Boorish Behavior and the 2012 Games: It’s Not All About You

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You have have seen the column we reposted yesterday about how our children will be taking their cues from us as we all watch the Games of the 30th Olympiad in London.  That point was driven home to me yesterday as I watched the coverage of the Opening Ceremonies – twice.

From my home in Toronto, I was fortunate enough to see the live coverage on the CTV network in the afternoon, and then tuned into the NBC coverage on our local affiliate out of Buffalo NY when it aired in primetime last night.  From the ceremonies, I learned some wonderful things about humanity, and the athletes and volunteers that are living, breathing examples of the Olympic ideal.  From the way people reacted to the coverage, I learned some disheartening things about the rest of us.

The Opening Ceremonies were inspiring, beautiful, and dare I say, “epic”.  If you’ve read my writing for any length of time you’ve probably seen me decry society’s use of the word “epic”, applying it to such ridiculous things as skateboarders sliding down a stair railing, or a starlet’s bikini.  In this case, the word “epic”, in its true sense, unquestionably applies.  The Internet’s “coverage” of the ceremonies was, at best, appalling.

I hope that many of the people tweeting, and providing status updates during the coverage, are childless.  Or that their kids were sequestered somewhere in such a manner that they didn’t have to be exposed to the displays of sheer ignorance and ego run amok that I witnessed last night.

Let’s start with the conspiracy theories put forward by some websites, who this morning are providing sensational headlines like “the tribute to terror victims NBC doesn’t want you to see.”  The original article on one site, and the comments that followed, put forward the notion that NBC hand-picked the sections that American audiences would see based on thin accusations of politics or some kind of sinister decision at the network, and as a result left out a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London, instead opting to run an interview with American swimmer Michael Phelps.

I found the piece to be somewhat hilarious, while sadly ignorant.  For starters, the same author has multiple posts on the website about where one could watch live coverage and “give the finger to NBC”, so he obviously had some kind of agenda and was merely looking for things to complain about.  That aside, one has to remember that NBC doesn’t exist so you can basically get free tickets to events.  They’re a broadcast network.  They have sponsors, they have programming guidelines, and they do the things they do based on what they think will be the most relevant to their audience.

This is, mind you, the same set of marching orders that gives rise to things like editing down the State of the Union Address to a series of sound bites and pretending like the coverage hasn’t fallen victim to the editor’s personal bias, and deciding a couple of years ago that the Charlie Sheen meltdown was more newsworthy than the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but to a die-hard American sports fan, allow me to be one of the first to put forward the notion that perhaps – just perhaps – a live interview with a man often referred to as “the greatest Olympian in history” might have been more relevant to American audiences in that moment.

My justification for that statement comes from one of the comments made below the same piece, where a commenter actually says,

…that particular segment of the BBC broadcast was terribly boring, and was by far the weakest part of the entire ceremony. It was terribly done. The singer wasn’t all that great (to her credit, the song she sang wasn’t that great either), and the troupe was dancing to music that wasn’t there.

This may very well the where the term “ugly American” has its origins.  (I know it’s not. Resist the urge to educate me about Burdick and Lederer.)

The singer in question was Emeli Sandé, who just won the Critic’s Choice Best New Artist award at the British equivalent of the Grammys, and who is one of the people currently being focused on by Simon Cowell (who, by the way, is still a pretty massive deal in the UK).  She’s from Scotland, born to an English mother and Zambian father – talk about a tribute to nations coming together to produce something beautiful!

Perhaps some writers and commentators forgot that the Opening Ceremonies were happening in London, and were meant in part to celebrate Great Britain.  That would also go a long way to explaining the ridiculous reference to how “the song she sang wasn’t that great either”.  The piece was called “Abide With Me”, and saying it’s “not that great” would be like telling an American that “America the Beautiful” is a stupid song.  Actually, that’s not even a fair comparison, because “Abide” doesn’t contain a single pro-British reference.  No, “Abide With Me” is a nearly 200 year-old British hymn, and is that nation’s go-to song through times of national tragedy and mourning.  It is, quite literally, a prayer to God to stay with the singer through life and beyond.  Taking to the Internet to say the singer wasn’t “all that great” and the song “wasn’t that great either” is to run around Olympic Stadium on worldwide television carrying a giant banner that reads, “I’m ignorant.”

