As a Korean, I’m completely biased when I say this, but the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was one of the most well-executed ones in recent history. So much detail was put into the ceremony. It had your usual Olympics fare, with big fireworks, the parade of nations, and world leaders. But it went far and beyond, by blending ancient cultural elements with the modern technological innovations that South Korea is known for.
The performance portion of the event centered around a group of five small children who go on a journey through Korean history, starting from ancient times and ending in a vision of Korea’s hopeful future. The storytelling is aided with elaborate wardrobe, mechanical animals, a legendary hip-hop dance crew, an LED stage that transformed into different terrains, and hundreds of traditional dancers and drummers. The story ends in an augmented-reality-assisted vision of the future, showing these children as active members of society. We’re then joined on stage by four famous Korean singers of various genres, who come together and sing John Lennon’s Imagine. All of this led up to South Korean ice-skating superstar, Kim Yeon-ah, finally lighting the Olympic cauldron.
As a grand finale, we are shown a 1,200 drone army that lit up the sky and formed into the shape of a three-dimensional snowboarder that flew through the air. It then transformed into the shape of the Olympic rings.
If you were one of the people who woke up early on Friday morning to watch the live cast, you made the smart choice. Those of us who watched NBC’s taped broadcast on Friday night were generally disappointed due to frequent commercial breaks, and non-stop commentary from the broadcasters.
In fact, the commentators spoke throughout the entire performance. While I value the historical context given for those unfamiliar with Korean culture, I couldn’t help but wonder why some sort of lower third or subtitle wasn’t used instead. That way, those who want to learn could learn, while those who wanted to enjoy the culture expressed through performance could have done so uninhibited. And the commentary itself wasn’t all informative either. Sometimes they were just reiterating what was happening on stage that we could clearly see with our own eyes.
Here are some reactions from Twitter of people who weren’t happy with NBC’s coverage.
“lets now listen to this beautiful Korean song…”
— Jason Kaestner (@JasonKaestner1) February 10, 2018
Hey #NBColympics in 2020 can you have 2 broadcasts for the #OpeningCeremony ? One where the announcers are talking, and one where we can just enjoy what is happening on screen without someone talking over it.
— James Wick (@jameswick) February 10, 2018
— Cassadilla (@PopCultPotato) February 10, 2018
TWO HOURS LATER: @NBCOlympics be like you can watch the full opening ceremony without commentary online starting tomorrow. I’ve never wanted to throat punch anyone this bad in my life. #OpeningCeremony #WinterOlympics2018
— ~ Natasha ~ (@ApocalypseWas1) February 10, 2018
can I please just watch the opening ceremony exploring Korean cultural history without effing Katie Couric and these dudes narrating over it like it’s animal planet
— Ryan D Gantz, JFC (@sixfoot6) February 10, 2018
In addition to the sheer volume of narration, some of the factoids and tidbits about Korea were culturally tone-deaf. The commentators probably said the phrase “Asian cultures” enough times to make it a drinking game. One of the announcers, Joshua Cooper Ramo, made generalizations about “Asian cultures” to describe the Korean cultural elements seen on the stage. The incessant use of this phrase made zero sense, and effectively generalized 48 Asian countries under one banner.
good to be here in Asia, learning about the Asian culture, NBC
— Nicole Chung (@nicole_soojung) February 10, 2018
Additionally, during the parade of nations, when the athletes from Japan walked onto the stadium, Ramo said, “Now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945. But every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural and technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.”
To Koreans, who still have family who have lived through Japanese occupation in Korea, this was incredibly tone deaf and misinformed. The two cultures have a very complicated history together, and to summarize it in this way was poor judgment. Korean and Korean-Americans who watched took offense to this thoughtless factoid from the NBC commentator.
Wow can’t believe the commentator just said “every Korean” will tell you how much Japan has meant to their development. A lot of older Koreans who have memories of Japanese occupation would beg to differ. #openingceremony #Korea @nbc
— Marika Yi (@marikapedia) February 10, 2018
@NBCOlympics @nbc @NBCNews “Every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation.” This is what NBC said right after mentioning the Japanese occupation of Korea. Seriously? Shame on you NBC.
— Esther Kwak (@jjurun00) February 10, 2018
Additionally, there was a portion in which Pyeongc
hang was listed as being in North Korea in a subtitle, which seems like a ridiculous oversight on the part of NBC.
If you really want to enjoy the Opening Ceremony without the commentary, NBC stated that it is now available on their website. As this was broadcast worldwide, I’m sure there are numerous other places to watch this as well, and even in your own respective language.
Overall, this was quite an incredible Opening Ceremony. This was a true spectacle that took place inside a nation that was devastated by the Korean War just a few decades ago. A war that split a nation and involved over 16 other countries that assisted. To see those same nations now, sitting together in harmony for this global event was very moving. The North and South Korean teams walked out together during the parade of nations as one country, and the leaders sat together in the same box. Even if this moment of unity may not last beyond the Olympics, it still gives us a glimpse of what a unified Korea could look like in a not-too-distant future. And as an extension, what a more peaceful world will look like.