Without question, the biggest surprise for me in the opening ceremony of London 2012 Olympics was the sudden reveal of Sir Tim Berners Lee.
A house lifted up and there was some old bloke sitting in front of a computer screen. I say old bloke as I’m much the same age, okay, he’s not that old, he’s a mere 57.
‘Who’s that?’ Asked 90% of the UK population, ‘Yeah. Who is that?’ asked 90% of the worlds population and they asked it through a system that he was absolutely a primary figure in inventing.
Anyone reading this will know who he is, I’m sure you all do, we think of him as ‘the father of the internet’ or more accurately ‘the bloke who invented the world wide web.’
Yes, he’s been knighted for his services to the developing digital revolution, yes he’s a figure fully immersed in keeping the internet free, open and available to everyone. We know all that because we live in a techie, Google+ bubble.
I would posit that on an international fame level, he is not widely known.
Now let us consider Simon Cowell. Sadly we all know who he is, sadly if the house had lifted up revealing his fake hair, tan, teeth and monstrous sense of self importance, 90% of the global audience probably would have known who he was.
Okay, maybe not 90%, I hope there are people in China, India, South East Asia who would have no idea and wouldn’t care, but lets face it, a lot of people would recognise him
So why have I picked Simon Cowell as a cruel measure of our cultural development? I could have chosen Tom Cruise, David Beckham, Beyonce, Madonna, loads of people.
Well, I suppose the reason is he represents, to me and possible quite a few others, the victory of the non event, he has managed to raise the role of seedy booker of singers and dancers on a cruise ship to a global cultural phenomena.
In a bygone era he would have been some moustachioed Lothario who inveigled young women into his lower deck cabin with promises of stardom. He defines the terms seedy, untrustworthy, shoddy, short-term, exploitative, corrupt and dull, and yet we’ve all heard of him.
He’s ubiquitous and powerful and why? Because the people who set such agendas, the people who make such decisions have for the last 20 years, gone for the easy option. The people who run the television industry, and I say this as someone who knows them, are under pressure to produce the shimmering illusion of ‘entertainment’ to maintain audience share and therefore profits above all other consideration. That’s fine, that’s a free market, it was never any other way. I’m not trying to give the impression that television was ever any other way, 30 years ago 90% of TV output was unfathomably bad, it still is, there’s just more of it.
So last night it felt like something happened, someone from outside the shallow gloss and short term blinkered world of British TV was given free reign, a film director who has instantly become the darling of the nation. He painted a picture of our country that was very different, he included things that the world of the X Factor, the Voice, Strictly Come Dancing and the endless sewer surge of audio visual bilge studiously ignores.
Our cultural history, the industrial revolution, the women’s suffrage movement, the NHS and Tim Berners Lee. A scientist, a computer engineer, a man who has never sat in judgement of someone’s ability to sing or dance.
I’m anything but a nationalist, I could criticise my country for a year and praise it for an hour, but I was thrilled and intrigued by this incredibly refreshing representation of the stuff we got right, even though as we sat watching it, most of what was celebrated was under threat from a Cowell-esque, shoddy, short term government.
Danny Boyle for PM.