Episode 213: An Elite Squadron of Poppinses

The Overthinkers tackle the multimedia spectacle that was the 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies.

Matt Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and John Perich tackle the multimedia spectacle that was the 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies. They have lots of suggestions for improvements, including icons of British culture that should have been included and poems that Kenneth Branagh should have recited.


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24 Comments on “Episode 213: An Elite Squadron of Poppinses”

  1. babybiceps #

    I’m only a half hour into the podcast, but let me already butt in: Sir Kenneth of Branagh played the role of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the 19th century engineer and industrialist who practically built modern England during the Victorian Era. Tunnels, railways, ships, dockyards…
    I never heard from him until he was elected 2nd in the 100 Greatest Britons broadcast a few years ago (won by Churchill).
    Pink Floyd’s inflated pig floating over Battersea Power Station is a classic image (re-used in the Children of Men movie for example) that stems from the cover of their album “Animals”. It was like most Floyd albums designed by Storm Thorgherson (then member of Hipgnosis).
    Apparently it helps to have cool name to do cool stuff in your life.
    About the ceremony: I liked it, even though the Doctor Who references were minimal (a Tardis wooshing sound somewhere in the Bohemian Rhapsody montage).


  2. Chris #

    In regards to the notion that Michael Phelps has had a notably disappointing performance thus far, I must disagree. He has only been in two events of several thus far, finishing fourth in one and getting a silver in a medley, a race in which it was Ryan Lochte who lost the lead in the final lap to, I believe, France. I haven’t watched any swimming since I only care about men’s basketball and men’s soccer, but that doesn’t feel all that disappointing, and Phelps is now only one medal away from tying the Olympic record for most ever.

    Not that I necessarily agree with interviewing him, in part because, even though many athletes, if not most athletes, are terribly dull, Phelps is a particularly boring, uninteresting interview. Sure he’s “the big name,” but they can build him up without talking to him. Let him swim and shill for Subway and let that be that.

    In terms of famed Welsh folks, off the top of my head Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both Welsh. Not that either is necessarily more famous than Christian Bale. Also, George Lazenby is Welsh, I think. So, there’s that.

    I was just thinking about Moira Quirk (I think that was her full name) the other day, and how she had one of the more unusual jobs in television.

    Lastly, as of the moment as I still listen to the podcast, the arrow into the cauldron was 1992 in Barcelona.


    • Mark #

      “I haven’t watched any swimming since I only care about men’s basketball and men’s soccer…”

      This is the complete opposite of my attitude about the Olympics. I can care about baseball and football all year, but the Olympics is that special time when, just for 30 minutes, I can really care about something like skeet shooting or women’s weightlifting (two name some examples from the last couple days).

      It’s like you’re in a serious relationship with your regular sports, but every two years you get a ‘hall pass’ (and I apologize for using that term) to flirt with other sports, even if you know they’re not long-term relationship material.

      I mean, seriously, did you see that woman yesterday winning the skeet shooting by hitting 99/100 targets? She’s medaled in 5 consecutive Olympics and she’s only 33! We’re practically the same age, which means that sometime in the mid-1980s each of us was playing Duck Hunt for the first time; I got frustrated and mad at that laughing dog, while she was so good that they sent her to the Olympics!

      That said, I agree about Phelps. It sounded like all the commentators were reading from the same narrative script they’d prepared ahead of time in case he didn’t win gold. Of course, his fame is primarily due to the narrative they constructed around him in Beijing (that, and swimming really fast played a part too). Live by the narrative, die by the narrative, I guess.


    • James #

      Lazenby is Australian, Dalton is the Welsh Bond.


      • Chris #

        Well, at least one of them was actually Welsh. I give myself half a point.


  3. Robin #

    Someone on the podcast said that the London bombing was “only tangentially related” to the Olympics. Do you not think the fact that it happened the day after London won the right to host them is significant?


    • Matthew Belinkie #

      I’m actually not convinced the two things were related. Certainly, the attacks were being planned WELL before that announcement, and would probably have happened even if London had lost their bid. I just looked at the Wikipedia page, and there’s nothing to suggest that the motive was Olympic-related.

      HOWEVER, clearly the attacks were very associated with the Olympic bid in the public consciousness. Whether or not that was the motive, that’s how people experienced them. I was probably too flip in dismissing them as unrelated, and I apologize.

