Friday’s Olympics Opening Ceremony was perhaps the most deliriously audacious live spectacle of the Internet age. Devised by the Anglo-Irish Danny Boyle, it celebrated the uniquely English heritage of industrialization, socialized medicine, drug-inspired music trends, James Bond, and fantasy literature. God, how did I even write that sentence? Anyway, it was a night of both triumph and tragedy for nerds—while the geek-friendly moments of the ceremony were copious and unashamed, there was still Twitter outrage over a rumored appearance by Doctor Who somehow being cut for time. As I tweeted at the time, this was somehow nerd privilege overrun. As some anxiously pointed out, there was a “Doctor Who Tardis sound” at the end of the pop music/social media segment, but that was not quite enough to drown out the other supremely nerd-centric moments that were viewed by a billion people worldwide:
Glastonbury Tor is a place renowned in Christian and pagan mythology and figures prominently in both Celtic and Arthurian lore. Its central place in the Olympic festivities gives it an even more modern allusions. The sacred tree around which the national flags are planted goes back to pagan tree lore. Go read The White Goddess if you need any more explanation.
The whole forging of the ring sequence—surrounded by belching smokestack towers—was overtly Tolkienian, even if it didn’t directly reference the professor. It echoes the “Scouring of Shire” chapter of Lord of the Rings—Tolkien’s own allegory of the destruction of agrarian Britain by the advent of industrialization—while the visuals seem to reference Peter Jackson’s take on Isengard. I would say there is also some Wagnerian/Norse Das Rheingold in there, but best not to bring up Germanic lore here.
Kenneth Branagh appeared as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a cigar-chomping engineer and architect, who designed railway grades and bridges. While he lived before the internet, Brunel seems the kind of guy who would today play D&D as an undergrad; he also designed the “train shed” where the Bristol Comic-Con is held.
Cricket is secretly the nerdiest sport of all.
The money shot.
James Bond and the Queen of England jump out of a helicopter together. Not quite sure this is directly “nerdy” but it is awesome.
Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean symbolizes the long, long association of Angliophile Brit-com fans and comics readers. Also: rude noises.
J.K. Rowling stands in for Britain’s long long association with children’s fantasy, from Carroll, through Nesbit, Milne, Lewis, Grahame, Travers, etc., etc. The only thing one might have missed in this astonishing segment is more overt references to Willy Wonka.
For some reason, a giant baby was constructed and carried aloft by glowing doctors as hospital patients looked on. I think this was Danny Boyle’s reference to Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers, leading Bob Costas to helplessly wonder, “I don’t know if that’s cute or creepy.”
Little noticed, Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh appeared in the scrum as the roller-skating Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was written by Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. See? It all fits together. [Via]
A squadron of Mary Poppins descends to defeat Lord Voldemort, whose appearance is notably more inspired by the Mary GrandPré illustrations than the film. (Yes I know GrandPré is American.) This was like, seriously, the other greatest thing ever.
This tribute to Yellow Submarine cartoon designer Heinz Edelmann satisfies fans of children’s cartoons.
’80s neon nostalgia infused the whole music segment.
The Prodigy’s Keith Flint stands in for that aging club kid we all know who just won’t give up his glow sticks.
And of course, some guy was at home live tweeting the whole thing, in this case Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who sent the very first HTTP packet, this inventing the Internet.
As the parade of nations got underway, nerd moments became less frequent, as the jock contingent took over, but we can all sympathize with the Czechs for their awkward rubber boots-centered ensemble. Was this the Monty Python references many longed for?
The Swedes inexplicably cosplayed as Waldo.
This Spaniard just cosplayed.
And the Queen loved EVERY MINUTE OF IT. Jesus.
No explanation necessary.
This wasn’t nerdy but the incredibly theatricality of the Opening spectacle was just extraordinary. Somewhere deep down, we know a beautiful girl bearing a torch speeding up the Thames, her hair whipping in the wind, with a clothed David Beckham standing behind her, will be a fantastic visual. But to see it actually happen, glowing in LEDs, the boat sleek and swift…you must simply be glad this actually happened. It also goes back to the Arthurian allusions of the opening, with the imagery of Lady of the Lake.
I wasn’t sure I was an Anglophile before, but I guess I am now.