In some respects, London’s Olympics opening ceremony was a lot like an Oscars opening number. Amid the theatrical take on the industrial revolution and the National Health Service were a giant Captain Hook puppet, James Bond, hundreds of Mary Poppins look-alikes, and Sir Paul McCartney. Pop culture in all its forms—from brief film interludes to live musical performances—were used to help define what it means to be “Great Britain.” The dominance of culture in the show makes sense, given that Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) served as ceremony director; his influence was certainly felt in the filmmaking style of a number of brief pre-recorded skits and the kinetic percussion stringing the ceremony’s phases together.
Yet if the Olympics are regarded as a kind of sacrosanct, globally “high culture” experience, we should try to understand how the inclusion of so much “mass culture” iconography might speak to a more multi-discursive concept of “the nation.” While the first half of the ceremony stuck to a linear, almost one-dimensional story of Great Britain’s history, the pop culture-infused segments speak to a history and an identity built from many kinds of figures and forms. If anything, this points to Boyle’s conception of the show as postmodern. I speak of postmodernity here as, in part, the intermingling of “icons” from high and popular culture to reconfigure the meaning of high culture, and culture in general. Certainly, pop culture has seemingly consumed sports as a whole: look no further than the Super Bowl, which is as famed for its musical half-time show and advertisements featuring celebrities and movie trailers as it is for the actual football game. But the Olympics, by the very nature of their quadrennial status, global scope, and multi-millennial heritage, have largely resisted a similar conception. Even pervasive advertisements from corporate sponsor Visa portray a literally gold-hued reverence for the athletes and the global unity of the Games. Continue reading “In Her Majesty’s Public Service: The Queen, James Bond, and the Pop Culture Nation” »