Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Will the real Olympics please stand up?

I am sure I speak as one for the many travellers around China. Thank God this farcical Olympics is over! Getting around the People’s Republic during this period has been a right royal pain in the bum.
I watched the closing ceremony in Xining, Qinghai province with great relief. After seven years of propaganda the five-ring circus was nearly over. The pundits who continually referred to the whole Olympiad as China’s ‘coming out’ ceremony had, in my opinion, been totally wrong. This was an event aimed at an internal audience, something to rally around and boost the image of the ruling party. The tub-thumping nationalism that had characterized these Chinese games had proved a huge turn off for me. That said, I admit there were rare stirrings of national pride as the ceremony wound down to the handover to London.
The British part of the ceremony did not start strongly though. A typically unkempt Boris Johnson guffawed his way up the red carpet, mock saluting as he passed each stunning dolly bird lining the route. The Olympic flag that marked the transition from east to west – Beijing to London – struggled to unfurl.
Then came the staged London show, starting off with that dreadful London Olympic logo. How anyone could be paid for this incomprehensible, ugly signage I will never know. Since someone pointed out to me some months back that it looks like Maggie Simpson giving Homer a blowjob (go on, scroll back up to check, if you dare!) I’ve never been able to see it as anything but a seriously fucked up episode of everyone's favourite yellow, four fingered cartoon characters.
There followed a humdrum introductory multicolour, multiethnic and multimodal cartoon before a red London bus made its way round the Bird’s Nest stadium --- people popping out of the iconic London transport mode and performing some modern dance – all arched backs and big gesticulations. It all seemed so small to what the Chinese had been doing for the past 16 days. And then the roof of the bus folded down and a TV talent show winner started to belt out a tune.
It was the guitar that I clocked first that got me going. Surely not, I mused. The camera moved up from the jangling, familiar Gibson. There he was, Jimmy Page, in a long dark coat, sweaty in the Beijing night, nailing one of the most recognized riffs in history. No Robert Plant, granted, but Ms TV Talent Show had a decent voice and rarely have the lyrics to Whole Lotta Love hit home more than on this global stage. ‘You need cooling, baby I’m not fooling, going to take you back to schooling…’
Somewhat predictably and crassly the camera panned to David Beckham who punted a football, snapped up by a delighted Beijinger.
The tune came to an end, the bus gently left the stage, Jimmy awkwardly dancing. Still, the lesson was there for all to see: you don’t need to be big and brash to host an Olympics – on the contrary, there is no doubt Olympian fatigue setting in and it will be London’s mission to teach the world that the Games are all about, errr, games. China’s urgent rush to modernity, its penis envy with the West can infuriate and also obfuscate reality.
I leave my hotel, humming Led Zep in an elated mood. Stepping outside a horribly disfigured shadow on the uneven pavement begs for any small change.
One world, one dream, biiiiiitch!


Steshka Mannequist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steshka Mannequist said...

The Olympics coupled with the presidential campaign in America have definitely overloaded me with bumper-sticker-like philosophy. I think some Sartre is in order just to come back down to Earth and off this weird metaphorical cloud...

[there was a funny typo before]