Showbusiness and politics jostle at Games ceremonies
By Sarah Marsh
LONDON (Reuters) - Cramming several thousand years of cultural history into a couple of hours is the truly Olympian challenge faced by Zhang Yimou on Friday.
Zhang, known in the West for his Oscar-nominated movie "House of Flying Daggers," is director of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony which offers China the chance to show hundreds of millions of television viewers what it has given the world.
"It is do with national pride -- it does become the first gold medal of the Games," Olympic historian Philip Barker told Reuters.
"For every Games, there is that sense that we are presenting the nation to the world and that really has been probably since 1980 when the Games started to become a big television deal."
South Korea, the last Asian country to stage the Summer Games, used the Seoul Olympics to promote its new status as an industrial powerhouse and the opening ceremony highlighted the isolation of its neighbor and rival, North Korea.
Greece used the widely acclaimed ceremony in Athens in 2004 to spell out its huge contribution to Western civilization and implicitly face down critics who said it was too disorganized to stage an event like the Olympics.
The ceremony has also been used as a platform for overt political statements even though the Olympic Charter bans "any kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda ... in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
At the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany, swastika-emblazoned banners obscured the Olympic flag. Continued...