I watched the Olympic opening ceremony late Friday night after a number of people had texted me to say how moving they found it. I doubt that I would have nothered had I not been contacted by such a group of people, I am not much of a sports person and the Olympics? Whatever--sorry. Anyway, I watched with great joy as the ceremony unfolded--it was so decidedly British full of all the things I celebrate, cherish and miss--the collective sense of humour, the jokes we are all in on etc. I loved the music, the celebration of all of it from classical to pop--gotta love an opening ceremony that has a slice of the Pistols in it--Evelyn Glennie hammering away with a vast army of drummers. The element I most appreciated was the section that involved the doctors and nurses--that dance with the hospital beds, celebrating the relation between children's writers and childrens hospitals (GOSH--Great Ormond Street Hospital) and of course the NHS. I said to a couple of people that you probably wouldn't find a number celebrating a national healthcare system as part of a U.S. Olympic opening--would be nice, but not going to happen. But it wasn't the politics of that moment, and it wasn't the pomp and circumstance--it wasn't the quotes from Shakespeare or the maybe slightly preposterous notion that the Industrial Revolution heralded all the changes it appeared to make--but there again, it was a fucking dance number so...lighten up, it was something less obtrusive that appealed. It seemed to me anyway that what the opening captured was a sense of British self-understanding, amongst all the claims and demonstrations of achievement and accomplishement, of ingenuity and creativity, were another set of ideas about how the British see themselves.
Things like care and compassion, inclusivity and a quiet unassuming strength, the enjoyment of life and sense of humour. Humour cropped up a lot and I think thats 'important--there is an elelment of pomp and inflated self-importance that inhabits the sports world--no offence to those who dedicate themsleves to various events, but for most of us, they get elevated to a fevered scale of import every four years--it's almost as if our lives depend upon this or that event, so the humorous element helped to deflate that a little---and perhaps even the humour and self-deprecation that came this time from the very top down--the Queen, in on the joke with James Bond--so many people have said that they didn't realize she had a sense of humour?! Again, amidst all the obvious energy and focus of this event--an occasional nod in the direction of 'let's not get carried away with our own importance here'--I appreciated that.
We got William Blake's Jerusalem--of course we did, but even that, demonstrates something of the British view of things eternal in the 21st century I think--there is ambiguity and complexity in the poetry of Blake and it's reflected in the wider culture's approach to the realm of spirit--it was there--not obvious, not out-front, but not avoided either--a secular spirituality--not organized, just infiltrating, just there, subsumed into the rest of life. I realize that for some, this is not enough, they want all things god outfront, but I don't think they are going to get that much these days.
It was also a bit of a peoples event too--volunteers, not professionals everywhere, performing, coming together to make things happen. Elsewhere there have been comments about whether or not this event was a secular liturgy etc. it was an opening cremony, a unique and quite creative one, but an opening ceremony--not to be repeated but to be remembered and recalled. It was riddled with meaning on a number of levels and it was a celebration of many things, about what it means, not just to be British, but to be human, and that is a good thing for my money.