The brave new world of paralympian defiance

By Jill Segger
August 30, 2012

“A millionaire with a private cinematograph, all the necessary props and a troupe of intelligent actors could, if he wished, make practically all of his inner life known. He could explain the real reasons of his actions instead of telling rationalised lies, point out the things an ordinary man has to keep locked up because there are no words to express them. In general, he could make other people understand him.” So wrote George Orwell in his 1940 essay 'New Words'.

Danny Boyle, Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings have proved the essential truth of Orwell's musing in the wonderfully imaginative opening ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Seeking not to make known their inner lives but rather to offer inspiring kaleidoscopes with real transformative power for our understanding of ourselves as a nation of immense diversity, spirit, humour, creativity and defiance, they unlocked something which would have taken more words to express than most people would have time to read.

Comparisons may be odious, but I found the Paralympic ceremony even more impressive than Danny Boyle's witty, compassionate and irreverent production. It could so easily have been otherwise. Avoiding the pitfalls of mawkishness or voyeurism, it combined scientific curiosity and achievement, literature and learning with almost unbearably moving representations of the essential grace and beauty of 'the human form divine' in all its aspects.

Stephen Hawking's words, made possible by the cooperation of technology and an extraordinary human spirit, set the tone of the evening: “We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create.” And from this point, through Tanni Grey-Thompson and fellow paralympians flying in golden wheelchairs, a revolving book displaying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the stunning performance of Ian Dury's 'Spasticus Autisticus' while placards bearing the words 'equality' and 'rights' were displayed, the ability to create and to overcome was presented elegantly, movingly and raucously. And most importantly of all, it had nothing to do with the wishes or manipulations of politicians.

Not only was the whole spectacle taken right away from those who control so much of our lives, it openly challenged their assumptions. References were made to 'I am Spartacus', the torch was carried by blind footballer David Clarke who has spoken up for the importance of DLA to disabled people and the Team GB athletes chose to conceal their lanyards bearing the ATOS logo. Aidan Burley must have broken out in hives.

The Tempest has been a thread running through all the celebrations. Miranda's declarations says it all: “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world. That hath such people in't”. Politicians take note.

© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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