They used to say that the sun never set on the British Empire. That was then.
Now, Friday evening we watched the sun set on the British Empire.
In 2008 China hosted the Olympic Games. The opening ceremony was an extravaganza, a magnificently choreographed spectacle that was designed to send a clearc message: China had arrived; it was ready to assume its role as a world leader.
No one expected the opening ceremony in London to match what the Chinese had done. It could not have; the British did not have the money.
Still, the London ceremony, put together by the director of a film called Slumdog Millionaire, sent an entirely different message.
It portrayed Great Britain as hip and cool, all drama, parties and rock ‘n roll.
The country that gave us Shakespeare, Newton and Darwin now proclaimed what was left of its pride by placing Paul McCartney and James Bond in their company.
Making the Queen play a role in a slapstick comedy routine may have amused the worldwide audience, but still, it bespoke a lack of seriousness that did neither the nation nor the monarchy much good.
It would have been worthy of Princess Diana, but not QE II.
Director Danny Boyle began his show with Old England, verdant and pastoral. Then we saw Old England replaced by the billowing smokestacks of the Industrial Revolution.
Boyle was right to announce that the Industrial Revolution was the most important and influential event in the past four centuries.
Of course, the Industrial Revolution was not a single event and does not lend itself to dramatic representation, so we do not often see how important it was. Credit goes to Boyle for making it his central idea.
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution Britain became a hegemon, the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth. When Britain faltered world leadership fell to its most famous colony, America.
Today, British power is a distant memory. Pride in British achievement seems mostly to live on in a new Nursy state, embodied by the National Health Service.
Filling the infield at the Olympic stadium with hospital beds, patients, physicians and nurses made an astonishing statement.
Aside from the leftist political silliness, the extended and poorly choreographed tribute to the NHS suggested that England was sick and infirm, needing and receiving medical care.
Britain was telling the world that it is on injured reserve. It is not ready to compete in the world of commerce; it would prefer to stay in hospital, licking its wounds.
The British may be intensely proud of their health care system but the message they sent the world in the Olympic opening ceremony made them look weak and ineffectual, needing care.
Danny Boyle was also trying to send a message to America. He was trying to express his support for Obamacare. Why shouldn’t American enterprise also be crippled by government controls and regulations? If Britain made a mistake in embracing socialism, why not help America along the same road to economic ill-health?
In the opening ceremony, Great Britain eventually got up off of its hospital bed. For what purpose, you might ask. Surely not to get back in the game or to compete in the arena. Boyle’s England does not function according to a work ethic.
According to Danny Boyle, a young and healthy Great Britain would go out and party. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life?
No more work ethic. No more exercising world leadership. Modern technology has given Britain the chance to get back in touch with its lost pastoral roots. It has allowed the nation to undo the effects of the Industrial Revolution in a reactionary exercise in partying. Young Britain was no longer frolicking in the fields; it was frolicking in the clubs.
In the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics Britain was passing the torch of world leadership.
Was it speaking for America, too?
The Industrial Revolution made Anglo-American culture dominant in the world. Now that Great Britain is retiring will America continue to represent the Anglosphere or will the torch pass to China.