British Culture – Olympic Games

International students studying in the UK may wander what essentially depicts the British culture. The opening ceremony of the UK Olympic games sums up most things that have formed the essence of British culture. 

So what was projected, through this ceremony, of British artistic achievement? At the outset, it was all about the density of British literary brilliance. There was Shakespeare, of course, though it’s hard to say how many viewers across the globe will have untangled that Kenneth Branagh was playing Caliban dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. There was Blake. Tolkein was invoked through the manner in which that bucolic landscape gave way to industrial gloom, even if he was never explicitly referred to. Ian Fleming had a double hit, with references to both James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Carroll, JK Rowling and Barrie were there, the last ushering in the great celebration of free healthcare at the heart of the ceremony.

The ceremony showcased Britain’s dance landscape, with Akram Khan’s choreographic sequences, and TV and film got a look-in – aside from Boyle’s slightly cheeky references to his own back catalogue, there were clips of those decidedly nonconformist British classics, Ken Loach’s Kes and Gregory’s Girl. Apart from the vaguely Samual Palmerish landscape of the opening scene, though, there was no visual art: no shades of JMW Turner (and perhaps thankfully no Hirst or Emin). In fact the whole thing might be said to have owed a greater debt to the continental surrealist tradition.

Music, of course, was the other great element: the soundtrack triumphantly smacked down one classic British track after another, from Bowie to the Sex Pistols. Classical music got fairly short shrift: Nimrod, from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, had its moment, and there was Parry’s Jerusalem and Handel’s Water Music, and several nods to Britain’s choral tradition. The fact that Sir Simon Rattle was called upon to play a junior role to Rowan Atkinson’s comic turn as he conducted the theme for Chariots of Fire seemed an eloquent enough remark on how marginal classical music really is in Britain today.

Categories: Academic

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