Here are the lowlights. The scene opened on a landscaped stadium infield meant to represent the green fields of England, with Glastonbury Tor rising up in the end zone crowned by an enormous tree. Happy peasants (of suitable racial diversity of course) sang folk songs and played games while harvesting their sustainable crops and dancing around a maypole.
Alas, this bucolic paradise was not to last. A troop of top-hatted capitalists led by Kenneth Branagh smoking a cigar entered the stadium and ushered in the Industrial Revolution, forcing the peasants to literally remove the vegetation. The giant tree on Glastonbury Tor was uprooted and grimy coal miners emerged from the hole in a cloud of smoke, like Orcs ready to do Sauron's bidding. As the capitalists watched in delight, huge smokestacks rose up from the ground, belching smoke and filling the stadium with pollution, complete with the scent of brimstone. The peasants rhythmically toiled away at huge machines which forged a molten iron ring around a map of Victorian London, while a giant model of the Olympic Rings drifted in overhead showering the peasants with golden sparks while the capitalists removed their top hats reverentially. Then there was something to do with the First World War, but I really couldn't figure that part out.
At this point there was a cute segment featuring the Queen in Buckingham Palace being escorted by Daniel Craig (as James Bond) by helicopter to the stadium. When Her Majesty took her place, the British national anthem was sung by (groan) a choir of deaf children in pajamas who signed the words. Good lord. The British practically invented choral music; did they get the choir of St Paul's or Westminster Abbey to sing the anthem? No - a choir of children who can't hear.
This was followed by, I kid you not, a salute to the National Health Service. A horde of Edwardian doctors and nurses rolled hundreds of hospital beds bearing cute children onto the field. The health care workers jitterbugged while the kids bounced up and down on their beds, and huge lights spelled out the letters NHS. Then the kids all started to read Peter Pan books, and JK Rowling appeared with a swarm of characters from children's literature. It got kind of dicey for the kids when Captain Hook appeared, but not to worry - dozens of women dressed like Mary Poppins descended from the sky by umbrella and tucked the kids into bed. Then, inexplicably, hundreds of men and women entered dressed like the Beatles from the cover of the Sergeant Pepper album.
At this point I kind of lost interest - there was a salute to the Digital Age, something about a mixed-race couple and their children searching for their iPhones while crowds of dancers recapitulated the history of British music since the 60s. Needless to say we descended from the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to Queen to Amy Winehouse to some rapper who screamed into the microphone for five minutes. It was awful.
This is the best that Britain can do? If I had to figure out the history of the British Isles based on this show, I'd conclude that there was a period of primitive bliss which was destroyed by capitalism, and then the National Health Service stepped in and made it all better. This was followed by a long period of racial harmony and iPhones. This is the country that gave us Shakespeare and Handel, Wordsworth and Vaughan Williams? No mention was made of most of the fascinating history of Britain. Nothing about the Romans or the Celts, or the Elizabethan Age when Queen Elizabeth I stared down the Spanish Armada. Nothing about Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, James Cook, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Mary Wollstonecraft, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Alexander Fleming or Charles Darwin. Nothing about Britain standing against Fascism in the Second World War, or the British Empire that dominated the world for almost two hundred years and spread Parliamentary democracy, the free market and Common Law to its now independent colonies. The world is a better place because of Britain, but you'd never know it from this cheesy, embarrassing circus.
What the hell has happened to Britain? Winston Churchill is rolling in his grave right now.
UPDATE: Conservative British MP Aidan Burley is also annoyed. He tweeted during the ceremony:
The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next? Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows (sic), Shakespeare and the Stones!He is now being taken to the proverbial woodshed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and by 10 Downing Street for departing from orthodoxy. Johnson, nominally a Conservative, countered:
The thing I loved was the heavy political stuff. I loved the emergence of the urban proletariat and the rise of the chimneys and the forging of the ring.Expect a retraction from a suitably chastised Burley soon.
UPDATE 2: It seems Mr. Burley has an unsavory past. He was fired by PM Cameron from his post as Parliamentary Secretary for attending a stag party where the guests dressed like Nazis and drank toasts to senior Nazi figures, and for texting during a talk by a Holocaust survivor during a visit to Auschwitz. Obviously not the best person to be complaining about political correctness.
UPDATE 3: I'm not alone! Anthony Kosner at Forbes asks: Did London just stage the most embarrassing opening ceremony?
UPDATE 4: Even left-wing Mother Jones contributor Kevin Drum wondered what the hell was going on: An Olympic Tribute to the NHS? Really?