The ceremony may be old news, but the items director Danny Boyle chose as illustrations of Britishness could easily be a blueprint for a blog like mine, celebrating the differences between US and UK life. This is the intro to a series of posts treating items in the opening ceremony that foreigners might not have understood.
It’s ironic that the Olympics turns so many people into couch potatoes for the duration, sitting on sofas watching the fittest people in sports (UK English: in sport) leap and twist and run and throw. And it’s also ironic that an event that everyone is at pains to say promotes harmony between nations should be so overtly nationalistic, not least at the opening ceremonies, where the trick is to balance two human impulses: to celebrate the characteristics of your own tribe and to welcome visitors from other tribes.
This time last week British newspaper critics were having a field day (pun intended) with the opening ceremony; almost all of them praised it. Over here, we’d speculated for months. Could we compete with Beijing’s staggeringly beautiful ceremony? Would we try? Should we try? The thousands upon thousands of volunteers and professionals who took part had done a medal-worthy job of keeping the secret, and in fact the participants didn’t necessarily know much about what was planned beyond the part they were to appear in. Director Danny Boyle’s #savethesurprise campaign on Twitter helped, too.
In the event (pun also intended), he gave us a tribute to the real, everyday United Kingdom that I know and love. An ex-pat has divided loyalties; I’m required once by birth and once by my oath to give 100% allegiance to each of two countries, but on the opening night, I was British and proud of it.
Okay, the giant baby was creepy, I didn’t really need the boy-meets-girl business, and some of the singers had serious problems with pitch (could they not hear themselves properly?), but most of the evening I was smiling, a few times I was cheering, and a couple of times I almost jumped up off the couch, which is the most athletic thing I’ve done since because the BBC is providing 26 television channels showing all the sports. At our house these days you hear things like “I’m going to the gym this afte—Wait! Is that the second qualifying heat for the kayak slalom? I’ve gotta watch that.”
Watching the ceremony, though, I kept wondering what people outside the UK made of it. I’m sure I didn’t catch all the references myself, and I live here. Bernadette McNulty suggested in The Telegraph that foreigners might think it was the “strangest episode of Downton Abbey they’ve ever seen”, and a quick canvas of American friends turned up boredom, puzzlement, and outright mystification along with praise–some faint and some with enthusiasm, at least for a few bits of the evening here and there.
But as for me, I was hooked as soon as I heard the shipping forecast. Again, I wasn’t the only one; Mick Brown in the same newspaper said “Who cares what [foreigners] thought? This was our opening ceremony and if we want to include the Shipping Forecast…then we will.”
So tomorrow, or maybe even later today, I’ll tell you about the shipping forecast and why I leaped off the couch (okay, maybe I just sat upright, punched the air, and said “Yes! The Shipping Forecast!”) because this opening ceremony was about my Britain. And then, in the next few posts, I’ll tell you about other aspects of the UK that the opening ceremony referred to, but that viewers outside the UK might not have understood. And if any of you are still wondering things like “Who was the guy with the cigar?” or “Why did it say GOSH in the center of the stadium?”, I hope you’ll write and ask. I’ll give you the best answers I can, but right now, I’ve got to switch the channel from the track and field to the trampoline gymnastics, while the digital recorder captures the equestrian show jumping. And tonight if I’m lucky I’ll use the BBC web site’s “catch up” feature to see the archery, or maybe the swimming.
All photos taken from Wikipedia and used under the Creative Commons license.