Opening ceremonies of Olympic Games and their cultural applications

Essay, 2010

20 Pages, Grade: 1,0



The Olympic Games are without doubt an intercultural mega event. In this essay I have a look on the opening ceremonies of the two last Olympic Games 2010 in Vancouver and 2008 in Beijing. I shed light on the various cultural aspects encompassed in those ceremonies, differentiating between national and Olympic symbols, heroes and rituals expressed during those shows and analyze the underlying values and beliefs that form those cultures. In the final part of this essay I discuss the development of opening ceremonies towards national advertisement disregarding minorities in the national and Olympic societies.

I use different theories about culture and its appearance to interpret the opening ceremonies in Vancouver and Beijing. I compare both Olympics, even though it must be stated that there is an enormous difference between Summer and Winter Olympics with regard to participating nations and sports.

The idea of analyzing the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games rests on the expectation that those were the moments at which cultural differences become most obvious for the worldwide TV audience. It is expected that especially cultural differences between the athletes can be seen during the different competitions, but as I have no source about what happened behind the various TV cameras I can hardly analyze those aspects of intercultural interaction.

Furthermore all Olympic opening ceremonies share some elements that are implemented in the idea of the Olympic movement. It should therefore be possible to find those elements, analyze their meaning for the Olympic movement and separate it from all the other ‘show’ elements that are essential for today’s opening ceremonies.

In this essay I answer the question how we (the non-host community) perceive the host nation’s culture as it is expressed during the opening ceremony.

I also analyze critics of the Olympic opening ceremonies, not only concerning the ‘ignorance’ of minorities, but also the use of ‘fakes’ to make the whole ceremony look bigger and more glamorous than it really is. I will also pace the question whether it is really necessary to make every new opening ceremony bigger and more expensive than the ones before and whether this does clash with the values of the Olympic movement.

Theoretical considerations

Before being able to analyze cultural elements in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics I give an explanation about what culture is. As culture is a globally used term, there are plenty of definitions as it consists of other elements for different scholars. According to Hofstede & Hofstede, culture is the mental programming that determines how and what people think, feel and act (2005). Different units in society share this mental programming at least partly, which makes people being part of different levels of culture at the same time, for example belonging to a particular national culture, but also to a specific ethnic and religious culture as well as a generational culture. Further levels of culture are the regional belonging, gender, language or social class. Also organizations create a culture which encompasses values and beliefs that are shared (or at least should be shared) by all employees of the company (Hofstede & Hofstede 2005). The authors furthermore state that those issues that accompany the culture of a particular group of people are learned, not innate. This means that all people are more or less a combination of all the different influences from their environment, as politics, economics or social aspects, but also behaviors and values we learned from our parents, friends and other people around us, which we will later teach to our own children, therefore securing the survival at least of a part of our culture(s). The Olympics are a huge come-together of various cultures. People come not only from all parts of the world, but also from different religions and ethnicities that make up a great mixture of those varying elements. I discuss the topic of the different cultures at the Olympics later on in this essay.

According to Hofstede and Hofstede the mental programming of each human being consists of three levels that make every single person being unique. Those levels are the human nature that all human beings share. The next one is the culture, what makes us belong to particular groups of society instead of others. The highest level of uniqueness is the personality, which is encompassed by all the different influences that make us being something totally unique that has never before exist and will not exist in the future (2005).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005:4)

The term ‘national culture’ needs to be treated carefully, as of course a nation consists of people with varying values, especially concerning religion and ethnical background, coming from different social classes and generations. Less integrated minorities are a part of every nation, but do not necessarily share the common values of the majority of people in the nation (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). But Hofstede and Hofstede argue that there are nevertheless strong forces towards integration within a nation encomapssing elements like a common national language, a shared education system, common military, a united political system and a shared market for certain skills, products and services (2005). Especially the national representation in sports events that creates a strong symbolic and emotional appeal among the people at home (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005) is a focus of this essay. This common mental programming as well as the need to collect data for nations for cross-cultural reason to improve international cooperation cause the use of ‘national culture’ in this specific context (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). Montesquieu (cited in Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005:19) spoke of a ‘general spirit of a nation’. Therefore it should be stated, that of course differences exist among the various people of a nation, but in this case they will be treated as if consisting to a common culture. (Specific aspects like the treatment of minorities within the national cultures will be examined later on in this essay.)

There are different issues through which culture can be expressed. Hofstede & Hofstede associate those elements with a differing level of depth of manifestation with culture (2005). Symbols for example are claimed to be the most visible element of culture, encompassing words, gestures, pictures and objects whose meaning is easily recognized by members of the culture. But symbols are also those elements that can most easily be changed by internal and external influences. Heroes of a culture will also change over time, as every group of society will cheer for differening persons, dead or alive, real or imaginary, differing across time and space. Also the value of the characteristics expressed by those heroes might change and therefore at some point in time the culture seeks another heroe as model on how to behave in social interaction. Rituals encompass collective activities that gain an enormous degree of importance for the people within the culture. Even rituals might be changed by particular practices from time to time. The highest manifested elements of culture are values. Those cannot be changed easily through practices. Instead those tendencies about which state of affair is appreciated above others are deeply rooted within culture (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005:7/8).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005:7)

The Johari window is a tool helping to analyze how people perceive their own culture, what they do not see about their own cultures and how others see this culture and what is described as their ‘blind spot’ (Schneider & Barsoux, 2003).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Schneider & Barsoux, 2003:12)

Schneider and Barsoux state that we just begin to understand our own culture when we are confronted with another. When we see differences between our own culture and the other one, we evaluate the ‘foreign’ culture according to what we perceive as normal – our own culture. In intercultural communication those differences should be open to discussion, as there might always be some blind spots – as is shown in the Johari window – and also some misinterpretations of behaviors and values. We need to be aware of our own blind spots about our culture in order to be able to better understand how others perceive our culture. I use the Johari window to analyze how the host nations of the Olympics perceive their own culture and what others think about them. Furthermore I shed light upon the images the host nations want foreigners to perceive about their culture, like those created during the Olympic opening ceremonies.


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Opening ceremonies of Olympic Games and their cultural applications
University of Southern Denmark
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
605 KB
Olympic Games, Olympische Spiele, Olympics, Olympiske Lege, communications, Olympiade, Olympisch, Eröffnungsfeier, opening ceremony, cultural, Olympia, tradition, Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, ceremonies
Quote paper
Silke Specht (Author), 2010, Opening ceremonies of Olympic Games and their cultural applications, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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