I think everyone knows that I’m an expat. I think most people have worked out that I’m also very angry with my country’s current Government. On top of that I’ve been pretty damned angry about the Olympics. I have tried to let it go for a long time now, and more recently I have just tried to keep quiet while the buzz builds up over on the other side of the pond. But I’ve been increasingly struggling to keep schtum.
People talk a lot about the “legacy of the Olympics” and care deeply all the sportsmen and women who participate. Many people love that it’s taking place in London this year, it makes them feel very proud to be British. That’s fair enough, it’s their right. But it seems to make them a bit cross with me when I haven’t demonstrated similar pride – and especially shocked when I have recently used the #fucktheolympics hashtag.
So I want to explain why it didn’t make me proud to be British. Not one tiny little bit. I don’t believe in the legacy, I believe in the cost. So much so that I was intending to boycott even the opening ceremony.
I love opening ceremonies. They are the very pinnacle of meaningful live shared experiences (which I love dearly). Millions of people congregate geographically & spiritually to celebrate international achievements in physical prowess, through a rich expression of creative cultural identity. Admittedly we’re often all just huddled around TV screens in pubs or homes (and now flaky VPN connections) to do so, but still, there is a sense of interconnectedness, everyone conceptually sharing the same live moment wherever they might physically sit. Awesome, in the true sense of the word “awe”.
But the current International Olympic Committee‘s insane obsession to retain control over people and brands, and the UK Government’s series of “abolish culture” policies has been just bloody ruining all of it.
A few of the things that are restricted in the coming weeks:
- Using the Olympics name/logo/branding in your shop or to otherwise sell your products/services.
- Radio 4 & Radio 5 Live broadcasts being streamed outside the UK.
- Selling chips unless you’re McDonalds.
- Personal WIFI hotspots.
- Wearing a tshirt with a Pepsi-logo on it.
- Using social media (my obvious personal favourite) - severe restrictions if you’re a volunteer & some explicit guidelines for athletes.
… OK, I have to stop, even writing this list just makes me scrunch up my face…
Is this the world you want to live in? Is this the type of control we want corporations to have over our human lives? Is this the model by which we are supposed to be PROUD of our countries and our athletes?
Art like this is tantamount to treason, I suppose:
I’m not anti-British, I’m not even anti-Business. I’m anti-insanity, anti-greed, anti-intolerance, and pro-openness.
My friend’s 3 year old says you shouldn’t hate. And he’s right. I don’t hate my country one bit. But I do have an extreme dislike for my country’s current Government. Extremist economic measures have slashed support for education, the Arts, closed the UK Film Council, are in process of privatising the NHS, wiping out welfare and snooping on private communications. Meanwhile trillions in unpaid taxes pass under blind eyes, the HMRC gets away with making some pretty dubious ‘sweetheart deals‘ and it took a public campaign to force the Olympic corporate sponsors to turn down their offered tax breaks.
And all this from a Coalition Government with an unelected helmsman. God Save Our Gracious Queen? She should be ashamed of herself, not throwing stunts like jumping out of bloody airplanes… oh, wait…
Long Live Danny Boyle
…but yes, back to opening ceremonies…
I had been boycotting all mentions of the Olympics, but knew missing the ceremony would be a tough call. This would be my first Olympics since leaving the UK. I’ve met Danny Boyle and knew his work would be… quite something. It’s amazing he even got the job. He didn’t seem a natural candidate for such a massive international event, he’s not exactly a tow-the-line kinda guy. So I watched, on a painfully flaky VPN connection at 6am from Sydney. And I am so glad I did. It was spectacular.
It’s worth noting that on the streets of London town, while the BBC warmed up with interviews with the Pankhurst descendants, a monthly peaceful Critical Mass bike ride had been kettled. Arrests were made by police and allegations of violence made by participants. SNAFU, then.
Inside the multi-million dollar arena (soon to become London’s newest car park), the audience were taken on a journey. We traversed a Tolkein-esque Middle Earth, passing through the whole of the UK’s glorious landscapes (not just London) to reach our scenographic destination. Next a celebration of iconic television, film (rallying against the UKFC closure) and literature, plus the heroic (but terminally ill) kings and queens of the NHS and all their welfare waifs and strays.
My connection dropped out frequently but I caught glimpses of peaceful gatherings from both CND protests and some plain old dancing (which surely pointed to the cyclic tensions between politics and social activism), through to a contemporary cyberian climax that revealed Tim Berners Lee from his hideaway beneath a projection-mapped house (dare I put that into context of Privacy laws?!). There were so many sections I missed, too. I look forward to seeing the whole thing later today when it’s broadcast here on traditional telly.
This was sheer social storytelling. Political activism through theatrical spectacle to a captive global audience. Bloody brilliant.
As much as I wanted to be angry, I felt connected. As much as I love my new home in Australia, my heart was pulled back to all those childhood cultural icons. As much as I hated hearing about the scuffles between police and protestors, I was thrown back to the recent marches I participated in just last year while I was home. I became deeply, wonderfully, richly homesick. THIS was my Britain. THIS was my identity. HERE is where I can finally reclaim and occupy my pride.
Danny, you did us proud, dear boy. You took an international stage that has become beset by greed and stupidity and you stuck your middle finger right back at their podgy old faces. This was a true celebration of what’s great about the UK. I am no longer angry. I now only feel great love and pride for what creativity can do in the face of … anything.
ConDems, you can try to break us, but we’re strong. Music, art, film, the internet and openness are just so much better than hate, anger, fear, restriction and greed. Tory MP Aidan Burley might have closed down his twitter account after describing the ceremony as ‘Leftie multicultural crap‘, but it’s too late. You can try to hold on tight to your old world, or you can come and share the love in the new one.
UPDATES: 29th July -
Danny Boyle talks of the influence of his father and the protection provided by Seb Coe to enable his vision to continue.
An insider-volunteer’s view of the creative process by Richard Brownlie-Marshall.
A Vogue interview with Danny (who’s a Mancunian and studied in Wales *beams*).
The delightful Frank Cottrell Boyce on The Dangerous Conversation.