Olympics Opening Ceremony, Multiculturalism and National Pride

Dizzee Rascal
Best of British

Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony was spectacular enough to tame the most cynical among us. From a technical perspective, the forging of the Olympic rings in a mock-up of Industrial Revolution Britain was simply incredible. But director Danny Boyle’s real triumph was in reminding a deeply unpatriotic nation that the British do have things to be proud of – and he focused on all the right things.

The ability to laugh at yourselves is a national asset, and the British are probably the world experts; so much so, that we tend to forget our national achievements. A reminder that this small island lit the spark that created a global industrial revolution – which is still underway – was timely. And that talent wasn’t a one-off. The 1940s creation of the computer by Alan Turing and the web in the 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee show a degree of consistency.

But it may have puzzled many viewers around the world to see an entire segment dedicated to our universal healthcare system. Our grandparents returned from the second world war only to vote out the hero Churchill and replace his government with the most left-wing one in British history, whose greatest achievement was the creation in 1948 of the NHS, along with a welfare state. The soldiers were no doubt grateful for Churchill’s war leadership, but their battle had been against a right-wing ideology, Fascism, which had attacked trade unions and workers’ rights. Having won that war, they returned home and expected Socialist ideas to triumph in Britain – and for a few years, they did.

So when a handful of online morons attacked the ceremony as “leftie”, they were kind-of right. Britain’s history is undeniably leftie in many aspects. It may have upset right-wing morons that the British celebrate the NHS as a national triumph, but the simple fact is: we do. Chief among morons on the night was right-wing Tory MP Aidan Burley:

The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen – more than Beijing,the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?

Followed by:

Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!

And of course, finished off with the essential back-pedal:

Seems my tweet has been misunderstood. I was talking about the way it was handled in the show, not multiculturalism itself.

For those who haven’t heard of him before, Burley’s previous claim to fame was organising a Nazi-themed stag night. His tweets are so beautifully laden with ignorance and hatred; I can only send Mr Burley my heartfelt thanks for such excellent material. Besides the fact that he still seems to think China is a communist country (which decade is he living in?), a couple of points stand out:

He clearly loathes the celebration of Britain’s socialised healthcare system, as shown by “Welfare tribute next?” – but yes, why not a tribute to British welfare? Let’s remember for a moment that pre-war Britain, the world’s most powerful nation, had widespread malnutrition and preventable diseases, while post-war Britain, virtually bankrupt, managed to put shoes on children’s feet and food in stomachs far more widely than ever before in its history. We need to remember that lesson when morons today spin the “we can’t afford it” line. We can afford whatever we have the will to provide. Our national wealth is huge – the fact that much of it is siphoned away by a small, global elite is merely a new hurdle to overcome.

But of most interest to me were the comments about multiculturalism. The ceremony’s soundtrack was a reminder that per capita, Britain is probably the most prolific creator of new music in the world. This was not always so – look at Britain’s musical history pre-1960, and you’ll find our country ranking pretty much nowhere in the creation of popular music. Unlike the gradual development of science that led to the industrial revolution, Britain’s rise as a global music hub has been meteoric. This is what really pisses off the closet-racist little-Englanders like Burley. Because our musical supremacy is the side-effect of something uniquely British: our openness to the world, and our transformation into a multi-racial country over the course of the past century.

It no doubt brought a tear to many eyes that one of the moments commemorated in the ceremony was the arrival in 1948 of the Empire Windrush, a ship carrying black immigrants from the West Indies, and representing the birth of Britain’s modern black community (although not its first). Many more followed, and then came Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, West Africans, Europeans and others. It should never be forgotten that these immigrants were met, initially, with a wall of hostility. Yet Britain (and London especially) has integrated immigrants into our culture – and our culture into theirs – like no other modern nation. And this is why Burley was so upset; not because the opening ceremony was unrepresentative of modern Britain, but because it represented us so well.

London is the world’s music hub because it’s the place where Europeans, Indians, Jamaicans, West Africans, Arabs and many others can meet, mingle and create. Last night’s ceremony was headlined by Dizzee Rascal, a grime MC from London. Dizzee Rascal (Dylan Mills) is half-Ghanaian, half-Nigerian; a blend that is a product of Britain’s imperial history, and more likely to be found in London than in Lagos or Accra. Grime is a British derivative of Hip Hop, with a big dose of Jamaican, British and other influences. The British rap style owes as much to Jamaica and London as it does to US hip hop, and has been honed by generations of London MCs (rappers) involved in the reggae, jungle, drum & bass, garage, grime, and dubstep music scenes.

So to summarise, we have a Ghanaian/Nigerian Londoner who excels in a London-invented musical style with roots in West Africa, Jamaica, Britain and other parts of the old British Empire. What could possibly be more British?

