Hey critics, you leave the Olympics alone!

08.12.16 1 year ago

Clip It: Each day, Jon Davis looks at the world of trailers, featurettes, and clips and puts it all in perspective.

Last night, I was sitting on my couch when I realized I had a TV set. That might sound ridiculous, but I watch most things on my laptop these days. It occurred to me that the Olympics were on, and I hadn't seen any of it yet. Next thing I know, I'm pumping my fist watching Simone Manuel take the gold in the 100 meter freestyle, as she becomes the first African-American to win an individual swimming event. In her NBC interview, she's on cloud 9 and I'm totally with her. 

This is what the Olympics is all about. And if we're honest, most of us know nothing about most of the people competing in these games. We know all about Michael Phelps. But everyone else? At best, we need a reminder. I remembered Aly Raisman, but did I remember she failed to medal in 2012 and that's been driving her ever since? Because now I think I'm an expert:  “Yeah, we all know Simone Biles' strength is the high beam. She's only the greatest gymnast ever,” says me, to myself, having just found out who she is about two hours ago. That's a sign of good coverage.

I say all this because I take issue with the article in Vox, “This is why NBC's coverage of the Olympics is atrocious.” Meanwhile, I'm dabbing my eyes telling my wife she's got to hurry up and put the toddler down so she can see Aly and Simone dominate their floor routines. The biggest thrust of Todd VanDerWerff's argument is: “The network views the games as entertainment, not as sports.”

Guys, sports IS entertainment. The Vox article quotes the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tannenwald, and I'll just paraphrase him. He says, more women watch the Olympics than men, therefore the coverage is tailored more towards a reality show style narrative. Meaning we have to see packages telling us each Olympic athletes' story so can get the feels when they compete. If that's “girlie” then call me Hannah Horvath and get me a spot at The Moth. 


I know men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but what should we do instead? Boring, dry sporting? I mean, really, you think other professional sports don't have storylines about destiny and redemption? I'm not a sports guy, I don't have a man cave and beer and and an NFL package, but I grew up with sports, and let me tell you something you already know: The rivalry between Red Sox and Yankees is a soap opera. Lebron James' career is a soap opera. Sports is a soap opera. There's a goal and an obstacle, which is the basic building block of any drama. Then you shade that in with interesting characters. Heroes and villains. That's sports. That's why we watch. I don't do NFL Sundays, I do HBO Sundays, but it's the same thing;  we're all just watching our stories. 


One complaint about the Olympics is that commentators are so invested in creating an exciting narrative that they can get careless and do things like botch Simone Biles' adoption story. If I put myself in the shoes of someone who's been adopted or adopted their family, I can see why they might feel hurt. But intent is important to consider. This is all in the service of humanizing these incredible athletes, not dehumanizing them, and the aforementioned announcer, Al Trautwig, apologized. Whether you accept it or not, of course, is up to you. 

The other complaint is that these games are edited, tape delayed, overly contextualized — to which I say, thank you, NBC, I'm not going to sit and wait 20 minutes for the next shot put, so I'm glad you sped that up. Also, since I only see these games once every four years, thanks for re-explaining the rules, even if I get the basic idea. I know it's not quite the same experience as watching an uninterrupted football game (if that's your thing), but imagine if football were a less familiar sport and packaged with 28 other sports, many of which we only get to watch during the Olympics. I prefer letting the magic, handsome bastard Bob Costas guide us through that confusing morass, thank you very much. 


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