Some conservative publications and politicians have grumbled about last night's London Olympics opening ceremony. London's Daily Mail castigated "this bonanza of left-wing propaganda," and conservative British Member of Parliament Aidan Burley tweeted, "The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen-more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state!"
That's nonsense on several levels. The Beijing opening ceremony was like a mix of smash-mouth football and synchronized swimming, with a cast of thousands beating drums in aggressive togetherness as if China's communist government was proclaiming to the world, "Here we are, all 1.3 billion of us, bow before your new masters." The London opener was a tribute to individuality, variety, and creativity, with Brits poking fond fun at themselves and their celebrities: If you missed it, it's worth viewing highlights on YouTube.
Yes, the history lesson embedded in the opening juxtaposed top-hatted, cigar-chomping capitalists and bravely grimy miners, but it's well-worth noting that the industrial revolution, like all revolutions, came at a great price. Yes, the tribute to Britain's National Health Service "glossed over the cracks in a system that is creaking at its seams-crying out for urgent reform," as the Daily Mail noted.
Yet those flaws are small compared to what made the three other Olympic opening ceremonies of this millennium either boring or belligerent. Australia's 2000 opening ceremonies started out well with lots of horses but then declined into some art director's vision of bringing high culture to the masses. Greece's in 2004 was similarly high-toned and condescending. Beijing's 2008 Olympics were more like Berlin's in 1936, and notorious film director Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will, Olympia) could have been its auteur.
London, though, handed the project to film director and producer Danny Boyle, best known for Slumdog Millionaire, and he embraced popular culture: His James Bond/Queen Elizabeth and Chariots of Fire/Mr. Bean segments were brilliant. Conservative critics need to lighten up and major in the majors: The opening ceremony moved from totalitarian in 2008-five rings to rule them all-to a mostly liberty-proclaiming five-ring circus in 2012.
(And, it's good that Boyle did not shy away from starting the show with "Jerusalem" and including other Christian hymns that reflect England's religious heritage.)