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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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« Finding the right words | Main | Meaning matters »
Monday
Aug132012

What The Olympic closing ceremony meant ...

… is up to us. 

The positive impact of The Olympics on the mood of the country, and especially the city of London, has been palpable - even to someone as disengaged from the events as myself. Several journalists have written about the positive impact on the spirit of the country and the possibility of shrugging off our sometimes cynical, pessimistic outlook. For many of us this mood has been evidenced and enhanced by our online conversations.

Last night, giving in to pressure from my family, I watched the closing ceremony and, in company with many if not most, found myself wondering what the hell it was all about. Again like many I was following events on Twitter and loving the witty and often very funny commentary going on there. Clearly many enjoyed the musical extravaganza but equally many found its apparent messages disturbing.  Even while it was happening people were commenting that our Twitter back channel was returning us to our cynical selves, some I know even choosing to censure those knocking the ceremony for not keeping the spirit going. 

The negative view of the event was captured in this post from Chris T-T. I have to say that while I may agree with many of the comments he makes in his post I fundamentally disagree with his overall point that we can be put back in our place by the underlying messages of the spectacle, returned to a facile celebrity culture of dominatrix and plastic pop. If we were being cynical in Twitter it was about the attitudes the ceremony appeared to be reverting to - not to the games themselves. We wanted to hold on to the messages of hope and possibility not have the sullied or weakened. 

For the first time since the dominance of mainstream media we can decide for ourselves on a national scale what the closing ceremony meant to us thanks to the web. In fact the inappropriateness of the ceremony may well have reinforced our ownership of the meaning of the games rather than weakened it. Thousands if not millions will have thought "screw you - this wasn't what the games were about nor what made us proud".

Like I said - what the closing ceremony "meant" is up to us. 

Reader Comments (11)

How tedious that people should think it needed to have a 'meaning'. Sport and tv are all about entertainment and the opening and closing shows needed to entertain. The mass audience enjoying the shows would otherwise be viewing a diet of reality tv and talent shows. To be relevant the Olympic shows needed to strike the same vein of mass cultural entertainment with a pretty broad lowest common denominator. I think they achieved that and I loved both shows although the opening performance was rather precocious in pretending the messages mattered ir really connected with anyone. This was all just fun music and bright shiny objects. Popular culture at its best and ... good fun.

August 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermike love

Thereby proving that "nothing" is within the scope of possible meanings ...

:-)

August 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterEuan

Do you think Twitter encourages cynicism, as a rule?
Meanwhile, I agree with Mike's comment. Was it Schumann who, when asked what a piece of music meant, sat down and played it through again as an answer?

August 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRupert PBell

Twitter doesn't encourage cynicism any more than it encourages optimism. I don't think Twitter encourages anything - it is up to us what we do with it.

And yes you can overanalyse things but to claim that the choices made about what goes into such an event are without meaning is stretching a bit. The assumptions behind what Mike called " the same vein of mass cultural entertainment with a pretty broad lowest common denominator" are what some of us are questioning.

August 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I repeat my FB post from this morning:

"The thing I love about being British is our self-effacing eccentricity. The closing (and opening) ceremony showed us as we are and not how advertisers would like us to appear when strategically placed next to their products! Take note USA."

I don't give a damn about sport in general or the olympics in particular but I made a point of watching the opening and closing ceremonies. Why try to over-analyse what they were about - other than to acknowledge that the opening was about the British heritage and the closing was about the British culture according to the vast majority of ordinary British people.

If that's not intellectual enough for the high-brow pundits who criticised the ceremonies then let them switch off their TV's and get off to the opera or some other unrepresentative, minority entertainment venue. Maybe the UK has created a new way of presenting an olympic host to the rest of the world without simply using the vulgar tool of "we do it bigger and better than everyone else".

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Hall

Like you I have no interest in sport but I thought the whole thing was wonderfully British and made me very proud of what this small island can do. I have to say though I haven't read any criticism of the events as not being high brow enough - maybe I don't read enough high brow stuff to have seen it!

What made me uncomfortable was the feeling in the closing ceremony that we were reverting to an assumption of what "ordinary British people" want. I got the impression that many of them had enjoyed getting away from their usual X-Factor, footballers lives fare. There was a great article in The Sun on how people had enjoyed real sporting endeavour rather than the posturing of over paid footballers.

