Roger L. Simon

Good-bye, Stodgy Beijing. London Rocks... and Yet...

Being a Jewish boy, I have always had ambivalent feelings about England (and the UK) even though I have spent lots of time there and adore the culture. They don’t like us much. (And the acquiescence Friday to a demand by the Lebanese judo team for a physical separation from the Israeli judo team at the practice gym was evidence that this continues. Yes, it was an Olympic committee decision, but it was in London, for crissakes. C’mon.)

But I have to say that the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics was a smash that only the Brits could have pulled off. It made the opening of the Beijing Olympics look stodgy and, well, communistic in all its repetitive tedium.

The London event had class. It had wit and it had genuine pathos, something never seen before, as far as I know, at an Olympic opening ceremony. The English are the world’s masters of self-mocking irony and, since Shakespeare, the masters of theatre as well. The mise en scene of the Industrial Revolution was nothing short of brilliant, the arrival of the Queen via parachute from a James Bond helicopter a coup de theatre so fabulous it was reason by itself to hope there will always be an England. (And more royal corgis!)

Bravo, director Danny Boyle, already in the top ranks of directors from Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting. You have outdone yourself here.

Bravo, Kenneth Branagh, you’re not Olivier but you’re close enough.

Bravo, Mr. Bean, the hugely funny Rowan Atkinson, who made us laugh with a parody of Chariots of Fire, completely apropos for the Olympics, succeeding with the most personal of comedy, the smallest of looks, in a gigantic venue.

Bravo, Tim Berners-Lee for what you gave us (www.pjmedia.com, among a zillion other examples) and Al Gore did not.

And most of all, of course, bravo SIR Paul McCartney because you are SIR Paul McCartney and changed our lives more than any politician. You can close any ceremony as long as you live — and I hope that’s long.

And hurray for all the athletes in your colorful costumes, the well-designed and the stinkers. My favorite: Cameroon.

And yet. And yet.

Moving as this most artistically inspired of all Olympics opening ceremonies was, were we watching the end of something — and I am not talking about the end of Bob Costas. How much longer can he go on? (How much Botox is there in the world?)

Were (are) we watching the end of the world as we have known it?

I’m not saying this is 1936 all over again, even though then, as now, the world was in economic crisis. Those Olympics were in Berlin, being filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, a director even greater than Danny Boyle, but plying her art at the behest of one of the most evil people of all time.

That is not the case here. But there is still something ineffably sad, at least to me. It’s hard to be optimistic this Olympic year. These are ominous times indeed, not a moment for celebration.

I will be watching (I love sports) and I will be rooting for Team USA, but I don’t think I will experience much Olympic joy. If records fall, it will not mean much to me, not like before. These days, there are more important things than sport. I’m not even sure we can afford the distraction.

UPDATE: Reading the comments, perhaps I went overboard in praising this event, I think because it employed a number of the cultural (though not now political) icons of my youth. I can be seduced by that. Moreover, I was pleased (and still am) that Boyle used parody and wit in an opening ceremony. These things are usually way too solemn for my taste. Still, I did go overboard. And, yes, I did find the NHS bit ridiculous. Proof: There is no way I would want to watch this twice. (Well, maybe James Bond and the Queen. I do love those corgis.)

(Thumbnail image on PJM homepage by Shutterstock.com.)