Monday, August 13, 2012

All’s Fair in Love and Sports: Playing Nice at the London Olympics Part 2

Well, it’s finally over. Two weeks of badminton, table tennis, volleyball, basketball, track and field (and all the other sports you never actually watched or cared about before) and we are at long last done with the 2012 London Olympics. Athletes wept in defeat and leapt for joy; coaches challenged results and swore on the sidelines; adoring fans dressed up in the kookiest costumes in the hopes of making it on international T.V. As for the rest of us, we did as Americans do best: sat and watched other people being physically active from the comfort of our living room couch.

Giant Voldemort attacking children like a boss. Photo by Matt Lancashire. 

All jokes aside, I had a great time watching this round of the Olympics. From the Opening Ceremony (which many of you may recall I was not-so-psyched about a few weeks ago) to the Closing, London delivered everything we ask for in a quadrennial sporting smorgasbord. For Americans, as usual there was the self-satisfaction of beating all takers, especially China, in medals of every color (USA! USA! USA!). For our good friends the Brits, plenty of memorable moments allowed them to feel they’d received a true home field advantage. Hell, even I got excited over Andy Murray beating Federer on Wimbledon Center Court and I don’t even know what a Wimbledon is.

Not being the biggest sports lover in the world, like many others my favorite parts to watch and critique are always the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The 2012 Opening Ceremony left many asking: what was Danny Boyle on and where can I get some? Truthfully, the dark plot of the British History section of the ceremony surprised me, as a picturesque English countryside became the sooty, dark underbelly that was industrial London. The second section on British Literature was also pretty cool, although to be fair those giant puppets of Lord Voldemort, Captain Hook, and the Queen of Hearts were pretty shoddily put together. I think everyone’s favorite part was the Music & Movies of Britain section, because who can resist the dulcet sounds of The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, Led Zeppelin…the list goes on through the decades.

Creepy industrialized London. Photo by Barney Moss.

But overall, the most impressive thing about the Opening Ceremony to me was that it managed not to commit the most cardinal of Olympic sins: the British did not try to be China. Nothing about their Ceremony smacked of Beijing 2008. In fact, I don’t know how much more different Danny Boyle could have been. It was a trippy, abstract, artistic melee of everything that could be termed distinctly British, and even better, it was really fun to watch. Plus I don’t know how you could really beat 007 “jumping out” of a helicopter with the Queen of England for her grand entrance. I give mad props to the old gal for being game.

The Closing Ceremony was equally as mind-boggling and crazy. Remember how the Chinese had thousands of drummers playing in unison at the Opening Ceremony in 2008? Well, the British answer was to have STOMP performers banging on trashcan lids leaping around the stage, which from above looked like a small riot. Even the set looked like a hoarder's house, with lines from British Literature typed up on giant newsprint and pasted haphazardly on every prop. And god do I love a Churchill speech. All in all, what I was presuming would be a disappointment for trying too hard to be Asian ended up seriously surpassing my expectations. The Ceremonies were fabulously, entirely British, and at the end of the day that’s what they should be: a reflection of the home country, not a spectacle to scare the pants off the rest of the world.

Now I can’t wait for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Knowing the Brazilians, there’s bound to be plenty of half-naked Carnevale dancers, soccer players scoring goals upside-down with their eyes closed, and hopefully a capoeira fight or two thrown in for good measure. I like this switching off between developing and developed countries thing we’ve got going: the developing countries get to show off how far they’ve come, while the developed get to rest on the laurels of their past accomplishments. After all, isn’t that a fair depiction of how the world works?

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