Olympicks

In the last few weeks I’ve been viewing events in my country through a telescope. I don’t just mean that I’ve been watching from a distance but also that I’ve been seeing them filtered through another nation’s television. I’m speaking of course about NBC’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympics. In some ways it’s been a cultural revelation. It’s evident from how our ethnically mixed population was depicted in the coverage that the majority of Americans don’t recognise us as a land of diversity. This was demonstrated most strikingly when two Asian (our definition not yours, US readers) spectators-who to a native’s eyes were clearly British citizens-were picked out by the camera to signify the lengths people have travelled to get to the games. I never thought Dizzee Rascal’s presence at the opening ceremony needed an explanation but apparently-even in the post-Iris Elba era of US television-it does.

Black people in Britain: who knew?!

But this culturally out-of-touch tone to the coverage was not reserved for Brits alone. W. Kamau Bell’s comedy news show Totally Biased re-played some extraordinary footage of NBC’s Olympic anchorman Bob Costas rhapsodising about African-American gold medalist Gabby Douglas. Costas’ rhetoric made Douglas sound like a student at Little Rock in the 1950s and at a time when the demographic of young African-American girls includes the President’s children! Others in US TV were patently embarrassed about how NBC treated British culture and history. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show reported that an opening ceremony tribute to the victims of the July 7th London bombings was cut to make way for a Ryan Seacrest interview with Goldfinger-of-swimmers Michael Phelps. Insensitive, yes, but with such ceaseless spectacle it would have been difficult to know what to cut. I probably would have lost the 10 minutes of Mr. Bean dicking around to Vangelis, but that’s just me.

A fitting tribute to the dead?

Not that I’ve been particularly sensitive to the country hosting me. G wanted me to high-five every US Gold Medal, and why shouldn’t she? Team USA had some shit-hot performances this time round-well, if that kind of superlative commentary is good enough for NBC it’s good enough for little old me. It’s excruciatingly difficult to congratulate the USA for the same reason that people don’t generally root for the Empire in Star Wars or Man United in anything. It’s also hard to explain this without seeming spiteful, or a Communist. Lending my whooping voice to Team China simply because they threatened to topple the US in the medal stakes probably didn’t help my cause, especially when goading G about China overtaking the US in manufacturing. It might seem like post-imperial bitterness (also known as ‘Britishness’) but good things come out of rejecting the prevailing empire, the United States for one.

Go China!

Seeing the Olympics in America is a timely reminder that over here success is unquestionably a good thing. From what I’ve seen of the British media’s coverage of Olympics, ambivalence about the jingoism of commentary on Team GB’s medal victories began to seep in after a while. Some observers were perturbed about the propaganda uses of such rhetoric at a time of political failure while others, such as TV sports anchor Gary Lineker, vigorously defended the national media’s right to admire their athletes’ achievements. No such dilemma in the US. In fact, NBC coverage was so patriotic it even suggested that the USA helped other countries reach their Olympic glory. In a report on the rise of athletics in Grenada, it was heavily implied that the country couldn’t have won a medal in this sport were it not for the US’s intervention against Communism occupation forces in the 1980s.

Brought to you by the USA

In the same red, white and blue vein, I was struck by how little of the other countries competing I saw in NBC’s coverage, particularly in primetime slots. I realise each nation has to privilege its own participation but I expected an attempt at portraying a rounded view of the games, which never came. Isolationism is an accusation frequently levelled at US newscasting, so I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It certainly wasn’t surprising that the US won a gold medal in all the segments leading the coverage. Other notable tendencies of NBC Olympicasting included the pointless post-event interview in which reporters tried to brainwash the oxygen-deprived athletes with pre-prepared soundbytes which they were made to repeat,  as if they were victims of a lobotomy. Another was the Olympic-branded franchise of teaser trailers for NBC’s Fall schedule in which every cancellation-fodder sitcom was rendered in slow-motion as though prestige is somehow contagious.

Animal Practice: disqualified from the tournament

 

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