I’m thankful to have lived in London for the last 3 years. Otherwise, like the rest of the world, I probably wouldn’t have understood most of the cultural references in the Olympic opening ceremony this past week… and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
For outsiders, anyone who hasn’t lived in Britain, I’m not entirely sure I disagree with their negative sentiments. While Britons laughed and cheered along, the rest of the world seems to have had it go straight over their heads. I think it was the Washington Post who aptly described it as “the world’s biggest inside joke”.
That said, I loved it.
It was lively, quirky, and quintessentially British. I loved the theatrics of it all, the endless shout-outs to the culture, and was impressed by the sheer audacity of the show Danny Boyle put on. I laughed out loud at Rowan Atkinson’s mangling of ‘Chariots of Fire’, gasped when I saw they featured the Queen alongside Bond (“the ACTUAL Queen, guys! And the corgis!”), and cheered when a small army of Mary Poppins came to save the day.
Part of the treat of the ceremony, for me, was to have been over at a friend’s flat, in a building that was directly beside the Olympic park. With a practically full view of the stadium, we spent our time hustling from the TV screen inside to the spectacle outside whenever anything big was going on over the stadium. We were close enough to make out that it was the Queen and Bond jumping from the helicopter above, and in perfect viewing range of the fantastic Olympic Rings themed fireworks at the end of the show.
Not being from around here, though, I didn’t get every reference. I learned a few new things, jabbing my truly British friends in the room for details on what was going on as some of the more obscure (at least to me) cultural references came on stage. Being an expat, I’m accustomed to being ever so slightly out of the loop (sometimes more than slightly, I’ll admit!), and took it in stride.
Looking at it from the point of view of the rest of the world? The ceremony just wouldn’t have been as much fun. While fun and outrageous, so much of it just wasn’t as accessible to those not living on these Isles.
Naturally, everyone’s first reaction is to compare the London 2012 ceremony to Beijing’s in 2008.
Frankly, looking back, I found Beijing’s ceremony to be impressive yet boring. A couple thousand drummers, smiling and banging away on drums with precise coordination, making up a tremendous sound and light show. Undoubtedly cool. But rewatching it now, I realise how slow it was, and how little emotion it evoked. In the end, it was fascinating to watch, but nothing reflect back on and remember.
The London Opening Ceremony was a stark contrast to the monotonous yet undeniably epic Beijing ceremony four years ago, one that will change the way cities open the games in the future.
The last two summer Olympic ceremonies couldn’t have been more different. I can’t help but wonder what Brazil is now conjuring up for 2016, though without a doubt, it will be colourful. Game on.