Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

There are moments when I suddenly realise how old I am, and one was during the closing ceremony of the Paralympics last Sunday. The pride that had gradually swelled within me during this long patriotic summer was extinguished at a stroke by the performance of the rock band Coldplay. Coldplay may be one of the most successful and popular bands in the world, and its leader may be married to Gwyneth Paltrow, but its grim music filled me with despondency and bewilderment. It seems to have been the underlying aim of all four Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies, from Danny Boyle's onwards, to redefine Britishness for the world, and it may be that rock bands are an important ingredient in this. But the British Games have also prided themselves on their 'inclusivity', and I have seldom felt more excluded from anything than from the two closing ceremonies, each being a celebration of contemporary pop music, that most dubious and ephemeral of Britain's national accomplishments.

But that's enough fogeyism. What did the Games really achieve? The media have agreed that they gave a huge boost to flagging national morale, thanks to their almost flawless organisation and to the many triumphs of the British participants; and also that they offered a new and attractive image of Britain to the world. These things may both be true, though the Olympics are not really supposed to feed national pride at all, but to celebrate individual sporting achievements, from wherever they may come. But of course nations don't spend billions of pounds on staging the Games without hoping to earn much national kudos in return. And Britain is no exception, though we have sought to persuade the world that unlike other nations we are tolerant and civilised and can be patriotic without cockiness or arrogance.

This is a difficult posture to adopt convincingly, and it hasn't wholly convinced me. The reporting of the Games was triumphalist throughout and so tightly focused on British successes that we weren't normally told how other European nations had fared, even though this would have allowed us the pleasure of gloating patriotically about their relative shortage of medals. Britain's presentation of itself as modest and self-deprecating seemed at odds with the national euphoria and the ubiquitous Union flags, but foreigners fell for it nevertheless. …

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