      I can’t really answer the question of whether London should have done some sort of memorial for the Munich Olympics victims. The contrarian in me says, what’s the big deal about the 40th anniversary? Because it’s a nice round number? Because it’s the ONLY nice round number we’ll have at an Olympics until the 60th anniversary? The thing is, ANY other Olympics (summer at least) could have done a tribute to the Munich victims. The only reason London is getting all this flack about it is because 40 is a round number. That seems a little arbitrary.

      Another part of me says that spending five minutes acknowledging one tragedy and not another reinforces the idea that this opening ceremony was about England first, and the Olympics a DISTANT second.

      The biggest part of me says it doesn’t matter so much. The next time they hold the Olympics in Germany, I will want to see some sort of memorial tribute to the Munich tragedy. But I don’t think any other country is morally obligated to do that.


  4. Gab #

    Maybe I’m a freak, but when that army of Mary Poppinses para-trooped down was my favorite moment. I feel like, “Mary f***ing Poppins,” should be a thing.

    Opening Shakespeare Excerpt: I saw that a little different. In my head, an uber-Brit took the words of the colonized and made them British. It legitimizes the empire and makes the whole imperialization of myriad peoples a non-issue.

    Captain Hook was one of the bad guys that showed up!!! >.<

    American Mythology: Paul Bunyan? John Henry? Basically all the tall tale dudes in the movie, Tall Tale. And maybe I dunno, Davy Crocket? But if there was a history of sport in the US, they could show how lacrosse is an adaptation of one of the games some of the native tribes played- that could serve the dual purposes of both showing the general history of the country, while not completely obliterating any mention of the fact that those immigrants weren’t the first people to set foot on the land in the U.S.

    Inferiority Complex: I was having trouble understanding these ceremonies because I couldn’t tell whether Boyle was embracing or trying to make up for a chip on Britain’s shoulder. There was apparently the sound of a TARDIS at some point, but no actual presence of Doctor Who, nor were there some other iconic British characters like Sherlock Holmes or Oliver Twist. And one line from a Shakespeare play seemed more like begrudging, obligatory nod, than a real, proud tribute. And I couldn’t help but notice that the depictions of Cruela DeVille, Captain Hook, and Mary Poppins all looked like the Disney interpretations, and there was a clip from Wayne’s World sampled during “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I think it had something to do with this idea of setting Britain up for what Boyle wants them to think when they think of Britain. Like he/they is/are sick of the stereotypes about tea and crumpets, but we’re okay with James Bond being a badass because he’s just that awesome; and you can’t not have Paul McCartney, right? In the end, I guess I couldn’t tell what Boyle was trying to do there, and, well, it was rather frustrating. (I think Canada did a much better job getting its celebrities involved in its opening stuff- like every Candian actor alive right now had a line or two.)


    • cat #

      I missed the Shakespeare quote (because who starts a program at 7:30?) but hearing John recite the one they chose it seems like a very strange option. I like your interpretation, Gab. It did seem like they were making an obvious attempt to avoid the less savory aspects of English history though the internet did not forget with that “Look at all these countries I used to own” caption that went with a picture of the queen.

      So they chose the moment in the Tempest when Caliban is explaining to I think Trinculo and Stephano (though to me they are just more random male characters) about the strangeness of the island. Yet unless I’m mistaken in remembering the right scene, what he’s really describing is how Ariel (likely under the orders of Prospero) has tormented him in the past without his knowledge. It seems like perhaps by having Branagh recite this passage, England is taking on the role of the persecuted in particular because their idealistic conception of themselves has been falsely encouraged and their imperialistic ambitions have been frustrated.


      • Gab #

        I had the feeling he picked it because it discusses an island, and Britain is an island, and a bunch of crazy-a*** stuff was about to happen in the ceremonies representing said island, but hey, it’s cool, this is Britain and it/we is/are made of awesome. And, to harken to the recent article by Perich about the hegemonic discourse (DRINK!), adding your interpretation there, Branagh’s use is turning the implied accusation around onto the colonized, sort of making them look crazy/bad/what-have-you.


        • cat #

          My crazy sleep-deprived brain wants to wrap this all up together so here goes…

          I feel like this interpretation works perfectly with that picture of the queen and the caption. England is representing itself not as a villain but more as a petulant child who has been told a bedtime story and given certain illusions about their place in the world and the outcome of the story only to be disappointed and frustrated in their ambitions.

          “The clouds methought would open, and show riches
          Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
          I cried to dream again.”

