NBC Takes an Olympian Hit

I promise. This is my last Olympic post. (I think I promise.) Dave Zirin, that counterculture sports columnist, fell into my Inbox again. (You can get it here.) He reminds me of the blurb that Howard Cosell once wrote for one of my favourite books on sport: Foul: The Connie Hawkins Story by Dave Wolf. It came out in the 1970s, and for some reason Humble Howard’s assessment lives on in my head though Foul disappeared from my shelves decades ago: “Puts to rout forever the propagated notion that sports is a sacred cow and the only milk it emits is pure.”

Zirin is in a fever to do the same thing. I must say that I didn’t watch any of NBC’s Olympic telecast – when you can get the CBC (as some lucky Americans can), why bother? – but I’ve seen their act before. So I enjoyed what Zirin had to say about his own national network’s approach, full of junk sports and jingoism. Here are some excerpts (the entire article can be seen here.)

The Winter Olympics have been to NBC what icebergs were to the Titanic. With the exception of the prime-time figure skating competition Tuesday, ratings have been subterranean….[W]hy? The answers speak to everything that’s wrong with the arrogance of television networks and the hypocrisy and jingoism at the heart of the games….

Moldy Nationalism: It’s amazing. Baseball fans cheer for the DR’s Pedro Martinez, basketball heads scream for Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki, and the sporting world has never been more of a global village, but NBC still treats the games as if it were 1980 and the United States were taking on the Eastern Bloc….Please, NBC. Rocky has retired and Ivan Drago has left the building.

Treating Us Like We Are Idiots (or Tape Delays): In the age of real-time video on the Internet, showing the games on ten-hour tape delay is as anachronistic as shoulder pads and piano-key ties…but for NBC to [do live coverage] would mean losing precious advertising dollars. So viewers lose the very essence of what separates sports from pro wrestling: suspense and surprise at unanticipated outcomes.

Manufactured Sports: Is your water cooler abuzz with news of the skeleton finals? What about the half-pipe? The slalom? No? Then congratulations, you don’t work in an insane asylum. Most of the sports highlighted by NBC seem to have been dreamed up in corporate boardrooms to sell Mountain Dew and manufacture medals for US athletes…. This is not to say that there isn’t art or beauty in the practice of these sports. But to feel them marketed to us like an X-treme Tupperware party just became tiresome….

There have been compelling acts of athletic derring-do and personal turmoil during these games. If only the NeoCon Bellowing Corporation [ed. note: Yikes!!] would have had the imagination and the backbone to fully and fairly cover what was happening, these Winter Olympics would not have been such a staggering waste of time and talent.

 Dave brings it strong. I particularly liked his description of the marketing of an “X-treme Tupperware party”. Slick. But hey, Professor Zee, you should try to get the dear ol’ CBC on your satellite dish. Trust me. You’ll feel better.

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