by Linda Holmes
If the Olympic opening ceremonies are the stuffy high-school graduation of the sports world -- there is a forced march in costume, speeches are given, inspirational songs are sung -- the closing ceremonies are the graduation party thrown by all the parents. It's still pretty square, but it's kind of fun if you don't have to stay too long.
Sunday night's closing ceremonies in Vancouver had even more reason to be upbeat than usual: Canada still hadn't come down from beating the United States hours earlier in a nail-biter of a gold medal hockey game, and the national anthem had seemingly been temporarily renamed "WOOO! CANADA!"
The ceremonies kicked off with a winking acknowledgement of just about the only thing that went wrong in the opening ceremonies two weeks ago: the part where one of the four arms of the torch didn't rise. Here, it was still down as the ceremonies started, but a clown came out to cartoonishly "plug it in," and it finally rose and was lit by speed skater Catriona Le May Doan -- who was the torch-lighter who missed her chance originally.
The opening segment involved a bunch of white-clad snowboarders dancing around the torch as a Winnipeg band called Inward Eye played. It was the sort of thing that makes Olympic closing ceremonies very much the spiritual descendants of the old Super Bowl halftime shows. A sort of Up With Snowboarders performance blending the edgy appeal of extreme sports with the somewhat less edgy tradition of marching band, it set the tone for the evening, which could be described as "Canada hugs you, and encourages you to hug Canada in return."
Some of the stodgier ceremonial aspects of two weeks ago were gone: in the closing ceremonies, the lengthy Parade Of Nations is replaced with a sort of Mosey Of Fellowship, where the athletes take a lap as one big group -- allowing nice touches like the appearance of Ryan Miller, the U.S. goalie who had looked devastated at the end of the hockey game, but looked in fine spirits while milling around with other Olympians. When Team Canada appeared, of course -- complete with earflap hats -- they received the appropriate warm response from the crowd, which undoubtedly appreciated their record-setting 14 gold medals.
The tribute song, the giant moose, the hockey players, and Shatner, after the jump.
The "athletes' tribute song" was performed by three singers -- including a Canadian Idol winner -- and was called "Let's Have A Party." This doesn't sound like a tribute to athletes as much as it does a tribute to everything that keeps athletes from living up to their potential. But the athletes still obligingly waved their digital cameras, gold medals, or whatever was handy in time with the not-too-inspiring music.
Even within the party atmosphere, there was still respect for tradtion and ritual -- there was still the Olympic hymn, and there were still flags, and there was that torch to contend with. There is also the matter of moving on to the next Winter Games, so the Olympic flag went from Vancouver's mayor to the representatives of Sochi, Russia, the 2014 hosts. A segment followed in which it was stressed that Russia contains classical music, the ballet, opera, ice dancing, and -- of course -- lots and lots of snow. (If you want tickets to skating, get in line now.)
It was after the Russia handoff and the official closing of the Olympics that Canada rolled out its bigger celebrities. Neil Young headed out to perfom "Long May You Run" as the torch was put out and the arms -- all four! -- were successfully retracted.
Was that all? Of course not. Now, it was time for Canada to demonstrate that it has a sense of humor about itself. William Shatner came out and said, among other things, that he was proud that "We are a people who know how to make love in a canoe." Catherine O'Hara, of the SCTV troupe, came out to tell some jokes about politeness and mostly bombed, which may or may not qualify as irony. The best received guest was Michael J. Fox, who got a rousing greeting from the crowd, and whose jokes about Canada's eagerness to adopt all the athletes as its own went over significantly better.
And then crooner Michael Buble appeared, first as a singing Mountie kept in silhouette, which very successfully kept his identify a secret from anyone who has never, ever heard Michael Buble before. He was then unveiled -- via breakaway clothing -- by a group of Mountie-themed chorus girls and went on to serenade the crowd about his love of country.
The "Made In Canada Parade" that followed, which was more like a very long closing number from a very bad musical about Canada (and fortunately seemed meant to be funny in just that way) was the part of the ceremonies that will be remembered. It featured giant Mountie figures (Canada is pretty sure that Mounties are your favorite Canadian thing), hockey players (who obligingly had a big fistfight before being joined by a little dancing puck), seductive and bare-midriffed ladies playing maple leaves, people spinning canoes, and what Bob Costas quite accurately and unavoidably called, "The always-enjoyable giant inflatable beavers," which were soon followed by similarly impressive moose. There was dancing, there was Buble, and it was over. Well, the NBC coverage was over. At least for a while.
The ceremonies carried on -- but with the U.S. network carrying the Olympics long gone -- with performances from Canadian musicians including Avril Lavigne, Nickelback, and Alanis Morissette. The fact that NBC cut away from this final phase to show the truly terrible The Marriage Ref is merely the last part of its plan to render the Olympics unwatchable. NBC came back after The Marriage Ref and the late local news to show the rest (and so Bob Costas could promote the London Olympics in 2012 -- program those DVRs!), but ... The Marriage Ref?
The Olympics are always an odd combination of the heart-pounding, the sad, the boring, the surprisingly riveting, the joyful, and the just plain odd. (Almost all of those things could be found in curling alone.) In the closing ceremonies, Canada managed to throw a decent final party, while reminding the world that its sense of humor remains rather delightfully off-balance. Laugh at Canada if you will, but it laughed first.