August 9th, 2008

Beijing: The Opening Ceremony

 The opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics- eight years ago-  put me in a good mood. I remember a rough and tumble, circusy atmosphere- and particularly a group of high-stepping, acrobatic dancers got up as "larrikins"- the mischief-making, golden-hearted Jack the lads who exist so close to the heart of Australian cultural identity.

There were no larrikins in Beijing's opening ceremony. It was remarkably spectacular and completely heartless- with the performers reduced to pixels, shifting en masse and winking on and off as they formed elaborate living tableaux on the floor of the arena. Totalitarian regimes love this sort of thing. The individual is subsumed in the crowd- drilled, choreographed, harmonised out of existence- suppressed in the interests of the big picture.  I got bored and wandered away from the TV. Actually, I was more than bored, I was indignant. 

After this, the procession of the athletes came as sweet relief. No more stepping in time, but gaggles of individuals- some in ridiculous fancy dress- waving flags, grinning, giggling. It's not often- in fact it's only once every four years at the Olympics- that you get to see representatives of all the nations of the world assembled together in the same place and- furthermore- having fun. I'm always cynical about the Olympics until they happen and then I turn to mush.

The lighting of the flame was a high point. Former gymnast Li Ning took off on wires and flew round the stadium with the torch in his hand- a real coup de theatre- and-  for just about the first time that evening- with the focus on a single, heroic individual.

Li Ning turns out to be an interesting cove- not just a sporting hero- but a millionnaire entrepeneur and a good friend of Rupert Murdoch's.  If the floor show said one thing about China and how it sees itself, this elevation of a pawky, middle-aged company director said something completely different.

In other news: Russia and Georgia have chosen this moment to go to war over South Ossetia and an American tourist has been murdered at a Beijing monument- the Tower of Drums- by a Chinese man who then suicided himself.