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The best opening ceremony since Barcelona? Yeah. Perhaps.

August 6, 2016


Or at least, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an opening ceremony as much since 1992.  Was it the best since Barcelona?  The word “best” is empty and quantitative.  I remember watching the London opening ceremony four years ago from Canada (where I am again now).  Although the Danny Boyle spectacular was warmly appreciated in Britain, it was less appreciated elsewhere in the world, where its concerns seemed almost insultingly parochial after the magnificence of Beijing.  The disappointing London ceremony, coupled with subsequent BBC coverage that seemed excessively jingoistic, led many around the world to feel that Britain should not be trusted with hosting this sort of event ever again.  And be assured, Britain never will.  But last night I enjoyed more.

Do I sound callous if I say that the fact that I knew there were angry demonstrations outside the stadium didn’t mar my enjoyment of the ceremonies within it?  I suppose I do.  Those demonstrations complicated my viewing pleasure but they didn’t ruin it.  Brazilians are not a quiescent people and nor will they repress their just concerns because politicians tell them to present a unified front.  I like that.  I also liked the fact that despite the careful choreography of the history of Brazil offered by the beginning of the ceremony – ultimately things just drifted into one big dance party.

You can be offended by a national narrative which involves genocide, slavery and ecological catastrophe being combined with an irrepressible need to get up and dance – but such really does seem to be Brazil’s national narrative.  I loved the little plane.  I loved those pedaled vehicles that preceded each national team and I want one.  I like the idea of having the national anthem sung by and old guy with a guitar rather than led by massed military bands.

And I did like all the green.  This was not a ceremony that was trying to do too many things – but rather one which none too subtly reminded the Northern hemisphere of its responsibility to preserve the tropical paradise it was visiting.  Green was the colour last night and it was presented well.  The smallest of nations (those nations which always seem to have the best costumes and the most vigorous flag wavers) can know that whatever else they did, they helped plant a seed.  They’ve given.

Not everything about these Olympics will go right.  But enough will.  Indeed, if the Olympics were completely free of politics and corruption – then oddly enough I think I’d be perversely troubled – I’d be worried about the escapism that such a seasonal fantasy offered.  The Olympics are not an escape from human greed and folly – but rather a restaging of human greed and folly with unexpected opportunities for certain admirable qualities to emerge, suddenly and unexpectedly.  The Olympics are not an antidote to cynicism but an antidote to dull undifferentiated cynicism.  That much, I think, was communicated last night.

It’s just a shame Jesus couldn’t have been given a spot closer to the ceremony.



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