2007 - 2021

Oh Danny Boy (le)

This was Cameron’s Cool Britannia, a moment where we could ignore the reality of Bullingdon Club Britain and pretend instead that we were led by Kenneth Branagh in a multicultural bliss. This is West Wing mind games, project the reality you’d like onto the world you despair.

I’m sorry to break with consensus but it won’t do. The squeeling of excitement about the Queen (the real Queen!!!) and Mr Bean plus Beckham morphing into 007 was everywhere. Gushing praise for Danny Boyle’s Olympics was ubiquitous: “Has Danny made Britain Great again?” The headlines brought together Jingoistic Brits and the liberal left.

As late night Friday entertainment it was brilliant. Yes it was clever, sometimes moving, funny, well produced and conceived. But there’s a problem with Boyle’s Britain: it isn’t real.

Voldemort attacking the NHS has been help up as some great political fightback. ‘That’ll show them’. No it won’t. The health system, the last sinew of British collective identity is being torn apart by the Tories, upping the ante from the work done by New Labour to privatise huge swathes of British  society.

What would really ‘show them’ would be for large sections of the English electorate to vote for parties not focused around a neoliberal consensus – and for parties or movements to show real leadership. That would require a huge swing to the Green Party, (something not very likely, given also Caroline Lucas’s suicide pact of standing down as leader just as she’d created some kind of national profile). But there’s other problems with Boyle’s Britain and the wave of self-satisfaction it’s induced.

The idea of one happy British family is quickly traduced by the hate-campaign against Kim Kittle and the Welsh footballers, led by the Daily Mail but evident across the popular press/twitterati. The bile and bitterness that Stella McCartney’s design for Team GB outfits was the start of it, and won’t be the end f it. This idea that you’d force a British identity by compulsory singing of the English national anthem is at hilarious juxtaposition to the warm glowing reviews of progressive unity brought on by Friday’s opening ceremony.  Nor is it, as some have had it, a purely cultural event. Pro-unionist editors across Scotland leapt on the chance to declare this a fatal blow to the Yes campaign, rightly seeing it as a piece of (quite beautiful) propaganda.

This idea of a shared story, identity, culture and established sense of self only makes sense when it’s reduced to a story about England. The constant conflation and (oops) mix-up between England and Britain is rife, from listing players in ‘Team GB’ to the tunes and icons used by Boyle.

What does this ceremony tell us about ourselves, our identity? Opined the Beebs commentators. What it told us was that Scotland is a fleeting, marginal irritant to modern Anglo-Britain. Glimpsed with kids at Edinburgh Castle, then, oddly by Tony Stanger’s try, that was about it.

Leaving aside the hyper-commodified, hyper-militarised spectacle that is the Olympics, much good may come of it in renewal of the East End. I don’t know. But drafting in soldiers to fill empty seats or the farce of the Hampden football ticket giveaway mark an event that has failed as a live sporting spectacle. This is a tv games and one unlikely to shift Britain’s reality as one where a childhood obesity rates are rife. For an event sponsored by Coke and McDonald’s that’s maybe not a surprise, but one of the key claims was this would ‘inspire a generation’ to better fitness.

A key problem is attempting to use the Olympics as a last gasp device for unifying Britain. Left as a London event it makes sense. Trying to con people this is for everybody it just descends into farce. If the Olympics was in Aberdeen I’d have trouble persuading people it was useful to people in Bournemouth.

I’m not against the Olympics – and the sporting spectacle may rise above the corporate whoredom to genuinely inspire – but part of the response from the liberal left was deeply depressing. There’s a sort of faux-radicalism at work here. Having failed to create any credible opposition alternative to the Tory-Liberal coalition, liberal England has retreated into cultural self-congratulation as it recedes into terminal decline and schools, hospitals and public services are systematically sold off  and bought off. We shouldn’t be fobbed off by cultural nepotism in the face of this assault on society.

Comments (17)

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  1. It’s been said that it was all created without political interference.
    I suspect the real reason they felt no need to interfere was they were surprised but yet absolutely delighted with the projected vision of Britain as a left leaning utopia.
    I wonder if Danny Boyle had choreographed a right wing, uniformed, jack booted, rally, with The Wall as the soundtrack, portraying Britain as a tax free haven for corporations, where the unemployed were coerced to work for free, it would have received the same hands off approach from politicos.

    Bet they couldn’t believe their luck.

  2. daveW says:

    Yes, I remember the media telling us that the royal wedding last year would help us ‘rediscover our Britishness’. A concept that worked so well that within 10 days the SNP shot to the biggest victory imaginable ond only the political system prevented it being a total whitewash of the unionist parties.

  3. I’m afraid I find Mike Small to be way too cynical for words. Small by name, and small-minded by nature, this review has 3rd year Uni debating club written all over it.

    They may well be out to get you Mike, but you can choose not to be paranoid.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      3rd year! I’m flattered Stephen. Sorry I forgot the rule: Thou Shalt Not Question the Games!

    2. Is that your best shot, Steve? How about playing the ball , not the man?

      What did you make of the celebration of all thing English masquerading under the banner of Rule Britannia?

