The Shill of Victory
By now, it's old news that several elements of these Olympics have been as phony as a knockoff Prada purse. Mind you, I'm not exactly shocked that some of the fireworks at the Opening Ceremonies, and most of the kids who performed in it, weren't quite what they seemed. I'm not even sure that having organized posses of "cheer squads" to cover up the empty acreage at Olympic venues deserves much more than a shrug (don't the Academy Awards do the same thing?). In any case, I'm all for stagecraft. And who are we as Americans to whine about a little manipulation with our extravaganzas? We invented that sort of thing.
But it would be nice to know about who's doing the string pulling and maybe why they've done it. NBC doesn't seem to want to tell me. In case I missed the network's investigative reporting (I've watched just about every minute of the primetime coverage), the network has basically decided to pass on any mention of it.
My friends at NBC News will be happy to point out how they've covered all the grimy little aspects of the Games, and then some. Good on you, boys, but that's not quite the same thing. About 8 million people watched "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" last week; NBC's primetime Olympic telecasts are averaging around 30 million viewers. So shifting responsibility to the news division and scrubbing the inconvenient facts from the much larger main event doesn't entirely count as informing the public.
Of course, NBC never said it was in Beijing to cover a news event. At the risk of repeating myself, NBC treats the Games as a sports-themed entertainment event featuring an exotic backdrop and the colorful people of many lands. It "packages" the Games as a series of mini-dramas with themes of athletic triumph, striving and loss. Hence the tales of competitors who have a "dream" or are on a "journey" (in one of last night's gauzy featurettes, American gymnast Nastia Liukin and her father-coach Valeri confessed to having both "dreams" and "journeys"). When that's your game, you're not about to start bumming people out with too many cold hard facts.
Besides, NBC's advertisers like it when viewers are in a good mood when the commercials start.
It's bad enough that NBC won't say a word about the big, unpleasant issues surrounding China during these Olympics. But now it's clear that it can't be bothered with the smaller stuff, either.
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