It was a right of passage if you grew up in South Texas to make a pilgrimage each summer to AstroWorld. AstroWorld was one of those giant Six Flags theme parks that somehow managed to survive for almost 40 years in the heat and humidity of Houston. Over the decades, their Southern Star Amphitheater would play host to the hottest rock bands, complete with special effects and backup dancers. At night the park came alive with teens lining up to hear their favorite rock and roll, disco, new wave, or hip hop music. We couldn’t wait for nightfall.
I hadn’t thought of AstroWorld or the Southern Star in a long time, until this past Friday night. My family and I were stretched out on the sofa watching the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. We had spent some time versing the kids in the importance of England to our nation’s founding, its contributions to western civilization, and how at one point England practically ruled the world. I appreciated the challenge faced by the host country of presenting such a complex and rich history to a world audience. I was looking forward to see how it would all unfold.
And then it began. The opening pastoral scene, with a little Shakespeare thrown in, transformed quickly into the industrial revolution. After the parade of the proletariat, there was the odd pause for those who sacrificed their lives in the Great War, but no mention of the one that followed. Then there was the uncomfortable and overly long celebration of the National Health Service, with some sort of morphine induced Mary Poppins versus Voldemort montage. Something was wrong.
And then it happened. Having dispenced with the entirety of British history in 30 minutes, the remainder of the opening ceremonies degenerated into a celebration of pop music from the last thirty years. And I realized I had seen it all before … at the Southern Star Amphitheater at AstroWorld. The last half of the opening ceremonies was little better than summer stock at a theme park, complete with bubbly dancers performing overly choreographed moves, singing the same songs I had sung in my youth. All I needed was a glow necklace, a giant pretzel, and a Slurpee to complete the memory.
We still enjoyed the evening. We laughed at the songs. The kids laughed at us dancing to the songs. It was just like being back at AstroWorld all those years ago. Only AstroWorld was theme park for kids. London is one of the cultural hubs of Western Civilization. Or was.
Sadly, the Olympics and AstroWorld may have one thing in common. AstroWorld always performed their musical concerts after sunset. If the Opening Ceremony was the best London could come up with, their musical review was right on cue.
2 responses to “Olympic Letdown”
Having spent my graduate years in Britain, I was equally confused and disappointed and sadly underwhelmed. But I’m glad it revived some good memories for you, despite what that says about the ceremonies.
I missed the opening ceremonies but Chris’s observations remind me of criticisms of Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, at which a curious kind of low was reached when Elton John sang “Candle In the Wind,” a song originally composed as a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Maybe ceremony, outside of religion and matters of state, has never been the English’s gift to the world.