A lot’s happened in the last sixteen days.
No-one predicted the almighty shift in national perspective that would roll out like a vast, mood-altering EMP pulse from Danny Boyle’s epic opening ceremony. You could feel it on the night: ‘Is this ceremony actually…good?’ you allowed yourself to think, stunned. A cursory glance at Twitter – the porthole into a bustling cross-section of abuse, opinion and nit-picking one-upmanship – confirmed it. You were right. It WAS good. That brittle cynicism that usually defined Britain in general and Twitter in particular dissipated, like a mighty wave breaking against a shore. It was an artificial shore, yes - one which cost the taxpayer £13bn - but dagnammit, it was a British shore, and we’d paid for it so we might as well bloody enjoy it.
‘Is this…pride?’ we thought, as a sensation swelled within us, and we pondered the concept, rolling its unfamiliar shape in our minds. It felt strange but…exhilarating. It fitted us. After sixteen days of British sporting brilliance, of both the public and media (social and national) being united behind a common interest, we became a Utopian society: people smiled at each other on public transport; held doors open for others; Union Flag regalia were no longer seen as the identifying stamp of the intellectually and genetically impaired. We’d bonded. We’d grown. Twitter was a happy place.
Last night’s closing ceremony marked the end of this social experiment. It certainly had its moments: there’s something irresistibly spectacular about the simple sight of Lambrettas and Rolls Royces whizzing around a stadium at twenty miles an hour, or of a cast of thousands undulating in practiced unison. The ceremony had ambition. There was also the odd stab of the giddy, inward-looking nudge-and-wink sensibility that we’d enjoyed in the opener: Eric Idle’s comedic number, during which he fondled the boundaries of taste, and Del Boy and Rodney’s appearance, which would make little sense to anyone not raised on our diet of rain, sloppily-processed foods and Saturday night TV. Plus, whoever was responsible for the implementation of those LED lights and the firework displays deserves to be given lots of money. Which is fortunate, because they probably were.
Union Flag regalia were no longer seen as the identifying stamp of the intellectually and genetically impaired. We’d bonded. We’d grown. Twitter was a happy place.
And yet, this was supposed to be ‘the afterparty’ to the Opening Ceremony and, like all televised parties, the extent to which its ebullience was forced for the cameras occasionally pushed the stuffing out through the seams. Some of the decisions were truly baffling, others were simply stupid, and these occasionally made us look, for the first time in sixteen days, a bit shit.
There was the inclusion, apropos of fuck all, of turgid Cowell-effluence pentagram One Direction. Their baffling juxtaposition with electro greats The Pet Shop Boys - as if both exist on similar plains of cultural relevance (they do not) - managed to cheapen the entire tone in one fell swoop. The world should know that British music is great IN SPITE of One Direction, not because of them, and it was here that Twitter’s newfound benign and egalitarian outlook began to shake. Something was going to give.
Thesaurus-tongued smack-pansy Russell Brand aping Willy Wonka and singing I Am The Walrus stretched Twitter’s goodwill to breaking point. Brand is an international name and a good standup, but giving a comedian two songs when national icon Ray Davies only gets one is a choice that could only have been made under the influence of drugs, or bribes, or both. Brand can sing a bit, but leaving Liam Gallagher to drag his fists backstage while Brand sings a John Lennon song is like paying thousands of pounds for a premium call girl and then letting her watch TV while you wank miserably in the bathroom.
Any hopes that George Michael could stage a rescue were put to pasture when he unleashed his second song - a tuneless tofu slab of blippy, mid-life dreck, to which he grimaced and wobbled like a dinnerlady stuffed to the larynx with love-eggs. The Kaiser Chiefs’ passable cover of Pinball Wizard was pointless too - The Who were appearing anyway, and so many British bands were left conspicuously uncelebrated.
Worst of all were Jessie J and Emeli Sandé’s inexplicable multiple appearances. Jessie J, Tinie Tempah and Taio Cruz floundering onstage while their backing track played out was excruciating, and Jessie singing We Will Rock You eschewed a multitude of singers more suitable to the song, not to mention vast chunks of the song’s original melody.
The world should know that British music is great IN SPITE of One Direction, not because of them, and it was here that Twitter’s newfound benign and egalitarian outlook began to shake
Highlights did come, courtesy of Annie Lennox’s preposterously brilliant boat, The Who’s ageless closer (proving beyond all doubt that there’s an attic somewhere containing a portrait of Roger Daltrey looking very poor indeed), Freddie Mercury’s posthumous eminence, and The Spice Girls’ shouty cab-straddling. But the recorded references to Kate Bush and Bowie only served to remind us how much was actually missing for the itinerary: instead of appearances from either, we got an impressive, flouncy dance number, and a pouting parade of snow-nosed size-zero models, completely at odds with Boyle’s celebration of female emancipation and the NHS. It was as pro-feminist as slapping Emmeline Pankhurst across the tits and then offering to park her car.
In the end though, the closing ceremony, through sheer persistence and kitchen-sinkery, succeeded. Both ceremonies were spectacular, but last night’s was the one we feared the first would be: stilted, confused, predictable and disjointed. It did its job, but you get the feeling that the best music was happening in Hyde Park, and the best parties were in parks or back gardens across the nation. The hordes of empty seats by the time The Who appeared spoke volumes.
By the end, Twitter had reverted to its default setting: amusing snipes, cynicism, world-weary grumpiness and fish-in-a-barrel BoJo mockery. The upcoming Paralympics means that we still have plenty of nationally-unifying sporting brilliance to come, but perhaps the closing ceremony brought the curtain down on a nation’s brief affair with earnest non-cynicism that was brought about by one ceremony and killed off by another. Thank God.
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