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THE BIG READ: Olympics opening a raspberry for Romney

Anthony Altbeker | 2012-07-30 00:11:41.0
The appearance of Mr Bean, British actor Rowan Atkinson, at the Olympic opening ceremony was deliciously audacious Picture: CAMERON SPENCER/GALLO IMAGES

As a rule I don't watch the opening ceremonies of any sporting event. I can't see the point of them. I didn't even watch the opening of the 2010, World Cup. Can the mass dancing, I said; bring on the soccer.

As a rule, I have no interest in the Olympics. I like team sports, and an event that creates an equivalence between BMX and international soccer strikes me as bizarre and unhealthy.

As a rule, I have no taste for Mr Bean either. If you've seen one booger joke, you've seen them all. And, if I'm honest, I don't even like London all that much.

But on Friday night, trapped at a dinner party where everyone wanted to watch the Olympics opening ceremony, I had a ball.

The first act was charming enough, but dull. Though I liked Queenie's entrance, and the spirit in which it was intended. I thought the Sex Pistols riff in poor taste. "Johnny Rotten and the Olympic Spirit," I thought? Not bloody likely.

But then came Rowan Atkinson and his boogers. I laughed so hard, I thought my bum might fall off.

It wasn't that Atkinson was so funny; it was the sheer, self-lacerating audacity of it. A short appearance of Atkinson behind the synthesiser would have been enough for most. But to extend it into a full, tasteless skit and then allow that to bloom into a second fantasy mocking the sentimentalism of Chariots of Fire. That took style.

But the real reason I thought it all so entertaining was the fact that it had suddenly become blindingly clear that the whole opening ceremony was intended as a slap in the face to Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's presumptive candidate for president of the US.

Precisely how Danny Boyle and the assembled multitudes managed to pull this off in the 48 hours between when Romney insulted the Brits by suggesting they couldn't pull off a decent Games, I do not know. But that the point of the ceremony was to rub his nose in it was evident.

Consider, in this regard, the celebration of Britain's National Health Service. One of the key planks of Romney's election campaign is the promise to repeal Obamacare, which many in the Republican Party deem a step on the road to socialism, and a threat to freedom.

Romney's position on this is complicated by the fact that he actually invented Obamacare when he was governor of Massachusetts, so it must have been uncomfortable for him to see Britain celebrate the healthcare system that was established after the Second World War and which, because it is actually state-run, is infinitely more "socialist" than Obamacare.

Before arriving in the UK, a pair of Romney's advisers had told journalists that his visit was intended, in part, to demonstrate that their chap had a better grasp than President Barack Obama of the specialness of the Special Relationship between the UK and the US, their shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage".

Left unsaid was what precisely made Romney more attuned to Anglo-Saxonism, but if his campaign would accept some unsolicited advice from South Africa, I'd offer this thought: there's nothing wrong with being white, but saying things that suggest that being white confers some advantage isn't so cool.

Boyle's response to Romney's assertion was to suggest that the pretensions of that heritage should be mocked. Witness Bean and his boogers, the queen and her parachute. He showed that that heritage was also ambiguous: yes, there's Mary Poppins, but there's also the anarchy of Sid Vicious and the celebrity-worship of David Beckham.

Finally, he showed it wasn't even true that Britain's heritage was best thought of as Anglo-Saxon at all. Britain is extremely multiculti, and (mostly) they love it that way.

Boyle even seems to have upended any notion that the British are especially polite. And, though I missed this, one report in The New York Times suggested that rudeness slipped into the rest of the programme too. Did the announcer really introduce Bangladesh's athletes by saying they came from the most populous country in the world never to win an Olympic medal? Did he really say that the athletes from Bhutan came from the last country in the world to get television?

Fabulous.

  • Altbeker is a researcher, writer and editor

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