Don’t worry, the lowering of the bar wasn’t limited to Americans.  Canada has its fair share, too.

One person, commenting in the same thread as the rocket scientist posting about “Abide With Me”, said,

Canada’s CTV cut the tribute to the National Health Service from their broadcast. Everyone’s hiding something.

Unfortunately, this is simply untrue.  When CTV ran the live coverage of the event as it was happening, the NHS tribute most certainly was a part of their coverage.  It may have been edited out of the primetime version, but to the people who are crying about how it was a travesty for CTV and NBC to dare sully the broadcast by cutting to commercials, I’d say this: Both networks are businesses.  They’re networks run by corporations.  The BBC is Britain’s version of Public Television.  It’s funded by the Government, so they can take time to cover one of the biggest spectacles in their country’s history and run it without interruption.  CTV and NBC have bills that are paid with  the money that comes out of the pockets of their advertisers, who from what I’m told put about a billion dollars into the Peacock network’s coffers for inclusion in the coverage of the ceremonies.

Even after being in media for more than thirty years myself, I sent an email at 4:14pm ET yesterday to a producer friend at CTV and simply said,

Re: Programming… gotta feel for whoever is making the calls about when to cut to the breaks during this opening.  There’s no “good” place to cut away.

Any time you cut away from a live event to run a commercial, or an interview, you make a decision based on what you think you’ll miss while you’re in break, and whether cutting away now will mean you get to include something else later.  I challenge anyone who was critical of the coverage to sit in a producer’s chair, simultaneously choreographing the movements of hundreds of live cameras at a live event, manage to work in the required number of commercial elements, and do a better job.

A Canadian newspaper columnist suggested that for Opening Ceremony Director Danny Boyle to include an Irish children’s choir singing the song, “O Danny Boy”, was “a tad EGOMANIACAL” (capitals are hers).  True, unless you count the fact that the song is widely regarded as Ireland’s unofficial national anthem, and the fact that there is virtually no song in existence that will bring up a flood of emotion in an Irishman like “O Danny Boy”.  The similarity in the names was pure coincidence, but one wouldn’t know that unless their knowledge of the UK extended beyond the last Hugh Grant movie.  (Perhaps she would have preferred the Irish Rovers singing “The Unicorn Song”.)

This same columnist said the uniforms written by the Canadian team were “blah”.  A Canadian interior designer said that the Hudson’s Bay Company, who supplied the clothing,

…should be stripped of all Canadian status [...] …My 3yr old could put together a better ensemble.

For the record, the Canadian athletes came into Olympic Stadium wearing red hooded sweatshirts with the word “CANADA” emblazoned across the front in huge letters, and khaki pants.  The Americans, often criticized for the way they wave “USA!  USA!” in front of everyone’s noses, wore white slacks and dress shirts with blazers such a dark shade of blue they could easily have been taken for black.  Shown in isolation, it would have been difficult to tell exactly what country they were from.  I dare say the Canadian team looked far more representative of everyday Canadians (and that’s why they’re there, to represent Canada), and wore clothing that allowed them to proudly display their national pride directly over their hearts.

Furthermore – to suggest that the Hudson’s Bay Company “should be stripped of all Canadian status” is just… well, let me put it this way: The Hudson’s Bay Company was established on the chunk of land that is now Canada, in 1670.  That means the Hudson’s Bay Company is 197 years older than Canada itself.  The Hudson’s Bay Company has a long and proud history of working to establish relations with native cultures in North America.  The success of the Hudson’s Bay Company was a good chunk of the reason Canada was established at all.  I think you get my point.  Those of us who prefer to embrace the Olympic ideal by celebrating achievement and displaying pride in our countries don’t really need you to take a dump on the flag.

Please, wherever you are in the world when you’re watching the Olympics, I beg you: Resist the temptation to say (or tweet, or status update) the first thoughts that come to mind.  Your kids might be watching.  And we all deserve better.

(Flickr image by msdeegan)

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