Wednesday, 22 August 2012

London 2012 Reflections

Once again, I'm all apologies--this blog has been terribly neglected.  This summer I've gotten a fairly decent start on my dissertation draft, written my first journal article, and planned a wedding, so this blog has slipped off my radar again.  I've completely missed the boat on reacting to the London 2012 Olympics ceremonies...

Thoughts on the Olympics:  Overall a successful event, partially because expectations weren't very high.  I think people doubted London could compete with Beijing in terms of being 'spectacular' and overwhelming, so the organisers took a different approach.  They didn't go for shock & awe--they went for a presentation of the Best of Britain, and relied heavily on British music to represent UK culture.  I saw a mix of comments on Facebook, from foreigners and natives, and many of the positive comments came from people who had studied here and returned home.  They expressed a sense of nostalgia for Britain--perfect evidence of educational exchange impact!  For my part, I was surprisingly patriotic and sentimental about my adopted country--I got teary-eyed at the start, with the kid soloist singing 'Jerusalem'.  I loved the references to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter, and the prominent use of so many Beatles songs in both the opening & closing ceremonies.  I thought the celebration of the NHS was an interesting choice, and I wondered how Republicans back in the States reacted to that one, as they vow to repeal Obamacare (which doesn't go nearly as far as true socialized medicine, but they call him a 'socialist' anyway...sigh).

In terms of public diplomacy, I'm not sure that it was a success--but I also doubt that it was supposed to achieve much in the way of public diplomacy.  This summer seems to be all about Britain, with the focus on the Jubilee, the Euros, and Team GB.  In my 5 years here, I've never seen much in the way of patriotism--at least not in the way you see it in the States, with flags and t-shirts to express your pride--but now, Union Jack paraphernalia is everywhere.  Looking at some of the references used, I think the ceremonies may have had more meaning for Brits than for the rest of the world.  But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.  The domestic political situation has been messy for 2 years now, the economy has been struggling for even longer--so maybe turning inwards and celebrating British culture is a way of coping.  'We might be divided by politics and money and class, but we all love the Beatles, right?  Remember the Spice Girls, they were good, too?  And British comedy is great, isn't it?  Let's get Eric Idle in to cheer us all up!'   

To sum it all up, the ceremonies changed my mind a bit about the use of the Olympics as a public diplomacy tool.  They represented Britain well, of course, but I don't think they were overly concerned with the reaction of foreign publics--at least not as self-consciously as China and Canada have been in the past two Olympics.