The Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony

To see ourselves as others see us...

I've just watched the Olympics opening ceremony on NBC in San Francisco, nearly a day after it happened. (Are they going to keep up this artificial time delay through the entire Games? This will be ridiculous. They could hardly do more to encourage people to get their news from the Internet instead of TV.)

The ceremony itself was well done, I thought, but given that 4 billion people watched it I won't go on about how cool those jellyfish looked or how amusing it was that the fire-breathers were swilling stubbies and that the tap-dancing 'workers' were all dressed in flannies... instead, I thought I'd just report for the benefit of my vast Australian readership (note my laconic Auss-ie sense of humor) the highlights of the American commentary.

I was a little worried even before the coverage itself, when the host of the lead-in show on the 'Backroads of Australia' pronounced the name of our favourite bird as 'Koo-koo-bera'. (Couldn't he hear the Kooka-buh-ras laughing at him after he said that?)

After some preliminary stories on the Salt Lake City scandals, the coverage itself began with a collage of scenic splendor and James Earl Jones reading an overblown script about 'a land an ocean away where winter is summer and today is tomorrow' (and NBC schedulers run around in a blind panic as a result). Then it was off to Homebush.

First-up, the horses. 'The Man From Snowy River' was described as a poem where a stockman rode downhill chasing 'bush ponies': 'The music is from the film The Man From Snowy River from about 20 years ago, which starred—Kirk Douglas.'

Horses, we were told, were part of the Australian 'romantic ideal'—and 'no matter how cosmopolitan' they may be, most Australians see themselves as 'swashbuckling adventurous outdoorsmen'.

Human Nature, singing the anthem, were 'Australia's answer to N-Sync'. (Personally, I was disappointed not to see Barnesy up there, belting out 'girt by sea' to the tune of 'Working Class Man'.)

A little later we learned that out of Australia's population of 19 million, 'two million of those consider themselves to be surfers'. Party on, dudes.

We were told that 'how to reconcile 400,000 Aborigines with the culture as a whole remains a vexing question' (funny, I thought it was the other way around).

Ned Kelly was described as 'part Jesse James, part Robin Hood', and drew the comment that 'Australians have a strong anti-authoritarian streak'. Kelly was hanged in 'Mel-Borrne, or Mel-bin as they say down here' (nope: Mel-bn).

'Australians have a bit of an inferiority complex about that [convict history]—it does hang over their heads a little... [but they] have a great sense of humor, really, about their checkered past.' Ha ha solitary confinement in chains in abysmal conditions at Port Arthur ha hundreds of lashes from the cat-o-nine-tails ha ha ha.

The upbeat sequence on immigration and multiculturalism drew few comments, but we were treated to a shot of Chelsea Clinton in the crowd halfway through (to go with the many shots of Muhammed Ali throughout the evening).

Throughout all of this, it was clear that chunks were being omitted at ad breaks—which seemed ridiculous, given the huge time-delay in coverage. They could have showed every single minute if they'd wanted. The omissions became more noticeable during the procession of athletes, when countries like Fiji and Vanuatu mysteriously disappeared (also Madagascar, which I was keeping an eye out for).

During the procession we were told that the Cook Islands were named after 'the explorer who discovered Australia, Captain James Cook'. Good to see that blatant falsehood perpetuated.

The commentators noted 'a few scattered boos' for Indonesia, and the 'polite applause' for New Zealand—'not an overwhelming response'. NZ was also described as the 'closest nation of considerable size to Australia', which is interesting given later comments about how Papua New Guinea is only a few kilometres away from the tip of Cape York, and then there's that little matter of 150 million Indonesians...

Another classic pronunciation: Dawn Fraser, we're told, is considered a bit of a 'lorrakin' (larrikin), or 'scamp'. (Mental picture of a classic Goodies episode: 'Cuddly Scamp, he's da champ!')

But my favourite joke of the evening, which for once was intentional, was about Olivia Newton John: one commentator noted that 'she, like the Olympics themselves, owes much to Greece'.

Some handy Olympic statistics: Bolivia, population 7.9 million, 4 athletes at the Games; Chad, 7.5 million, 2 athletes; China, 1.2 billion, 290 athletes; Cuba, 11 million, 243 athletes; Congo, 50.4 million, 1 athlete; Nauru, 11,000, 3 athletes; USA, 274.9 million, 602 athletes; Australia, 18.9 million, 633 athletes.


First published in Walking West, 16 September 2000.
This page: 1 February 2001; last modified 16 February 2001.

©2000-01 Rory Ewins