      27 Million ‘Bitter together’ propaganda, if you ask me.

  4. DougtheDug says:

    The opening ceremony was a wonderful spectacle, a theatrical extravaganza with dancers, lights, moving scenery and music but that’s no surprise given the amount of talent, volunteers and money thrown at it but it was a very British event for British viewers. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Mary Poppins, Voldemort and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang are not as well-known to viewers in the rest of the World, especially the non-English speaking world, as they are in Britain. As a show opening an international event it was parochial in its imagery.

    The most puzzling part about it was that for the unionists it apparently the final nail in the coffin of Scottish independence. It undid decades of political advancement by the SNP in one big dance routine. The No campaign don’t need to argue about identity or self-determination because all they needed was a big parade with lights and music. The DVD of the Olympic opening ceremony will displace Braveheart in the DVD cabinet of every unionist.

    There was one thing they got wrong. There is and never was a UK NHS. The Scottish NHS and English and Welsh NHS were both created separately and when devolution happened the Scottish NHS wasn’t devolved as it always had been separate. All that happened was that the Scottish Parliament took over control from the Scottish Office. There are now four separate organisations in the UK which run health services in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The myth of the “British” NHS runs deep.

    There is also the fact that it was done very much as England is Britain is England. It was pointed out by commenter Dan Langfen on the Britologywatch blog that although they went to outside broadcasts of children’s choirs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for their anthems they didn’t switch to an English choir in say Stonehenge for the English anthem. The choir in the stadium was both British and English. I didn’t notice at the time but it is very obvious when you think about it. Why was there no English Children’s choir?

    It was a wonderful night but it was London talking to England thinking that it was Britain.

    1. Only Kids Allowed, the Welsh contribution, sang Cwm Rhondda (bread of heaven) in ENGLISH! It was originally a Welsh language revivalist hymn, they were forced to sing it in English and in the Eisteddfod last night, they proved that they were more than capable of singing it in Welsh. Ity would have been a nice gesture, but as you say, this was Britain => Greater England and the indigenous languages of these islands don’t exist. Only English, a relative latecomer, has any validity as far as these colonists are concerned.

      Here is a nice Welsh Language program that might warm the cockles of your heart, even though you don’t speak the language. http://www.s4c.co.uk/clic/e_level2.shtml?programme_id=506998917

  5. louhicky says:

    The Age of the Spectacle pretty much sums up the Opening Ceremony; fast moving rhetorical device of postmodnity is certainly employed here. In some parts, it spoked to an auidence of who have accustomed to twenty four hours TV or twitter for that matter – constant influx of information. Even parading the internet at the Ceremony, for me was met with mixed emotions – ‘This is for everyone’ seems quite odd, for who? The population of Britain, each of the 204 counties respresents in the games, perhaps not. This performace was about the popular culture and those who had access to it.

    1. bellacaledonia says:


    2. Sir Paul McCartney, but no Sir Elton? No Sir Cliff? What is going on? Surely the English idyll is not realised until they have sung?

  6. Dave Coull says:

    Danny Boyle presented a cosy myth of warm British togetherness. Meanwhile, former MI5 officer Annie Machon says fascist martial law has been imposed on Britain via the Olympics. And she does mean “fascist” in its original sense as used by Musslini and co.


  7. bellacaledonia says:

    I see Polly Tonybee over at the Gruniad’s been reading Bella (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/30/danny-boyle-olympics-ceremony-partial-history):

    “So Danny Boyle’s history of progress was a nostalgic reminder and a heart-warming hope, but only a partial truth. Easy to see why some Tories of the toxic tendency were spitting with fury, as the left would have done if a Telegraph and Niall Ferguson version of Britain had won the day. As it was, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, had to pretend to celebrate a social democratic history along with the rest, comforting his party with this: “The Games won’t be remotely inclusive, not on the track. They will be ruthlessly, dazzlingly elitist.” Now it’s for Labour to dare to embody those social democratic virtues most people see as the national identity.”

    Is this going to happen in your lifetime?

  8. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    The Olympics have a sinister history of use by political systems for their own ends. The 1936 games with its purpose built stadium and its spectacular opening ceremony heavy with confected myth is the visual maquette for the contemporary one. Riefenstahl would have approved the Boyle opus, if not quite gone along with its quirky tongue in cheek “Britishness”. As far as Scots are concerned it was England performing for the world. Nothing much to do with us or the Welsh or the unliberated vestige of Ireland. Boris wept during the performance so that indicates the target level. Emotion, feeling, sentiment, oh boy how we Brits are such softies, with style, at heart. Unless you rub us up the wrong way and then we will do our best to crush you. Worth bearing in mind when nationalist politicians spout stuff about shared British social space or whatever. Don’t want their space and don’t want their Britishness because I do believe in self-determination, real independence with all the cultural and existential challenges that desireable condition may proffer.

  9. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    “i’m not sentimental about anything. Life flows by, and you flow with it or you don’t move on and move out”….Gore Vidal could have had our quest for national renewal in mind. May he rest in peace.

  10. subterfuge says:

    Annie ‘the shill’ Mahon never left Mi5 by the sounds of the propangda being espoused above. The slyspy still insists Libyans blew PanAM103 out of the skies above Lockerbie. I’d love to know who pays her rent, buys her clothes/food and jets her round the world to speak on behalf of the ‘truth movement’.

  11. I misheard the original announcement – I though Frankie Boyle was gong to do it! Imagine my disappointment when I found out it was Danny Baker. I’d rather watch Soccer

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