Monday, July 30, 2012

The Soul of The London Olympic Opening Ceremony

Right now, not very far from here [London], a German war machine is rolling up the map of Europe. Country after country, falling like dominoes. Nothing can stop it. Nothing. Until one, tiny, damp little island says "no". 'No'. Not here. A mouse in front of a lion.. You're amazing, the lot of you. Dunno what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me. Off you go then... do what you've gotta do. Save the world.
- The Doctor (Who)
There is a sense of inevitability when we study history. Whether it’s the progress of Civil Rights in America or the defeat of the Axis in the World War II, sometimes there’s a feeling of “well, of course it happened, that was just the way things were headed.” Here’s the thing though, nothing great and important in history just happened. Individuals had to stand up and change the course of events deliberately, often at the cost of their own lives.

The opening ceremony of the 30th modern Olympic games in London last weekend was a joyous celebration of everything that is important and central to London and the United Kingdom and the values that the Allied forces fought so hard to preserve in WWII.

In a stark contrast to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, London did not express militaristic might through a ceremony that reeked of insecurity and hubris. Instead they looked in the mirror and showcased what we all should be proud of as Americans and people who value freedom.

When the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children started performing “God Save The Queen,” I was kind of confused. Why wouldn’t you put forth a better musical presentation for the Olympic ceremony? But as I watched these children with special needs perform the anthem and felt tears welling up, it made completely sense.

Hitler categorized people with special needs as genetically inferior and placed them in concentration camps. It wasn’t uncommon in our culture in past generations to not allow family members with special needs to participate in important family events like weddings. So it is truly extraordinary that London put these amazing children in front of the world to perform one of the most important songs in their culture. There were other moments that spoke directly against Hitler’s distorted ideas of racial superiority like the love story featuring an interracial couple and Freddie Mercury’s image shown proudly during the playing of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The connection to history was powerful but didn’t overshadow the future. J.K. Rowling paid tribute to the great authors of children’s literature that made her success possible. The youth who lit the cauldron paid tribute to the past generations but ran the final length to light the fire representing future generations. The focus on pop music covered decades of songs that spoke to generations of young people.

The United Kingdom celebrated last weekend not only the Olympics but what it truly means to live in a democracy that values liberty and freedom. Many countries and many people across the world would scoff at children with special needs being on stage, and ending the ceremony singing "Hey Jude," a song written to comfort a child whose parents are going through a divorce. London didn’t try to placate any of these people and reminded all of us the amazing results of the freedoms that we all too often take for granted.

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