The prominent inclusion of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics has angered conservative politicians and perplexed many American observers.
Friday night's spectacular Opening Ceremony, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) was a star-studded celebration of British history, culture and sport. And featuring prominently in that history-- and in last night's ceremony-- was the National Health Service, Britain's single-payer, government-run system that has provided free, taxpayer-funded health care to all since 1948. In one segment of the ceremony, dozens of real NHS doctors and nurses danced jubilantly around "sick" children in glowing hospital beds while the massive letters 'NHS' burned brightly in flames in the center of Olympic Stadium.
But not everyone was thrilled by the celebration of NHS's invaluable contributions to British society. Some conservative politicians and media outlets were positively fuming over what they saw as blatant left-wing propaganda. Aidan Burley, a Conservative MP from Cannock Chase, tweeted that Friday's show was "the most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen-- more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state!"
When the Parade of Nations began, Burley tweeted, "Thank God the athletes have arrived. Now we can move on from the leftie multi-cultural crap."
The right-leaning tabloid Daily Mail agreed with Burley's assessment. "This left-wing multi-cultural equality agenda was so staged it was painful to watch," the paper opined in an article about a young man named Kane Gorny, who died of thirst in an NHS hospital after staff failed to simply give him a glass of water.
Still, such deaths are exceedingly rare in the UK. By contrast, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance, according to Harvard Medical School.
Raheem Kassam, editor of The Commentator, wryly tweeted that "it wasn't the NHS who tended well to the kids in the Opening Ceremony, it was private nanny Mary Poppins!"
Across the Pond in America, where singly-payer, government-run universal healthcare is demonized as "socialized medicine," media observers were perplexed by the inclusion of the NHS in the ceremony.
"It was delightful at times," declared mainstream daily USA Today. "The Queen parachuting into the stadium as a Bond girl? Fun. Rowen Atkinson destroying Chariots of Fire? Peculiar, but fun..."
"But the dancing sick-kids salute to the National Health Service, complete with a Mary Poppins air raid and a giant Franken-baby? Much less fun, and more than a bit bizarre."
NBC's Matt Lauer agreed about the giant baby.
"I don't know whether that's cute or creepy," he wondered.
Mark Sappenfield of of the Christian Science Monitor wrote that "it is hard to escape at least some small sense of advocacy in Boyle's second act, particularly after a cigar-chomping elite let loose the gluttony of unchecked industry on the idyllic English countryside in the first act. This was, it seemed, an opening ceremony for the 99 percent."
Los Angeles Times sportswriter Diane Pucin wrote that she was "baffled" by the NHS segment, calling it "like a tribute to United Healthcare or something," seemingly missing the point that Britain's NHS is basically the polar opposite of a for-profit corporation.
Despite the lesbian kiss, the dancers forming the shape of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament logo and the NHS salute, director Boyle insists there was no political agenda in last night's ceremony.
"We had no other agenda... than values that we feel are true," he told Agence France-Presse.
"One of the reasons we put the NHS in the show is that everyone is aware of how important the NHS is to everybody in this country," he said at a press conference. "One of the core values of our society is that it doesn't matter who you are, you will get treated the same in terms of health care."
The more left-leaning UK media agreed and shot back at conservative and US criticism of including the NHS in the show.
"Certainly the US equivalent, which would be health insurance corporate executives, was hard to imagine," the Guardian's Paul Harris wrote in defense of the NHS segment.