taste in my mouth from the very start.

Nonetheless, as I said, I still like the Olympics, I will put aside all of that mess and watch and enjoy the games, focusing on the athletes who have worked so hard to get where they are today. Despite all my problems with what goes on at the Olympics, I still think that is a lesson worth showcasing: hard work, discipline and determination pays off. Just don’t try to be funny. And here’s hoping the closing ceremonies will be done with a little more class than the opening show. Okay, feel free to tell me how totally wrong I am and what a great show it was, I am prepared…


  1. Lost in all that 'show' and 'spectacular' there was a unique moment in history that only a Monarch can provide for. Her Majesty became the first person in the history of this planet to open TWO Summer Olympic Games, the XXI Olympiad in Montreal 1976 and the XXX Olympiad of London 2012. Sadly it missed by commentators during the event.

  2. I have to agree with you and your assessment of the opening ceremonies. Dismal beyond belief! What were they thinking?

  3. I generally love your posts, but we part company here. I loved the show, and thought the Queen's performance with Daniel Craig highlighted one of the things few things (unfortunately, since they have so much cause for it, if it weren't for political correctness) that the British still take national pride in--their since of humor. The point seemed to be that even Her Majesty has it. I do agree with you about the two teens and the pop music portion, though. It seemed a little too generically Western to satisfy my Britophilia.

  4. I loved the black lord celebrating the Industrial Revolution and dancing with the whites. So historically wrong... xD

  5. Viewing anything regarding Great Britain is like watching a grandparent slip into dementia. To see a once proud Monarchy and Empire reduced to this, saddens and at the same time disgusts me. Whatever happened to decorum and culture. Society has been leveled to the lowest common denominator and this is the result.

  6. You might be interested to know that Le Figaro french newspaper had a photo-montage thing about royals and the Olympics today.

    Apart from China being Red China these days, I have to say they had a better Olympics opening ceremony.

  7. It does not surprise me, sir. I did, however, not watch the opening ceremony, and I will probably not watch the closing ceremony either. I departed London a week ago -- after my second visit there this Jubilee year.

    I did watch the ceremonial stuff in 1994 though -- for the Winter Olympics in Norway. I wrote an analysis for a student publication on it. One of the reporters back then managed to say Norwegians and Norwegian women. I should add that it was in Norwegian and that the Norwegian word for a Norwegian is nordmann. If you consider how feminists see the word chairman as a "problem," you might get the picture.

  8. I so agree with you, MM. It got worse & worse. And it ended with Sir Paul;s voice straining & cracking. He needs to give it up. He's not Tom Jones where he sings smooth songs. His voice at 70 something just isn't there anymore.

    I'm an Anglophile, even though I have no English in me. I love British history and where was that during the Opening Ceremonies?

    The only parts I though could've worked were the literature and the history of British songs. But without the stupid NHS & blow up dolls, and without the "love story" and films.

    Now the lighting of the cauldron was very moving and I loved how appropriate it was. We could see any one of those young people in the next 4-8 years. Good luck to them.

    Even the poor Queen looked bored beyond tears. I think Prince Philip fell asleep.

    The whole thing was a joke, horrendous, and laughable. Give me Behing any day.


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