T.S. Eliot famously said that ‘culture’ was something that included ‘all the characteristics, activities and interests of a people’, an apt definition for British identity. The Prisma’s Memoirs. November 2012
It is by no means an easy feat to pinpoint specifically what British culture is and means. Like other national cultures, it can’t readily be reduced to a collection of established monuments and texts that have been designated as being valuable.
Our country is full of traditions and symbols, which some people use to define ‘Britishness’. Others see British culture in terms of its component institutions, for example the education, parliamentary and healthcare systems. Nevertheless in reality, cultural identity is far personal than this, and can be shaped by groups and the individual.
Since the middle of the previous century we have drastically reinvented ourselves. We have emerged from the ashes of a territorial and an industrial empire, directing our attention towards nurturing science and the arts.
Throughout the past 150 years we have produced an alternative Britain; a democratic Britain, where tolerance, freedom and security are a right for every single citizen.
We have stimulated an economy of the mind, a stock market of arts, trade infusing influences from other cultures into our own creative blend, and it is this which slowly has brought a new, richer identity to Britain.
The power of the British culture has replaced a tired class system, stimulating an economy of the mind. Imitation of the old has been replaced with the ingenuity of the new.
National identity is filtered through the individual perspectives of its many inhabitants. Theoretically there are as many definitions of ‘Britishness’ as there are people trying to define it.
However Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening and closing ceremonies can be attributed as the perfect embodiment of our ideas surrounding culture and what it means to be British. Boyle orchestrated a delicate balance between tradition and modernity, taking into account of our diverse history, exploring the multiple definitions of ‘Britishness.’
For the audiences abroad it must have been completely incomprehensible, but in Britain we understood the significance of the NHS, Suffragette movement, John Lennon and gay kisses.
The ceremonies were Boyle’s impassioned poem of praise to the country he would most like to believe in: one that is multicultural, tolerant, liberal, holding the principles of welfare state close to its heart whilst being witty and comical.
Arguably there is still so much room for us to progress, grow, and showcase the brilliance and compassion of humanity, but at least we have embarked on our passionate journey.
The ceremonies explored the natural creative genius which flows through the veins of this country. Boyle commanded the literary brilliance of Shakespeare, Ian Fleming and of course JK Rowling along with Akram Khan’s stunning choreographic sequences; bounding it altogether with a musical masterpiece.
Nevertheless, the limelight was stolen by the satirical richness of British comedy. Even the Queen colluded in the national sport of humorous self- deprecation, as she made her splendid entrance with the country’s most loved spy, 007.
We are a nation founded on diversity, infusing worldwide tradition and cultures for over 1400 years, to produce our own colourful society.
We are an explosion of the past and new, and we need to recognise that ingenuity has finally broken through our steely exterior, creating a society where diversity and individuality are encouraged and not silenced.
We are also fortunate to have a home which can welcome those who seek refuge from a place so cruel we could only ever imagine it. To provide others a sanctuary, allowing them a second chance to add their own personality to the country can only attest to the beauty of humanity.
Our stereotype might be the bowler hat gentleman sipping his tea imported from China, who struggles to produce a small smile, but we are far more than that. We live in a global culture, and enjoy influences from many geographical areas.
British culture is a wonderful fusion of the many influences from around the world in combination with the discoveries, literature, art, music, politics we have evolved over the many centuries that our wonderful country has been thriving and vivacious.