I need a forum to express something. Since I don’t have a soapbox to stand on in Speaker’s Corner, I am turning to this blog of mine that has been on accidental hiatus. At the moment, it comes in handy.
If you are just joining me here, please note that I have loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember the Olympics. This basically means that since the moment Mary Lou Retton vaulted a perfect 10, I’ve been hooked. Or perhaps, it was even before that, when my family stood on a sidewalk in Birmingham, AL to cheer on the passing torch relay runner. And every 2 years (yes, I love the Winter and Summer events) I give 2 weeks or more to Team USA.
As with most events, sport or performing art or concert, my favorite moments are the first moments. Everyone is full of hope and expectation. I know. It’s entirely too diplomatic of me when the point of a competition is to discover the fastest, strongest, best. But as a spectator, I cannot help but sense the excitement of every competitor. I hope for them all. The Olympic Opening Ceremonies is the ultimate and literal parade of that anticipation.
I love the Opening Ceremony for more than its display of expectation. The host of the Games opens my eyes to a culture – familiar or foreign – and I learn something. Admittedly, the Ceremony can get long. To those who make this argument, feel free to get a snack or work on a project. This only happens once every couple of years; let us enjoy it.
On Friday, I signed off social media early in the afternoon to avoid spoilers. I turned down invitations to viewing parties, in part, to ensure I would hear the back-story of each flag-bearer from Bob Costas. And I watched the cast of volunteers display some of the contributions Great Britain has made to the world. Giant Casper-like baby and my unrealized dream of an ensemble performance by Adele, Leona Lewis, Emeli Sandé, and more aside, I believe the show to have been a good one. It is the broadcast that bothered me and continues to with each passing day.
I am not so naïve to think that we could air this ceremony uninterrupted. In fact, I’m incredibly appreciative this week of the fact that sponsors have made it possible not only for the team to get to London but for me to watch the events practically around the clock. This is not my complaint.
I do not expect commentary to be perfect. I expect it to be informative most of the time and entertaining some of the time, yes. But not perfect. This is not my complaint.
I even extend grace to the producers who continually chose the tight shots of choreographed “Brunels” in top hats (see link to ceremony guide) over other pieces of the action, mid-range, or wide-angle shots of the show. Perhaps there were technical difficulties.
My disappointment is over what could be called a simple edit – a 6-minute piece following the message typed by Tim Berners-Lee, “This is for everyone” omitted from the NBC broadcast. “Abide With Me,” a hymn linked in history to the sinking Titanic and royal weddings and to sport in the UK, was beautifully sung a cappella by Emeli Sandé while dancers with choreographer Akram Khan performed a work depicting a struggle with mortality. The heartfelt lyrics, written in 1847 by Henry Lyte at the end of his life, ring so relevant.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Ironically, NBC decided this portion was not for everyone. In fact, it seems their only response to inquiries for a reason has been that it was tailored for and American audience. I beg, wholeheartedly, to differ.
Regardless of the direct, indirect, or accidental tribute this paid to the victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, this piece could have played an important part in the grieving process for the American audience that empathetically reacted to those attacks and most recently suffered great and inexplicable loss in Aurora, CO. I learned long ago that mourning turns to dancing. “Abide With Me” was yet another example of how we grieve and celebrate, a reminder of how those who have gone before make us who we are now.
In my opinion, isolated and different though it may be, this was not a simple edit, but the denial of a gift for the American audience. I will not quit watching the games. I will still cry and cheer and laugh and cringe with Team USA and with NBC. I would just like to know the real answer to the question, “why?”
I’d like to thank BBC One and Deadspin.com for sharing this skipped segment of the show. Cheers!
Watch it HERE.
By the way, if you were completely baffled by elements of the Opening Ceremony, here is the official Opening Ceremony Guide, which explains in detail the significance of seemingly disparate ideas.
If you have read this far, thank you for tolerating me. Now you can continue your Olympic viewing schedule.