Now, that was ‘bongga”!
The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit
Like most of you who watched the Olympic opening live early Saturday morning, I also had questions cropping up in my mind while the show was unfolding.
“What’re those hospital beds doing there?,” was one of the most persistent, it was almost a puzzle. Maybe that is something on the war years? But then, I thought, you don’t put that many of those beds, with nurses in uniforms dancing around them, if the only purpose was to evoke the war years. There’s got to be a better, stronger reason, I thought.
It was only after the show, when I got to open my computer when I learned that the hospital scene was, in fact, about the Great Britain’s National Health Service system, an institution that their citizens revere and take pride in.
That spoke well of the strength as well as the weakness of the 2012 Olympiad opening. It was unabashedly British – it was a celebration of British culture, after all – and we, who are halfway around the world, were hard-pressed to understand everything that was shown to us.
The simplistic among us immediately declared it a poor contrast to the Beijing Olympics opening, with its 2,008 drummers moving with military precision, and visuals flooding our television screens. Of course. Beijing was very Asian in its look and energy, extravagant and excessive, and we are naturally wired to feel a kinship with that.
London 2012 is a thoroughly different culture, and must never be judged against Beijing. We are talking of different cultures welcoming the world, and we all know both stopped at nothing to roll out the best for us. We must take London for what it is -- a monarchic culture that is trying to be as egalitarian and as democratic as can be, an old culture so rich with icons and symbols and that is what the show was all about.
In fact, so laden with symbols was the show that CNN, the international news organization, immediately put together a “Guide to the Isles of Wonder” to explain its visuals and imageries – well, of them at least, such as the hospital beds.
It was, like many things today, an erudite show, with many, many back stories for its characters that one, especially out here in Asia, cannot truly appreciate it on one TV sitting. I understand it was different when one watched it live, without the confining space of TV with its angles and camera shots, but that is an altogether different story.
Like a good classic, my bet is “Isles of Wonder” will grow on us, and we shall keep going back to it, see new things every time, and eventually love it forever.
Knowing the symbolisms leads to a full appreciation of the Danny Boyle production: how clever indeed, was the production, and how it orchestrated the visuals, the music, and the technical glitz and magic to present British culture: how, for example, it used those hospital beds as trampolines for children to segue to the story-telling sequence where children’s literature characters like Mary Poppins, Lord Voldemort were showcased.
Those Mary Poppinses did not fall from the sky just because they were an integral part of the story the show was pursuing. It wasn’t incidental that Mr. Bean was there playing Chariots of Fire with one finger – this is British humor.
What all this teaches us, and I think this is the impact of that show on the world of shows and festivals, is: nothing in a visual production, like the street dance for example, should be there without a reason. In fact, even a festival cannot be successful if people do not understand what they are celebrating in the first place.
Because in the end, that is what being “bongga” is all about, when we can put in visuals, sounds, music and magic, our community’s values and feelings – something that, I really think, London 2012 so stunningly, successfully achieved last Saturday.*
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