In the first entry of a week-long series on multiculturalism, Kat Hanna argues that Danny Boyle’s ceremony has shown that when it comes to multiculturalism, the right kind of taking part can produce results which can silence even the sternest of critics.
An unfortunate consequence of researching current affairs and representations of ethnicity in British is that you can all too easily end up analysing every kind of media and cultural output.
Ken Livingstone’s roll call of ‘inner city’ actors, earnest advertising that makes the 1990s Colours of Benetton campaigns look cutting edge, and an Eastenders dialogue that features as many Salam Alaykums as it does dropped aitches – contemporary British culture just has far too much to offer.
So it was with a sharpened sense of cynicism and an appetite for criticism that I sat down to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Suffice to say, I was disappointed by the lack of opportunity to pounce on heavy-handed or tenuous demonstrations of Britain’s diversity and vibrancy – two words to send a shiver down the spine of any race industry cynic.
With Mr Bean, a drag-Queen parachutist and everyone’s second favourite remaining Beatle, no-one can accuse Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony of taking itself too seriously. Self-deprecation and self-referential humour are what the British do best, and far be it from the judgmental and discerning eye of an international audience to prevent us from having a good laugh at ourselves. But this ceremony was mature and confident where it mattered. And let us not forget, the evening-long orgy of all that makes modern Britain concluded with a 19th century hymn, a sign that taking pride in our multicultural present means appreciating our heritage.
Just when you were thinking that Boyle may have been praised enough, I’d like to join the fawning masses and acknowledge Boyle for presenting British history in a grown-up and unpatronising manner. Where Aidan Burnley saw ‘multicultural crap’, I was personally relieved to see that Boyle avoided the often well-intentioned yet cringe-inducing self-consciously all inclusive treatment of British society. This ceremony could easily have turned into a bloated community carnival, dredging up the image of William Hague in a baseball cap that I think we would all rather forget. By saving the banners and the traditional dress for the arrival of the athletes, Boyle has shown us just how richer Britain could be if we allowed ourselves to relax our box-ticking mentality and move towards a form of multiculturalism that means encounter and active engagement rather than mere participation. While I would like to think that Britain will soon be able to walk away from a sporting event telling ourselves something other than that it’s the taking part that counts, Boyle’s ceremony has shown that when it comes to multiculturalism, the right kind of taking part can produce results which can silence even the sternest of critics.