I felt proud on Friday night: I was proud of my great city (and its musical excellence), and many achievements of this country. But I was also proud of Ghana and Nigeria for their beautiful musical heritages. I was proud of the New Yorkers who created rap, which spread and evolved around the globe. I was proud of Jamaica, a small island with a loud voice. I was especially proud of generations of young Londoners who have ignored the hateful racists in British society, and combined their love of music in ever more intricate and sophisticated ways. I was proud of my grandfather and millions of others who fought fascists at home and abroad, and helped lay the foundation for modern Britain. Nothing we saw on Friday could have been achieved by Britain alone, without a global exchange between many cultures over many centuries. On that basis, “national pride” is meaningless. Why confine your pride to an arbitrary geographic area? Even the young Rolling Stones, mentioned in Aidan Burley’s moronic tweets, were merely creating a 1960s British adaptation of a black American art form, Rock & Roll.

Danny Boyle created a genuine celebration of what it really means to be British in the 21st Century. Most viewers loved what they saw; but some (including the unpleasant Mr Burley) are clearly uncomfortable with the reality of modern Britain, and would like to somehow reverse what has happened to this country. Mr Burley, this is our Britain, and we’re proud of it. Feel free to stay and enjoy the party.

11 thoughts on “Olympics Opening Ceremony, Multiculturalism and National Pride”

  1. In the first instance I think you may find that the musical dialogue across and along the Atlantic is more complex than many might imagine. (http://www.edu-cyberpg.com/NCFR/roots.html
    http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Music/2007/04/Scholar-Finds-American-Indian-Roots-To-Gospel-Music.aspx )
    Yes it was a spectacular depiction of some elements of British history, but where was Cromwell, the Levellers, Diggers and New Model Army? It reinforced the national myths of Britain, to be lapped up by an unquestioning public.
    However, IMO behind it all it was a spectacular marketing event for London and the Southeast. Reinforced by unwitting comments made today on the BBC news.
    The rest of the nation, who contributed to the enormous costs of staging this circus, will gain next to nothing from it. The infrastructure & housing investments serve only London, the marketing for inward investment is almost exclusively London-centric and barely a penny will drift to the “regions”.
    Yet as this circus is presented to the globe via satellite links, key public services for the most deprived are being cut to the bone or simply stopped completely. Even in London this is happening.
    And as this obscenity rolls out, there are children in this country going to bed hungry in acutely inadequate accommodation. And the Fat Cats who snapped the tickets can’t even be bothered to attend half the time, and thus the empty seats.

  2. I’d agree more with the second part of the blog than the first. I’d say the primary defining characteristic of Nazism was that it was anti-semitic, rather than an attack on workers’ rights. Also, within 3 years of the NHS foundation, the voters had grown so tired of continued wartime austerity measures, they voted Labour out and kept the Conservatives in power for 13 years!

    Also, I think Most of the 1945 to 1951 Labour cabinet would look at the sprawling nature of the welfare state today and turn in their graves, as would the author of the blueprint, Sir William Beveridge!

    That said, the comments by Burley were a special kind of moronic, certainly, and whilst the scale of immigration is something we need to examine – as you have said before, what do the opponents of multiculturalism want? Us to be a second Korea DPR?

  3. ‘Britain is probably the most prolific creator of new music in the world’

    Here’s your multicultural British influence on the world…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biggest_selling_British_acts_of_all_time

    hmmm, not so multi cultural is it?

    Obviously, the music and acts chosen to represent Britain on Friday night were quite odd choices with some quite glaring exceptions. Adam smith, the first economist? Progressing the idea of a market economy to the world? The enlightenment philosophers – sewing the seeds of America and Classical Liberalism? Inventing the jet engine, the TV?

    No, we had the NHS, a basket case system even in Europe the land of ‘social’ healthcare. Odd.

    I won’t mention the quite obvious type casting of the (not quite so) typical British family unit.

    As for multi culturalism, it should be an ‘is’, not an ‘ought’; whereby elites socially engineer a society using compulsion – the bbc, the tax that funds it and the world view it propagates. Which is fine, any individual can propagate any view they like, they shouldn’t however be able to compel people to pay for them to broadcast it.

    1. DD – the charts illustrate little about British music except what the big labels are choosing to market. Thanks to the Internet, the “underground” is huge and global. Who listens to chart music any more? Not me. The styles I listed in the article – with the exception of reggae – were all created in London, and all have global followings.

  4. DD – What exactly does a list of best selling albums have to do with multicultural influences in British music? A great many of the artistes in the list freely admit their influences were black R&B and soul artistes, including two of the biggest bands ever, the Beatles and the Stones – both of which started out by playing covers of songs by black R&B artistes. The best seller list also reflects the fact that it is the predominantly white western youth from affluent western countries who can afford to buy these records

    “the quite obvious type casting of the (not quite so) typical British family unit”

    Erm… if it is not a “typical” British family unit, how is it “type-casting”?