Even if we don't talk about "meaning" I sat in the doctor's waiting room yesterday listening to "ordinary British people" sounding very confused about the ceremony.

Anyway - I guess my post was more about the increased possibility the web gives us to have these sort of conversations and to work out what it all meant - if anything!

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I didn't know you read The Sun Euan :-) My reference to negative comments from high brow pundits was actually a reference to an interview on Radio 4 of Peter Hitchens that my wife was ranting at yesterday. I didn't hear it but apparently he was accusing the organisers of sinking to the lowest common denominator at the expense of his own personal definition of British culture.

I'm completely on board with your point about how the web allows us to share our ideas about the meaning of it all. Maybe if the ceremonies had been too "obvious", the discussion would not have happened.

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Hall

I think it's possible to read many things into the closing ceremony, but I just can't get away from all the negative tropes, especially about women, that came through in it. Having just seen a wonderful festival of hard work and achievement, both male and female, to then see women reduced to hyper-skinny fashion models was depressing. And after rigorous anti-doping efforts at the Olympics to ensure fair competition, to see three performers -- George Michael, Russell Brand and Kate Moss -- who are not just known to have taken drugs but whose very identity is tied up in their drug taking showed a tin ear at the very least.

The closing ceremony reduced our multicultural diversity to 'oh, look at those incongruous furriners, aren't they funny', instead of celebrating it as an essential part of what makes Britain such a rich and vibrant country. By focusing on music and fashion, as if those were the only two things the UK has to offer the world, it cut out 99.99% of all other British endeavour and people. It wasn't an inclusive ceremony, it was exclusive and it excluded most people.

It sought to re-establish the media -- witness all that oversized newsprint -- as the people who decide what's important and who's successful. Rather than celebrating the fact that our athletes all worked hard & made sacrifices to achieve great things, the ceremony celebrated people who became successful as much because the media said so than because of any hard work on their part. (And if you don't believe that last point, go read Duncan Watts' work!)

You can try to read into it what you want, but you can try to put lipstick on a pig too. I'd rather people not bother to try to spin it into something positive, or reduce it to some faux high-brow vs low-brow argument, because that's giving it a free pass that it doesn't deserve.

I was as unhappy about the return of cynicism to Twitter, but sadly it was well justified. I'm going to deal with it, though, by focusing instead on going back to that wonderful feeling we all had before the Olympics ended.

I'm not going to pretend the ceremony never happened or that it really, deep down, meant something positive. I'm just going to try to transcend it and say "I shall no longer submit to the media's cynicism and negativity, I shall instead carry the Olympic spirit with me and not allow the cynics to undermine me."

That doesn't mean that I can't criticise things, or feel negatively about things, but that when I do so, I do so because of genuine, solid reasons not because I'm confusing cynicism with sophistication. I've long thought that too many people, many of them in London, seem to think that it's impossible to be sophisticated without being bitingly cynical at the same time, and that's why we got the closing ceremony we got. And that's what I'm going to fight against.

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuw

Someone (I can't remember who) tweeted that it wasn't going to be the ceremony we wanted, but the ceremony that the recording industry wanted us to have - limited to some extent by the PRS budget and the willingness of stars to participate (Bowie and others turned it down). I found it disappointing, and I can see Chris's point suggesting that it was an attempt to revert us to normality, but the interesting point that I got from Euan's post was how it completely failed, and was confronted by a public that had, for a while at least, got used to a much higher standard of celebration. We're not happy with Kate and Naomi dolled up in posh frocks when we've been through a fortnight of the most amazing female achievement - it's transparently demeaning and inadequate within a culture that has (at least for the moment) raised it's horizons. Long may that continue... the culture industry will have to raise its game.

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Thanks for the comments guys - and yes the culture industry does have to raise its game!

August 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterEuan

Whow, what a lot of spoilsports there are amongst us. We watched the closing ceremony with children aged 10, 14 and 17 and had the most fabulous time. One of them was twittering throughout with pals but still we waved the union jack flag and stomped along. The opening ceremony was a proud moment - the closing ceremony was a celebration. We don't need to over-analyse. British music is king and one of our main international exports. The ceremony yet again demonstrated that fact - there were a myriad of references to British music of all types in between the main acts.

August 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStella

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