Monday, 30 July 2012

Watching the London Olympics in the USA: Part One

All eyes are on the motherland right now, and it all kicked off on Friday with pomp, circumstance, poignancy and some gratifying Britishness. How did it look from the eyes of a displaced Brit, an Anglophiladelphian chap, and his all-American parents?

We sat with our fish n' chips and HP sauce, and engrossed ourselves in the television spectacle. It started at the murky Thames Estuary, tracing the river's journey to the heart of the UK's capital and raising to an aerial shot of the city center. Without missing a beat I exclaimed "doof, doof, doofdoofdoof doof doof" just moments before the TV soundtrack blared:

DOOF, DOOF, DOOFDOOFDOOF DOOF DOOF…  Mark and I cheered loudly and I knew I was in for an excellent evening.

Mark's bemused parents asked what had just happened, and I explained to them that the aerial image of London reminded me of the soap opera Eastenders, and that the ceremony had even included the hook from the theme tune. Nothing could have made me giddier. I was rapt.

Danny Boyle is my favorite director. He's versatile and exciting and daring. Trainspotting, for one, is a staple in the genre of British underdog movies. I knew he'd pull off an amazing ceremony, and not just because his depiction of the British countryside was bang on - although the hill did look just like the one by my parents' house in Scotland:

Just an excuse to include some photos from home
The ceremony captured an essence of Britain: Industry, Healthcare, and Literature (and raves). It was also a celebration of the British people, those who worked the land, those who treat the sick, those who fall in love, dance, sing, make art, go to work, fight for the British isles, and those who construct Olympic stadiums, and volunteer in them; not just those who perform professional sport in those stadiums. As British journalist/blogger Mary Hamilton wrote, it was for everyone.

The spectacle was also a showcase of British popular culture. It was supremely gratifying for us to catch the snippets of things I grew up with and that Mark fell in love with - it was Mark who pointed out the scene from Coronation St. I pointed out elements from that ubiquitous movie genre, the British underdog movie, and we all debated the music. We cheered familiar icons: the Queen (of course) and Bond, Churchill,  Poppinses defeating Voldemort. Mark's parents were in stitches at Mr Bean. Cue Chariots of Fire, and I said "that's St.Andrews". It didn't sink in until they saw the skyline and the chapel where Mark and I said our marriage vows, and they gasped with excitement. They had been there; they had an ownership of the ceremony.

The ceremony did have something for everyone. Some folks were bemused by certain cultural references, or missed them entirely. This is a fair criticism as it was jam-packed with private jokes, but there were plenty of elements that most could relate to. It was a rare case of Brits being prideful and characteristically self-deprecating, at the same time, while acknowledging bittersweet elements of the country's long history. There was poignancy, and even a moment where the Queen looked a little verklimpt (or just stoic, it was hard to tell). That's my home country all right, on show for all to see.

It wasn't until the next morning that I learned of the missing poignancy. Why were my British friends and family talking about Windrush and 7/7? We watched the beautiful missing scene, stunned at our lack of recognition, and at Emeli Sandé's performance of Abide with Me.

(to be continued)

1 comment:

  1. I was eating chip butties in honour of the games on Friday - I too also loved the Eastenders insert - Joe just looked at me blankly with his wtf was that face!