I’ve been storing up so many great things to write about: graduation, my friends, the beautiful fun of a summer day spent hanging out on the market, eating world food, drinking beer by the canal and chilling out at a Blues bar with a jam session – you know, the usual fun London stuff – but I’ve been distracted. By the Olympics. YEAY for the opening ceremony!
I get that some people didn’t like it. I can kind of see how they mightn’t. Some things about it were quite controversial and I guess that if you have no knowledge about British history, their society and their culture, it would have been quite hard to follow some of the ideas and jokes. But I really, really liked it.
Starting from Kenneth Branagh, who’s certainly not the only Shakespeare actor in the world, but who I just adore (Much Ado about Nothing… *sigh*). I loved the historical development bit, with the beautiful costumes and the amazing choreography and I really loved the kids’ choir, singing a song from each part of the kingdom, and the kids’ episode with the NHS staff – everything about that was great: the huge Voldemort, and the monsters and the inclusion of Peter Pan and the “two minutes before you fall asleep” and then Mary Poppins driving off the monsters! Gosh, I love Mary Poppins…
The pop music… I guess that’s where the controversy sets in. I think the ‘story’ – the girl and guy meeting and texting each other and so on – was told way too fast and wasn’t easy to follow, but the dresses, the dancing, the music clips… We kept singing along and later doing (lazy) dance moves on the couch and I understand that some choices where not exactly appropriate from an intercultural understanding point of view and it was addressed to a very young audience, but I thought it brought across some things that the UK really wants to portray and to achieve: a colourful, multicultural, free, young, individulistic society with strong roots in history, a pragmatic, industrial foundation and trimmings of the typically British, quirky humour.
I mean, I really can’t imagine Germany having the Berlin Symphony Orchestra playing at an opening ceremony that is watched around the globe, and have that seriousness, that importance, that grave beauty played upon and lifted into comedy by someone like Mr. Bean! Or Bond, James Bond, escorting the Queen to the Games! It’s funny, it’s unexpected, it’s unconventional and all the things I like best about English literature and culture.
Okay, enough raving. I guess you can tell that I’m not exactly impartial, but rather started out with a prepossion towards the UK and especially London anyway. Still, I liked it. I also liked that young athletes, and a whole group of them, got to light the Olympic Torch. Again, young, unexpected… what’s not to like?
The first day is going alright-ish from a German perspective (yeah, like you’re not looking out for your own country, too!), and I enjoy watching the faces of the winners – struggling between laughter and tears, triumph in their whole body language. And I hope those athletes that are already out of the competition by now will stay around and enjoy what this city has to offer them, especially during the coming weeks – they earned this right, the right to be celebrated ‘just’ for taking part.
P.S. I wrote the above out of a spurt of enthusiasm, but after finishing it, I googled the deaf children’s choir and came across this interesting piece by the Guardian, which openly acknowledges that the ceremony was sometimes baffling and bewildering to the British audience as well, and now that I’ve read it, I realize that I only scraped the surface with all the layered meaning and all the hidden messages as well. Read the article. The following excerpt is from it:
The NHS, gay kisses; the Sex Pistols, Ken Loach; the Windrush, the Suffragette movement. As Danny Boyle’s extraordinarily bonkers Olympic opening ceremony progressed, you could feel left-of-centre Britain gradually giving into its curious and often unintentionally hilarious charms, while Tory Britain little by little grew more enraged. It was bewildering enough, at times, to its domestic audience; abroad it must frequently have been plain incomprehensible. But we, in Britain, knew what it added up to, despite its baffling moments: it was Boyle’s impassioned poem of praise to the country he would most like to believe in. One that is tolerant, multicultural, fair and gay friendly and holds the principles of the welfare state stoutly at its heart. One that is simultaneously silly and earnest, mainstream and subversive, “high” and “low” in its culture.
Charlotte Higgins, ‘What Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony said about Britain’s cultural landscape‘, Guardian Culture blog