THE BLOG
10/08/2012 12:09 BST | Updated 10/10/2012 06:12 BST

The 2012 Olympics: My generation's most pivotal cultural moment since 9/11

Jessica Ennis' abs are our Berlin Wall. Mo Farah is our (man on the) Mo(on) Farah. Our Beatles are...still the Beatles, apparently? At least one of them anyway...

All that matters is that at long last my generation, with our hitherto confused and troubled identity, have experienced our first universal positive cultural moment.

And there was, truly, much rejoicing. For as a keen student of history and pop culture, there has long been a part of me which thought that we had been fated to miss our turn.

It seemed as though every decade has offered some sort of positive shared collective experience and memory. Yet for those of us born since the mid-eighties, history has so far been defined either by drawn out, fluctuating patterns like the hyper capitalist economic cycle, or sudden and frightening instances, like 9/11 and 7/7. Of all of the critical events we have experienced, the common motif is that all have been out of our control, seemingly robbing us of any shared determinism. Many of us have felt bewildered, alone and vulnerable. We face the dawning of a new epoch, an economic and political paradigm shift, but unlike our forebears we haven't even had the comfort of knowing that we will at least face it together.

Due to such uncertainty, we have been taught that our watchwords should be success and self-preservation: only the richest, only the most successful, only the most popular will make it. If you are a point of a second slower than the champion, you are nothing. The disgrace and infamy of second place. Yohan Blake, you're fired.

You have to be the best, you see. You have to have the best CV so that you can get the best job so that you can get the best status and get the most money and pay off the debt, because if you don't you're nobody and things are only going to get harder. We're in a recession don't you know? Yes you'll have to step on people along the way but it's you or them mate.

And so we have spontaneous outpourings like the frantic and absurd steeplechase that was the London Riots of 2011. The Olympic Games are our life writ large.

Given this, the manner of our celebration at the 2012 Games has been gloriously incongruous. We have applauded every athlete, irrespective of ability or place of education or honour. Gold medals have been rapturously cheered, but so has everything else, even those who came last in the first heats. At the most ruthlessly discriminatory contest in the world, people have been given total recognition for simply pitching up and having a go. We have been given the most crystalline chance to worship at the altar of self-perfection and competition, yet we have instead chosen to promote effort, enthusiasm, and above all else, inclusiveness.

And in doing so, we have tapped into the lay-line of British identity, that of a multitude of shared identities and cultures coming together to form something more than the sum of its parts.

As is well documented, Britishness is difficult to define and consequently difficult to experience. A meaningful and relevant representation has eluded many of us this past decade. Yet this past fortnight has seen Britishness manifest itself more clearly than it has for over a decade, and those of us who have never really been able to understand it before now have been able to recognise our joint part within it.

And it is this which marks the games out as a critical moment to my generation. It is not simply because it is one of the few shared cultural event we have experienced that has not been defined by fear, paranoia or pragmatism. Rather, The Games have provided the revelation that the atomised and lost generation has, somehow, always had a communal identity, tethered to values of the past while being nonetheless also wholly representative of its own time. We can share this identity together, both with each other and our ancestors, and in doing so, recognise we aren't alone or victims of posterity.

What's more, it seems that we quite like it.

It is not a jingoistic or even recognisably nationalistic character. It's something more abstract. Fundamentally though, we relish being part of a shared narrative. We praise the qualities and diversity of individuals at least as much as the results they achieve. And it's not something manufactured or fleeting, as is evident in the fierce reaction to Aidan Burley MP and the Daily Mail when we perceived that they had attacked it. It is fundamental to who we are. We have just been too distracted and dispersed to notice.

But we get it now. As a generation we finally know what it feels like to enjoy sharing in something bigger than ourselves.

Whether the sentiments which have been raised by the 2012 Olympics will remain within the moment or go on to become something more significant remains to be seen. For now, it is enough that we have been able to recognise that we needn't just be anxious and desperately competitive in spite of the apparent subtexts of our generation.

Together, Britons in the past have coped through war, economic uncertainty, social change, unemployment. Together, maybe we can too? At least it seems like a possibility now.