Monday, August 18, 2008

The Beijing Olympics and American Aesthetics.

Nearly one thousand years ago, the Chinese invented fireworks. Fireworks have since become a symbol of celebration and new beginnings the world over. The ancient Chinese people who invented them used the blasting pyrotechnics to ward off evil spirits and illuminate the darkness of night. They prayed to the light they created for happiness and prosperity. The light of the Chinese people’s creativity and technical skill shines as bright as ever today. The opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics was a massive demonstration of Chinese cultural achievement, and Americans should be taking notes.

Famed Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who brought us movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, designed and created a performance that is an unmatched display of human creativity. The artistic force of the opening ceremonies was in excellent contrast to the obvious physical aspect of the games. The theme of contrast was used throughout the performance. Parallel themes like the one and the many, light and darkness, quiet and loud permeated the different movements of the show.

At 8:00 p.m. on August 8, 2008, an estimated 4 billion worldwide viewers tuned in, as 15,000 performers took to the stage inside the beautifully crafted Beijing National Stadium. Impressive chorography and massive displays of ancient arts like Tai chi-chuan and calligraphy added to the splendor of the event. The human element was contrasted by an enormous scroll, which lay on the floor between and beneath performers on the field. A technological marvel, the scroll unfolded into a 15,000 square foot L.E.D. screen. The screen projected scenes from Chinese antiquity which framed the movements of the performers. The stadium and the people inside of it stand framed in their place amidst the impressive Olympic village, in the booming city of Beijing, a shining tribute to Chinese Culture.

The Beijing National Stadium was designed by the Swiss based architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, in collaboration with ArupSport and China Architecture Design & Research Group. The group, working with director Zhang Yimou’s production team, designed a building that would participate fully in the opening and closing ceremonies held within the soon-to-be-built structure. A built in fireworks show, beyond impressive lighting, and massive jumbo screens are a few of the features integrated into the stadium specifically for the show. The stadium, sometimes referred to as “The Bird’s Nest” easily sold out its 91,000 seats for its debut at the opening ceremonies. An impressive number of Heads of State showed up for the event, among them: the entire Bush family, Henry Kissinger, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. With the largest television audience to date, and a rumored $150,000,00 U.S.D spent, the show could hardly have been anything but astounding.

Astounding is but one word to describe the opening ceremonies in Beijing this summer. Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago was also in attendance. His city is the American finalist in the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The mayor has a lot to live up to if his city wins. Daley went to Beijing looking too see what it takes to host the Olympic Games. What he found, and what we all simultaneously found out, is that it takes more than just great athletes to make the Olympics the major historical event that it can and should be. It takes a great city in a great country, capable of producing the world’s foremost arts and entertainment experience. This is what China has done. The question is: Can America keep up the pace?

Even given the full financial support of one of the largest and richest governments in the world, it is doubtful that American directors like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron or Mel Gibson could ever come up with and pull off something as beautiful and poetic as 2,000 Tai-Chi masters performing the ancient martial art in perfect unison live in front of billions. Chinese culture is rooted in an ancient tradition of artistic excellence and disciplined mental activity. American arts and entertainment have suffered from a lack of such a tradition.

The Beijing Olympics have asserted the Chinese culture as a leading force in art, entertainment, technology, and engineering, which can hardly be dreamed of in the United States. Artists, directors, writers and performers alike should look at the world for their inspiration. The world is without a doubt a global community and we should all act accordingly. America’s cultural isolation has led popular culture into the dumpster. The Chinese architecture and performance art at the Beijing Olympics may be seen as strongly nationalistic with a heavy military theme, but nonetheless it was a warm expression extended to the world’s greatest athletes by China’s greatest artists, which at this moment may too be the world’s best.