Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why can't NBC be more like NASA?

It’s a good thing that the rest of the world can’t see NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics. If they did, Al Qaeda-like groups dedicated to the destruction of America would spring up in even the most peaceful nations and our closest allies.

I am not kidding. The subtext in NBC’s coverage is an endless cycle of us-versus-everyone else; we’ll probably win all the medals in all the sports, or at least all the sports that we’ll choose to broadcast; every storyline in the prime-time broadcast will be carefully packaged with the maximum made-for-TV drama and then presented as if it was live and just happened to come out that way. 

Lebron James, totally pumped at the idea of going out to beat up on... Argentina.
Classy touch, the red, white, & blue teeth.
NBC, please, just start by letting the bronze-medal winner actually cross the finish line, before cutting to the close-up of the American gold-medalist. And athletes, no matter what you think, God didn’t pick you. God does not prefer Americans to Argentines. America kicked Argentina's ass in basketball for the same reasons Argentina would kick U.S. butt in tango dancing. Which the Argentines would do without any chest beating afterwards. 

If you want a lesson in sportsmanship, watch the post-race interview that Oscar Pistorius gave after finishing last in the men's 400 semi-final...and then look at this photo of McKayla Moroney during the presentation of her silver medal.

And while I’m on this rant, heavily-favored (by NBC) vault specialist Mckayla Maroney came across like an entitled brat when she stiffly accepted a heartfelt hug by the surprised Romanian gold medalist. Maroney’s just a child, so some would excuse her pouting. What’s inexcusable was the interstitial/athlete profile that NBC produced to run just before her vault -- a bunch of narrated photos and video closeups of Maroney vamping for the camera. All of America got to see a bunch of highly sexualized photos of her -- what, were they setting her up for her own TV show, or doing some sponsor a favor? -- instead of seeing actual sport.
Don't get me wrong, I love sex. I am a sex-positive dude. And I'm all for the photographer saying, "Look sexy for me girls." But even I draw the line when they are actually girls, not women. 
Compare that to NASA’s amazing success with Curiosity, the Mars rover. I admit, NASA did go and create a Nike-like slogan, ‘Mars is hard’. And it gave this video a flashy title, ‘7 Minutes of Terror’. But when you watch this video, it’s all about the difficulty of the challenge, and what a spectacular, worthy-of-a-gold-medal success it was when Curiosity actually did land and send back those first pictures.

There’s no jingoistic bullshit in the NASA video. They don’t say, “Hey, only the USA could do this. We’re #1 in space!”

Do you know why they don’t say that? Because they know they don’t fucking have to. It's obvious; only the USA could do it. And do you know why Curiosity’s landing was celebrated and admired all over the world? Because the subtext of NASA’s coverage of Curiosity is, this is for everyone.

Even the name -- Curiosity -- is perfect. It’s not ‘America’, or ‘We claim this planet!’ It’s Curiosity.

I know that the Olympics brings some of that nationalism on itself, what with the anthems and flags at medal ceremonies and all that. But it’s a shame that NBC works so hard to ensure that any curiosity Americans might have about sports they’ll never see again until the Rio games in four years is stifled, and that we’ll learn nothing meaningful about the places those sports are played. Nor will our curiosity be satisfied about those small-nation losers who merely finish second or third, off camera, while NBC cuts to the winner’s obese parents, waving the Stars & Stripes in the stands. 

The Olympics are a great opportunity for the entire world to see good sportsmanship on the part of the world’s sporting superpowers. And a great opportunity pique Americans’ curiosity and encourage them to learn something about the rest of the world. But the American broadcaster is too busy chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! to give a shit.

It’s a shame NBC can’t be more like NASA.

1 comment:

  1. So glad to read this - I've felt this way about American coverage of the Olympics since, I think, 1996. That year, of course, was when the Games took place in Atlanta, so the lack of coverage of athletes from other countries was particularly egregious. At least NBC is doing a slightly better job now of identifying non-U.S. silver and bronze medalists and including them in the camera shots during the anthems.

    It was hard to listen to Tim Daggett's continuous proclamations that Maroney would be the gold medal winner of the individual vault in women's gymnastics, particularly since anything could have happened to her, and in fact, did.

    One athlete I remember in particular from a past Olympics, probably 1996, was a North Korean male diver. He was so excited to be at the Olympics, and he did the highest degree of difficulty dives in the field. After each dive, he eagerly bowed and and smiled at the crowd, and he rated mention by the commentators only because he was North Korean. I would have liked to have known more about him - we don't know much about what happens in North Korea, but it does seem from what we do know that most North Koreans live hard lives. The joy and grace on that diver's face was worth a back story, don't you think?