Of the Olympics opening ceremony, the NYT
With its hilariously quirky Olympic opening ceremony, a wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful; the conventional and the eccentric; and the frankly off-the-wall, Britain presented itself to the world Friday night as something it has often struggled to express even to itself: a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is.
The country has always eagerly celebrated its past: its military victories, its kings and queens, its glorious cultural and intellectual achievements. But it has a harder time celebrating its present.
Shouldn't be so hard. London is now the cultural capital of the English-speaking world.
Thanks to a thing called Cactus VPN (which I've been meaning to talk about), I've watched a lot of British TV lately. The BBC offers shows of such high quality as to make America's product seem unwatchable. I hope my praise justifies my content-filching: Many Americans would pay for that stuff if the BBC would permit. (Incidentally, I've seen the first episode of the U.S. answer to Sherlock
. Fun, but nowhere near the high level of the Cumberbatch/Freeman/Moffat version.)
In the United States, classical music struggles to stay alive. In London, huge
crowds turn out to hear great music at the Proms. What impresses me most is that these concert-goers are not rich people but the
people, and they pack that massive hall to hear difficult works. Americans, by contrast, snub anything unfamiliar. You'll never find an oddity by Langaard or the whole of Les Troyens
on the program at the Hollywood Bowl. While a number of superb contemporary composers -- including Richard Einhorn, a fellow liberal blogger -- live in the United States, the UK has more than its share. I am confident that John Tavener's works will still be played centuries from now.
In America, art is dominated by fraudists like Damien Hirst. There's a fair amount of fraudism on the U.K. art scene as well, but the British still appreciate people who can actually paint and draw and sculpt. I hate the term Stuckism, but I like what those artists stand for: They've banded together to combat fraudists who keep confusing art with literature.
Speaking of literature: The U.K. can brag about Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Neil Gaiman, Peter Ackroyd, Alan Moore and many more. If you ask ten people to name a good popular living novelist, at least five would choose J.K. Rowling. British comic book creators are not only the best in the world, they made it possible for adults to talk about that medium in mixed company.
America's culture -- both popular and highbrow -- has become a marionette corpse, manipulated by shadowy figures and made to chase anything that looks like a dollar. Our bad art indicates a society on the decline. Britain's cultural vigor indicates a society on the mend.