Recreational psychoactive drugs have played a pivotal role in shaping modern British culture. Despite our size, Britain remains at the cutting edge of musical creativity, and continues to offer a disproportionate amount of awesome music to The World: we created dubstep, and pioneered many other genres of electronic and more conventional music.
The development of our music culture has been integrally linked to the availability, both to artists and audiences, of recreational drugs.
The 2012 Olympic Ceremony payed tribute to British Drug Culture, acknowledged its significance in relation to modern music, and the important role of recreational drugs in modern social ritual.
Implicit in the 2012 Olympic Ceremony were several codified references to British Drug Culture:
Specifically, there was a sequence of performances which related to the development of British music culture from the 1960’s to the present day.
The above photo illustrates one scene from the Olympic Ceremony, it depicts codes and conventions of dress and behavior that are most closely associated with the rave scene: a type of festivities well known for their intimate connection to recreational drugs, especially Ecstasy.
The scene refers to late-80s/early-90s drug culture, pure and simple. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I watched the performers, ‘what percentage of these people are, in fact, using a recreational drug right now?’ – we’ll never know- but it’s a fun thought right?
The drug references didn’t stop there though. Of all the amazing British films to show, a brief clip of Trainspotting (which is, of course, a great film) is shown to the audience: a cult classic film about Scottish Heroin addicts.
Of course: no depiction of the 1960s and 70s would be complete without the hippies. But let’s not forget, the hippies were a cultural movement who many feel had their genesis fueled by the widespread availability of LSD. Hippy culture and LSD are inseparable. During the elaborate choreography the dancers formed a massive CND sign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, “The Peace Sign” – of course the same logo that is the international logo of the counter-cultural Hippy movement.
That such things made their way into the ceremony, is a tipped hat in recognition of LSD’s influence on British society.
Similarly, the dancers formed a massive smiley face; dancers dressed in rave-gear, waving massive neon glow sticks around to electronic music. For those not ‘in the know’ the smiley face logo has been stamped on LSD-tabs and Ecstasy-pills for over three decades now. For any young-adult, such symbols are clear references to the drug-culture of our nation.
Any why not? By referencing the Scottish Heroin scene, the LSD-fueled 1960s/70s, and the massive popularity of Ecstasy/MDMA in British electronic music culture that has continued since the 1980s, Danny Boyle is bringing to the fore the realities of modern day British social life. Interestingly, the reality of British rave-culture (and, by implication: drug culture) is presented in an incredibly positive light: just a load of people having a lot of fun!
One thing that struck me throughout the ceremony was that it wasn’t afraid to venture into politically ambiguous territory: from our history as a colonial empire, the industrialisation of our ‘green and pleasant land’, the suffragette resistance to a still-present patriarchy, the ceremony even managed to navigate the mine-field of depicting the British class system with relative ease.
In summary: this article suggests that within the London Olympic ceremony were several codified references to the British Drug Culture. Moreover, that the inclusion of these implicit symbols of our recent history of embracing recreational drugs was necessary in order to accurately reflect the reality of modern British life.
Embracing the reality of British drug-culture in this manner, and incorporating it into The Nation’s and The World’s view of what British culture consists of, may allow for more mature dialogues to emerge on how the cognitive liberties of the British people can be incorporated into an ever-thriving Great Britain.