Chasing the dots ... Cultural Contrast and ContestBy: Chris Smith
WANT me to dematerialise in some form of apoplectic explosion where my remains may form a molecular layer of mind-altering bio-scum that infects the silent majority into creative rebellion, just get me on the subject of sport!
That human competitive activity that was about character building, hard work, self-sacrifice and, sure, natural ability, that engendered community spirit and even national enthusiasm where healthy participation was the prime motivation. Winning was an added benefit.
Now success in the sporting field is the realm of administrators, agents and leverage-seeking IRBs (incredibly rich bastards); the athletes are reduced to “products” tuned by science, including drug merchants, public relations and celebrity drivel and sponsorship contracts aimed at maximising revenue per “item, often in direct conflict with societal wellbeing (the obese?).
FIFA’s admitted corrupt actions at top levels, Manchester United massive debts (US$ 660 million) due to US owners borrowing against future earnings or Chelsea and Manchester City whose success is due to IRB inputs. Sure premier football is exciting but manipulated excitement has a shelf life and then .. local social motivation is already spiralling down with social consequences. Greed over harmony?
But it is the comparison between the Beijing and current London Olympics that grabs my attention. Beijing recollections admittedly have faded but the incredible Bird’s Nest stadium, the militaristic precision and magnitude of the opening ceremony, organisational competence and the pollution problems stick.
For London, the main stadium looks nice but is marketed as environmentally friendly for using redundant gas pipes and weighs half that of equivalent stadia. Is this a measure? Beijing delivered almost faultlessly, London seems on a similar track! One all.
Or external matters? The evictions of poor from the site and post games billions made by property magnates in Beijing or the restoration of East London bomb sites for the benefit of the local community with little displacement? Or will the rich take over later? Only time will tell.
What happens to that horrible, inappropriate, upmarket shopping mall?
But strangely, despite my reservations over art, the prime cultural difference is represented by that incredible mass of twisted, chaotic and structurally flowing order of the “Orbit”, that seemingly obscene structure, complete with viewing platform that permeates almost all TV broadcasts.
A work funded by the UK’s richest man, a Brit of Indian origin, for many millions! Yet the more I see it, the more I like it and see how it reflects the culture it represents.
A perverse knot of multiple variables, all that seem to hang together in some sort irreverent balance of difference.
This is where that opening ceremony comes to demonstrate how different, almost opposite cultures can both deliver the fantastic.
Yes Beijing, especially that drumming sequence and the scale held me in awe but it never told me a tale. Danny Boyle, a mad Scouse (Liverpudlian) created an entirely different work of art based on a cast driven by common vision rather than discipline and precision.
By introducing humour, the unexpected and the sad in such a way so as just as memorable as Beijing, not better, just very different.
So wildly different cultures can produce brilliance appreciated by both.
This is what gives hope to a very battered world and one that other different cultures can learn from.
We can be different but can succeed together if we work without imposing our cultures on others.
My problem is, what is Africa’s culture?
The Armani suit and private jet or the inherent creativity and strength of Africa’s real values and people?
What would our opening ceremony look like?