Sunday, 24 August 2008

Whole Lotta Love?

The Olympics have come to an end. I've struggled to watch this week, partly because I'd got used to the twelve hour difference between the States and China which meant a Michael Phelps swim at 10am Beijing time would mean inevitable victory at 10.01pm the previous evening in Indianapolis. Halving this time deficit by crossing the Atlantic meant I wasn't really sure what was going on when so I kind of drifted away.

Today though at the closing ceremony London, as the inheritor of the games for 2012, had eight minutes to make a splash and I watched with interest to see how we would represent ourselves. (I'm still trying to see how the Cultural Olympiad 2012 might be a genuinely inspiring event in its own right.) In the end the show was neat, quirky and tidy. Threads of visual and aural iconography ran through to remind the world that Britannia is still an equal partner with Cool in our cultural make over. Most countries seem to assimilate the new into the old, but we seem fixated in sampling the old in the modern. Strains of Greensleeves and Jerusalem mixed up with punk beefeaters, Leona Lewis dueting with grey haired, but still virile enough to lick a rift, Jimmy Page and David Beckham kicking a ball out of a Double Decker bus that turned ingeniously into a privet hedge.

So we're funky, energised, ironic, eclectic, slightly eccentric - in a Boris Johnson stylee - proud of our symbols and not lacking a sense of playfulness - albeit on our own terms. (We are after all the world's great rule makers.) Economically the games cost, but it's also an opportunity to cash in, in the short term - which means defining yourself in the most marketable and uncritical way possible. We need to be positive until it hurts.... it can't be great art, but it's where spectacle finds a niche.

Yet through all of today's display is still a very British sense of precision and self containment. You'll be very welcome here, as long as you don't mess...

It's the charming menace of the man in the pub who claps his hand on your shoulder in a display of seeming protection and flashing his teeth with a pearly smile says...

'Welcome to London, my old son! It's your round I think.'

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