I was a determined cynic at the beginning of the Opening Ceremony – and although I found myself going ‘What?’ at some bits of it, going ‘I don’t believe I just saw that’ at other moments, by the end of it I found most of my cynicism had melted away, just like the comments which changed mood from snarky to actually rather proud on Twitter as I was watching.
The ceremony got an audience of nearly 27 million, the biggest audience the BBC has recorded since the advent of digital, almost three times as many people as usually watch Britain’s Got Talent – though this was a nostalgic, eccentric, mashed up celebration of Britain’s real talent, history and potential – with not a manufactured pop band in view.
The ceremony, overseen by Danny Boyle, was an example of how drama and/or theatre and/or spectacle (call it what you will), has the power and potential to change opinions. The show was a collective recalling of good things that Britain had done, (all right, maybe ignoring some of the less good things Britain’s done, but this was a celebration after all); an inclusive and provocative blast furnace of ideas; social, comic and dramatic, which made people overwhelmingly feel positive, if not even proud. At a time when there has not been much else to celebrate, the ceremony was a welcome surprise.
One of the things the commentators kept mentioning was that this is the first Games where all teams have women in them. Hopefully for those three hours on Friday, more people will have been thinking about why it is right that women and men are allowed to partake equally in sport in every country. Hopefully they’ll keep thinking about that for the next month and then maybe other thoughts about why equality is the right thing to do will seep in.
I sometimes get the feeling that people think that getting an equal number of plays performed by women as by men isn’t really a very important thing – so what if four times as many plays that get on are written by men? How many people actually watch plays anyway? What does it really matter? But it’s part of the greater picture about equality. Until women are allowed to be creators of art, rather than just the muse, then how can anything be equal? Until women get paid the same as men for doing the same jobs, then how can anything be equal? Until a country lets women compete in sport, how can anything be equal?
Stories are the way that children learn. And these children grow up to tell their own stories to their own children and have their own ideas and make changes in society or, keep the status quo if that’s all they know. If they only hear the same old stories from the same old people, then nothing will ever change.
Scheherazade wove 1,001 tales but the words were put in her mouth by many other anonymous authors, probably mostly male. The Wise Woman of the village gradually became a maligned and feared figure, ending up on a pyre or a ducking stool. In most ancient myths and (some, not all) modern stories, women are still only wives or witches. Women being allowed to tell their stories, and write their stories down, and have their stories performed, gives us that vital alternative perspective and is a crucial underpinning of the idea of equality. Which is why it is important that more than just 17% of performed UK plays should be written by women.
One of the reasons London got the Games was to do with legacy; could the story of a greater desire for equality be one of the lasting legacies?
Whether it’s the story of Tory MP (for now) Aiden Burley’s Tweets; or whether it was the overwhelming praise for the NHS in that dance sequence; or whether was seeing women in every team, the Opening Ceremony did prove that three hours of drama can make a difference to the way people think, but whether this will be a long-standing change or whether it lasts just for a few hours, or weeks, will be the thing to see. The Olympics have given us the spark, it’s up to everyone to decide whether to light their own cauldron now.