  5. Van_Patten: I said fascism, not Nazism, which was a particular strand of fascism. But I disagree anyway – the anti-semitic aspect of Nazism/fascism has become more dominant since the war, as we gradually learned what actually happened. Choosing a scapegoat (in this case, Jews, gypsies, gays etc.) is a tactic of fascism, not its core purpose. Politically, fascism was the rise of corporations and the crushing of socialism, trade unionism and workers’ rights. Fascism is the corporate wet-dream: a labour force in a state close to slavery.

  6. V_Patten: I think if you look at the social factors that inspired the Nazis, and their right wing allies prior to 1933, it was primarily a reaction to modernity and its impact upon established German society that was the driver. Antisemitism, while certainly very prominent in their articulations, was a symptom of this and really a reliance upon an old hatred to deflect people’s attention away from the assault upon individual & collective freedoms. Jews following the Enlightenment in Europe had very actively exploited the opportunities, and as outsiders brought new ways of thinking to almost every sector. The social changes caused by industrialisation that undermined the complex establishment across Germany and broke the power that Landwirts & Landknechts had had over landless peasants became inextricably linked with the emergence of the Jews from the ghettos.
    If you care to research the arrest sequences and consignment to concentration camps from 1933 onwards, you will find that it was the workers representatives (trades unions & social democrats) that went first. Once they had broken the power of organised labour, the Nazis achieved “full employment” by halving the wages of certain sectors and by conscripting men into labour camps on public works.
    While the Nazis might have called themselves the National Socialist German Workers Party, they represented capitalist interests, and created in the SS’s Klinkerwerk and Erd & Stein Gmbh massive slave labour operations to make profits and served industrial business interests.

  7. Burley is a moron.

    Does Danny Boyle’s cunning inclusion of the NHS (I hear it discomfited quite a few US media babblingheads) mean the Tories and the Libdumbs can’t kill it off now because he’s showcased it??

    Van|Patten I think you’re wrong in your analysis of fascism: but MW puts it all so much better than that!

    & MW – whose wages did Hitler halve? But he looked well after the petty bourgeois, did he not – that being his constituency?! I read some articles on the net few years ago which said he did.

  8. “MW – whose wages did Hitler halve?” – he did better than that. He provided free, slave labour for corporations. That can’t have done wonders for average incomes across the board.

  9. The idea that either the Tories or LibDems intend or could ever dismantle the NHS is an absurdity, and a fiction created by various factions.
    The UK national administration regardless of which party is in power faces a major problem regarding the NHS. It is now regarded as a largely unassailable national institution. Public expectation of service delivery by the NHS has grown massively, beyond its original intent. The UK tax base has declined significantly, thus limiting the proportion of national resource available to the NHS and other public services. And finally the projected demand on the NHS due to changes in demographics means that the governments need to devise a means of continuing to provide health care.
    UK is also faced with another serious problem and that is the control / supervision of major public institutions and arms of government. This loss of control has resulted in a massive escalation of the cost of management in the last 30~40 years, and despite the implementation of things as “whistle-blowing” mechanisms, the sanctions applied to failed and corrupt senior managers are at best desultory.
    In addition the NHS is subject to factional lobbying and emotive arguments in relation to funding allocations. Consequently despite the popular belief that all patients are treated according to their clinical needs, there are discriminatory practices applied. At the end opf the 1990’s the Royal College of Nursing called upon the then Labour govt to allocate funding according to clinical need. The minister at the time responded that “if men want better health then they can either change their life styles or purchase services from the private sector”. At the time funding allocation for adults, excluding gynecologic services, was 89% on women 11% on men.
    But this in itself raised a further question. the 11% spent on adult males largely went on men over 65. But the men between 16 – 65 generated over 75% of net tax in UK. Logically it therefore made sense to ensure that men did not stop working due to ill-health and returned to work healthy as soon as possible. But by assigning working men the lowest priority in NHS allocations, the nation lost the opportunity to secure the funds to pay for the NHS and so the cycle progressed.
    How we as a nation are to manage the NHS to ensure its future existence is a very serious issue as it has impacts far beyond individual experiences. Too much is informed by emotion, factional lobbying and outright lies.

  10. Re: Halved Wages in Nazi Germany. The Nazi govt from 1933 targeted highly unionised major workplaces such as the docks, mines, steel works etc (having imprisoned the union leaders) and reduced hourly wages, rest periods etc. There were even extremes such installing “Hitler Klo” toilet pans with seats at 45 degree angle to prevent / discourage workers sitting in toilets for extended period. (These were still in existence in 1980’s in Hamburg Hafen Sandtorkai 1 Einteilung)

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