The London Olympics opening ceremony: a moment of optimism that destroyed the decade

The show of humour and hope – featuring the Queen and Dizzee Rascal – lulled us into a false sense of security, ill-preparing us for the bleak years to come

We are about to be expelled from the loosened sphincter of the 2010s and, quite frankly, it cannot come soon enough. This has been a terrible decade, full of fury and disaster at every turn. But where exactly did the 2010s go wrong? The most sensible answer would be 2016, a year so catastrophic that you can still smell it from here. The United States elected Donald Trump in 2016. David Cameron called the Brexit referendum in 2016. David Bowie died in 2016, and people responded to it by singing Hey Jude in the streets. Surely, any rational mind would correctly identify this year as the moment the decade went sour.

Well, you’re wrong. Because the slide began back in 2012. Because that is when the opening ceremony for the London Olympics took place. Now, bear with me. The notion that something as objectively perfect as the opening ceremony caused everything bad about an entire decade might sound ridiculous. But ask yourself this: would Brexit have happened without it? The ceremony was a four-hour show of might declaring that Britain stands alone as the envy of the world. And now Brexit is happening. Do you think these two things might be related?

Do you think, perhaps, that the sight of Mr Bean twonking about to Chariots of Fire might have caused such a surge of misplaced national pride that 52% of the population were convinced that we no longer needed our neighbours? Of course you do, because that’s what happened.

And the 48% don’t exactly come out of this smelling of roses, either. The opening ceremony was a show of such focused optimism that it lulled us into a false sense of security. “Wow,” remainers thought, upon watching Arctic Monkeys perform a Beatles song, “this is great. Everything’s great. Nothing bad will ever happen again.” And so they sleepwalked into a referendum they were convinced they’d win, and then couldn’t understand why they lost. This country once had a happy future, but it died the moment the Queen jumped out of a helicopter.

The ceremony was also a handy note to world leaders that you can distract people from anything if you make enough noise. Before the Olympics, there were real concerns about the ground-to-air missiles in Tower Hamlets, about the way that more troops were deployed to London than Afghanistan, about the miles and miles of electrified fencing. But four hours of Dizzee Rascal and James Bond later, it had all been forgotten. And this is why, today, Boris Johnson dicks about with scones whenever it looks as if he’s about to get into serious trouble.

The universe operates on balance. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. By cramming an entire decade’s worth of happiness into a single evening, Danny Boyle made sure that the rest of the decade would be irreparably awful by comparison. That’s just how nature works. Had he done the decent thing and made sure that the ceremony was a long flat death march with no identifiable highlights, we wouldn’t be in this mess and David Bowie would still be alive. Screw you, 2012.


Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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