Opinion by Jeremy Elwood
With the announcement this week that the opening of the 2012 London Olympics would feature an “English meadow, complete with cows, sheep and cricket match”, what has already been a strange year for British revisionism reaches its zenith to date.
The idea, says artistic director Danny Boyle, is to evoke the “green and pleasant land” of William Blake’s Jerusalem.
Boyle goes on to say "it's in our brains as part of ourselves, this ideal. It's like a childhood ideal, in a way". However, the problem with childhood ideals is that they rarely bear up to scrutiny.
The great revisionism of 2012 began with the release of “The Iron Lady”, continued through the Queen’s Jubilee, and no doubt will only grow as the Olympics approach.
For someone (myself) who grew up in England during Thatcher’s tenure, I find it hard to stomach that anyone would make a movie about her (and therefore I haven’t seen it), far less that someone as intelligent as our own Attorney General, Chris Finlayson, would say about her that “she put the Great back into Great Britain”. Trust me, living in the Midlands during the miner’s strike and the Falklands War makes that hard to justify.
The Queen’s Jubilee concert, a declared celebration of classic “Britishness”, featured six classical music performances, none of which were written by Britons – Rhapsody in Blue, Somewhere, and It’s Now or Never are all American, O Sole Mio and Un Bel Di Vedremo, Italian and Hungarian Rhapsody you can probably guess for yourself.
The use of so much American music, as well as performers like will.i.am and Stevie Wonder, is perhaps indicative, as what seems to be happening is that the British are rapidly appropriating many of the behaviours that they, and by extension we here in NZ, have for so long scoffed at the USA for - jingoism, flag-waving, excessive patriotism and a whitewashing of history.
I should declare here that I really like the US; I got married there last year, and I’m about to head back for an extended holiday.
I was born in Canada, and frankly I identify more closely with North American attitudes than I ever did during my seven years in the UK.
Having said all that, I’ve also been a harsh critic of many aspects of the American psyche over the years, particularly their ability to re-write history in their own favour.
They did not, for example, single-handedly win World War 2, invent democracy, or ever hold a monopoly on being victims of terrorism.
In the same way the idea of a pastoral meadow somehow showcasing all of English history in one go is simply ridiculous.
Unless I’m underestimating Danny Boyle. Maybe he intends to have those cows infected with BSE, light the Olympic torch off a burning witch in the village square whilst the all-Caucasian Midsomer Murders team investigate a serial killer, recreate a mock race riot halfway through the ceremony and force over one-fifth of the competitors to speak English and march in carrying the Union Jack.
All of this to take place, going back to Blake, “among these Dark Satanic Mills.”