Mr. Bean’s “Chariots of Fire” skit at the London Olympics opening ceremony was a big hit (video below). I have to admit that I normally dislike, immensely, Mr. Bean films and skits… but I somehow actually enjoyed this one.
The divide in what I normally think of Rowan Atkinson’s humor and my enjoyment of the Chariots of Fire skit last night made me think about why we loved it, and why many people love Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean in general.
So, here’s what I think:
- Well, we simply love, or find amusing, ridiculous things. Mr. Bean is all about ridiculousness. That’s why I tend to hate the character, actually — it’s too extreme. But even such, ridiculousness draws us humanoids in. Crazy YouTube videos are the new nightly news. The nightly news and old kings of media try to keep up by featuring more and more ridiculous things. Heck, we’ve even got a generation of FOX “News” now that is just ridiculous through and through. Even when we don’t like something, if we know it’s ridiculous or going to be ridiculous, we’re often drawn in.
- The little guy, the unlikely hero, the bumbling common guy turned top dog, is something we look for, hope for, and feel good about. We love to see the little guy win, the unlikely prince. That is the crux of the Mr. Bean character. Without that, he wouldn’t exist. He embodies that as much as any character I can think of. And, of course, Rowan Atkinson does a wonderful job of bringing that idea and character to life. Whereas the actor behind James Bond changes, the actor behind Mr. Bean is just this one guy. And he is so in character, and so much of the time, that it’s hard to think of Atkinson without thinking of Mr. Bean. With all that said, it makes the character that much more powerful. We have the feeling like this is a real person. So, his triumphs are all the more heartwarming (when one finds them heartwarming).
- We love beauty. This is not always relevant to Mr. Bean, but it was certainly relevant to the Chariots of Fire skit last night. That is, simply, a beautiful song. Accompanying the whole skit with beauty, centering it around the beauty of that song, in fact, makes it that much more appealing and memorable.
- The common troubles of normal life were rather well expressed. While we can watch the whole opening ceremony in awe, we can much more easily relate to needing a tissue at just the wrong time, to getting outrun or outbeat by someone better than us, to the struggle of a boring task. This was perhaps the most hidden but most power part of the whole skit. This is what made us laugh. The way that these little, non-Olympic (yet sometimes very difficult) struggles popped out, and how we identified with them.
I’m sure there’s much more in there, but these are the four biggies that came out for me. To revel in it all again, here’s a video of the whole Chariots of Fire skit for you to view again. (Apparently, videos on YouTube are being taken down with great swiftness, but hopefully the video on that Live Leak link remains.