          It’s an odd final message. It both acknowledges the inability to sustain that fantasy and the fact that it was just a dream, and the desire to return to that place.

          You would think that Branagh might have pointed all this out when they were choosing the speech.


    • cat #

      There were a lot of complaints about British literary figures that were not well represented in the opening ceremony. https://twitter.com/BoweryBoys/status/229014033758560256

      What you said about tea and crumpets was interesting because it made me realize that it’s almost that we need James Bond (fictional character) to mediate our interaction with and understanding of royalty these days. I feel like as much as China wanted to show strength and prowess, England wanted to downplay any aggression. They focused on browbeaten workers, women’s suffrage (briefly), children, healthcare professionals, nonthreatening teenagers.


      • Gab #

        I would assume the desire to downplay aggression is coming from the same place that led to the selection of the Shakespeare excerpt. British colonization/imperialism is sort of the big pink elephant in the room during the whole thing, so looking too powerful would make them look like they were bragging about having conquered and imperialized so many people. They’d rather focus on anything BUT their combat/military prowess. Which could actually sort of, perhaps tangentially, explain the lack of knights


  5. midnightq2 #

    My idea for the opening ceremonies? Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden…together as the ultimate metal supergroup and embodiment of all that is awesome about Britain.


  6. Nathan #

    Very nice. Could Westminster Abbey’s skyline support a flaming unicorn?


  7. Tim #

    My impression of the “message” in the opening ceremony was, “All the culture you love is British. You’re welcome.” Though it was also something of a celebration of social progress, and trying to make England seem like a frontrunner for much of that progress. I guess social progress is part of the goal of the Olympics? Something like that?


    • Rambler #

      I didn’t see a bit of the Opening so I’m really happy to get caught up on “what was intellectually interesting about it”… and yeah I haven’t quite finished listening yet, so I might be setting myself up for a “well actually…”

      But it seems that the missing ingrediant of the discussion is just how much the sportsmanship is veil over a whole bunch of national chest thumping.
      For instance Belinki said: “The Platonic ideal of the Olympics would be about internationalism not ‘our country rocks’.”

      But my understanding of the refounding of the Olympics was as a form of ‘war by other means’. There was a lot of misguided belief at the end of the 19th century that war among European countries had been eliminated, and thus social distinctions gained precedence as a measure of national greatness.
      The greatest proponents of the “first” Olympics games were motivated by the desire to re-assert French greatness after the Franco-Prussian war.

      In an understandable way Britain’s focus on it’s status as a cultural Collosus plays as deeply as it can into the territory of “what we gave you” without actually saying “you used to be ours”.


  8. cat #

    I spent the Olympic Opening Ceremony on twitter which was the only reason I found that debacle entertaining. The whole thing just felt so cheaply put together, poorly conceived and just generally disjointed and random. It did not help that the commentators kept reminding the audience that they’d been planning this for 7 years. Really? That was the best choreography they could come up with and learn in 7 years?


  9. cat #

    The lack of anything medieval or of Arthurian mythology made me a little sad. I thought they wasted the chance to do something whimsical and evocative because Danny Boyle really wanted an excuse to put in heavy drumming. I would have been fine with a celebration of England’s history in that sense if it hadn’t been such a convoluted mess. One of my favorite twitter comments asked if anyone in the stands at the opening ceremony knew what was happening because she would be lost without the NBC commentary. To me, it felt kind of like when you’re watching a play and there are a lot of things going on onstage but no particular person or group of persons seems to be the star, so you’re not sure where to look. Also, bad dancing.


  10. cat #

    “Russian Dolls of Controversy” is a great name for a mystery novel. It’s almost as good as “Some Platonic Abstract of the John Perich Experience” as a band name.


  11. cat #

    Actually, on the subject of fire, my favorite parts of the opening ceremony involved forging the rings and lighting and raising the copper leaves. The copper leaves would have made a good logo. It just felt like those parts were so simple and elegant compared to the mess of the rest of the event.


  12. LeighH #

    Good podcast. I enjoyed the discussion. What I’d really like to comment on, though, is the sound quality of this episode. It was fabulous! I don’t know if it’s something that Fenzel did accidentally or what, but everybody sounded very good. Perich especially sounded, for the first time, like he wasn’t speaking from the bottom of a well. Please continue to make the podcast sound this good in the future.


    • Lee OTI Staff #

      I think it sounds better because we recorded it in Doubly.


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