Letter 6 – aka 'The Inevitable Olympic Post'
Being away from home at this particular moment in history is unlucky. When the Olympics was last held in Britain, my Dad was 3. It's entirely possible that I will not live to see another one. I'm missing out, and it's given me some thoughts which I'm now going to impose on you.
Firstly, I'll point out that I never really had any affection for my country until I moved away from it; I had to live in NZ to be glad to be British, & I had to live in Scotland to be at peace about being English. But now that I'm quite fond of it, I'm not there.
My thoughts stem from the Opening Ceremony. Danny Boyle told the story of modern Britain (albeit with a strong London slant) in a revolutionary new way: with honesty. The ceremony was messy, because we are quite messy; self-deprecating, because we are self-deprecating; and good, because actually, underneath it all, we're alright. It didn't pretend or make grand claims, it didn't lie or present a photoshopped image, and (most interestingly) it did it all from the perspective of regular people, such as those who live in East London.
But I was watching from afar. I think its fair to say that if America was to tell its story, the instinct would probably be to hop from one war to the next, by way of the Constitution, the Emancipation Declaration, and maybe the Moon landings.
But who America (or any country) really is can't feasibly be expressed from the perspective of politicians and institutions. It's the narrative of normal life – families, friends, jobs, pastimes, religions, social movements – that brings us closer to where identity lies.
So when Danny Boyle showed the rustic idyll industrialized, with large-scale destruction of traditional community and culture through urbanization, it made me think about the Native Americans and the emigration of the nations to the New World. When he showed Pankhurst and the suffragettes, I thought of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.
I started to see social history parallels everywhere:
– the Children's Literature section = Disney & Hollywood
– the Youth Culture bit = rock & roll to hip-hop; Chuck Berry to Chuck D
– the 7/7 memorial section = 9/11 etc.
We share a lot of parallel social flux, highs and lows. Just as watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony hopefully helped Americans see that Britain is not just Big Ben, Stonehenge, and Royal Weddings, it helped me to think in more human-sized terms about this big ole lump called America.
It also made me a bit sad, because when most people in the world (including Americans) think of the States, they tend to focus on BIG things like politics, corporations, and conflicts; while forgetting native culture, nervous emigrants, toiling farmers, creative artists, fishermen, truck-drivers, house-wives, and kids playing in the street.
But as in Danny Boyle's Britain, the real story is often elsewhere.