Olympics on TV: Less Jingoism, More Variety
The Olympics are coming.
As a sports fan, I like watching sports, but I am not a fan of how NBC broadcasts the events.
A brief historical lesson first:
When I was much younger, there was a program on Saturday afternoons called ABC’s Wide World of Sports. They showed events from all over the world.
“Spanning the globe to bring you the best of athletic competition. The thrill of victory…the agony of defeat.”
Jim McKay introduced each episode with those words.
And they showed a wide range of events.
Of course, the most memorable is ski-jumping. Most people remember the footage of the ski jumper wiping out as McKay intones,”the agony of defeat.”
The important part of it for me was that they showed a wide variety of international competitors. It was really interesting stuff.
Somewhere in the intervening years, the Olympic broadcast became a flag waving, “USA USA USA “chanting, red white and blue production. I don’t like it.
Did I like the USA hockey team beat the Russians in Lake Placid? You bet I did. But that just happened. It wasn’t preordained. Nobody saw it coming. That was what made it so cool.
Let the events play out.
The Olympics is about people from all over the world pursuing a dream they have to compete against the best in their field.
I will stick with gymnastics for my examples here.
Remember Olga Korbut? Smiling on the balance beam.
Nadia Comaneci ? 14 years old.
They went from unknown to world famous in just a few days. Neither one from the U.S.A.
These days I am not sure how much coverage they would get. And that is the problem. I want NBC to just show the events with out the nationalistic slant. Give credit to all the athletes. Stop trying to bend the narrative to fit with the preconceived vision for the broadcast .
You don’t believe me? Imagine if the USA Men’s basketball team doesn’t make to the Gold Medal game, the game will be shown on Spike TV.
And while they are at it, stop with the long biographies. EVERY athlete has challenges to get where they are, just show them competing.
I would also like to see countries stop going into massive debt just to host these games. We have to figure out a more practical approach. Maybe a permanent site.
Well, enough of that.
One last thing, blog related, I have added a blogroll to the right of this post. They are the reason I continue to write here. I enjoy each and every one of those blogs and you would too. Give them a look if you would and let them know you heard about them here. I would appreciate that very much.
Oh the Agony of Defeat will forever be burned into my memory. That poor ski jumper, immortalized in a way he probably would like to forget.
I agree with you; I want to see ALL the athletes; I don’t care if they’re from Iowa or Mozambique. I do enjoy the bios, some stories are fascinating. But keep it to the unknowns; I already know enough about the big names. Tell me about the guy from a tiny village in Sweden or the gal who works 3 jobs and trains all night. I like those stories.
One more thought; my favorite is the opening cerimonies. I cannot wait to see who has the worst outfits. Considering ours were made in China (way to go, Ralph Lauren….😡) we may just win that little competition.
See! We should be in charge of the broadcast.!
Thanks for the mention in the blog roll !!
You are welcome. Happy to do it.
I want to retch every time NBC cheerleads. I’ve just resigned myself to the fact I’m going to stop watching the main NBC broadcasts until gymnastics is over. Even then, the broadcast is barely tolerable.
NBC is presenting itself as the American athlete’s public relations entity. It’s done shamelessly and with a relentlessness that numbs one after awhile.
One side-effect of this kind of PR homerism: I start rooting for other nations’ athletes. It was absolutely hilarious tonight with the men’s 400-m. freestyle swimming relay. With Rowdy Gaines screaming about what a great job every American was doing–and with both announcers excitedly watching the waning effort of the Australians–it wasn’t until about 10 meters from the finish that either announcer noticed that–wow–this other team was catching up on the invincible Americans…and then were stunned to announce that the French team had actually won. That’s right: the winner of the event wasn’t even noticed as a challenger until about 10 meters from the finish.
And then, post-race, we’re told that main star Lochte must have been “tired” being in so many events. And then–wow, it’s it great that America got a silver?
No attempts seemed to be made to interview the winners. I repeat: no Frenchman seemed to be within 100 miles of the Olympic venue for the NBC reporter to interview.
I would have chalked this up to the French being stunning underdogs…but (to give NBC credit, it did–albeit post-race–show the 2008 finish and note the role-reversal of the finish between the Americans and the French) you wouldn’t have known either pre-race or during the race that the French were legitimate challengers, competitors worth watching. And then they had to go and win, spoil the NBC PR machine’s incessant message of Ameri-centrism, and NBC really didn’t know how to react.
And I cheered. And laughed.
And no, I’m not an enemy of my country. As a 10-year-old, I cried and screamed at the robbery that took place in the 1972 basketball gold-medal game that was given to the Soviets. I screamed in elation 8 years later watching the Miracle on Ice. I’ve marveled at Micheal Johnson’s precision in running the 200 and 400 in track, as I did in feeling honored watching the smooth beauty of Edwin Moses in the 400 hurdles. Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s strength and humility have moved me. It’s these athletes that have made me proud of what America can produced.
There was nothing that needed to be pre-packaged and over-produced about any of those athletes and their performances. They spoke for themselves.
Sadly, NBC won’t do that for current Olympians. Style–especially pre-event–trumps everything. Everything.
In NBC’s hands, the Olympics is about the invincibility of America and the invisibility of everything else. It’s sold as a product over and over again (even when the facts don’t quite fit the picture)…and it’s sold with all of the subtlety of a late-night infomercial.
And God forbid an athlete as breathtakingly awesome as Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj finally claim his gold after disappointment during his prime. Or Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie’s show the power and grace of his perfect stride in the 5,000 or 10,000. NBC would have its announcers babble and whine about what’s wrong with American distance runners all the while they’re missing the perfection in front of them.
Check that: more likely, with no American distance runner in the finals to over-hype, they wouldn’t even bother showing those performances.
When I want to watch the true–and global–spirit of the Olympics, I like to watch one of Bud Greenspan’s documentaries on the Games. If you haven’t seen one, I highly recommend them. My favorite: the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
Very well said. Thanks for the comment.