The Displaced Nation

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To live the Olympic Ideal, I need to stop watching the Olympics

So the Olympics continue and with it my continuing — and ugly — obsession with the American broadcasting network NBC is laid bare.

Now if I were being fair — and I so rarely am — I would admit that NBC does have a nifty, free Olympics app that is a pretty decent way of keeping track (terrible pun, sorry) of what is happening, but all the goodwill that engenders in me evaporates as soon as I turn on the TV for my nightly fix.

Having already vented in a previous post, I should clearly give this issue a rest, but in all honesty the snide, masochistic side of my personality adores being able to shout each night as the bland features of Bob Costas (a face you forget even while looking at it) illuminate TV screens across the USA.

Six hours a night I’ve been yelping, tutting, and admonishing the TV. My long-suffering wife deals stoically with my piggish behaviour. It starts with my local NBC affiliate, who are staging all their Olympic coverage from the nearby Thunder Valley Casino — because as everyone knows, if you want to see Olympic specimens you head to the lobby of a casino. Once in a while, they cut to Deirdre Fitzpatrick, who each day provides pointless, meandering ten-minute videos of herself wandering round London — Rick Steves is positively Bruce Chatwin-like in comparison. A choice example saw our Deirdre (make-up immaculate, of course, but in that female US newcaster’s way, whereby its effect is disturbingly artificial and it’s impossible to gauge what her true age is) by a footpath on the South Bank. “Everywhere you go, there’s an impromptu performance,” she says as the camera zooms in on a man playing an acoustic guitar. Deirdre, it’s called busking.

But then comes the main event as we cut to Bland Bob Costas. You may even get to see a little bit of sport, but not too much as Mary Carillo is then wheeled out for 15 minutes each night to give a patronising look into some aspect of British life that would even make VisitBritain cringe. She is not quite at Deirdre levels of annoyance, but then poor Deirdre’s day often seems to involve finding an American tourist to talk to, or the most embarrassing old British codger that she can find to interview. Mary, however, has access to various echelons of British society to paint her twee picture of my homeland. I was particularly irate when only the last lap of the 10,000m race was shown — we then moved on to Mary fronting a 15-minute video about bagpipes in Glasgow. I understand that the race had been shown live earlier in the day, but I don’t think anyone was tuning in that night for a piece about the modern renaissance of bagpipes. If this has any place — and that is a big if — it is on The Today Show (which, too, has camped out in London for the duration of the games), not on the actual evening highlights.

Baron Pierre de Coubertin in establishing the modern Olympics probably did not envisage how mass media throughout the 20th century would transform the games, and certainly did not foresee how social media is transforming them again. In the interests of his Olympic Ideal, it seems utterly wrong that I am spending my time moaning into the void-like Internet, rather than celebrating the likes of Usain Bolt, Oscar Pistorius, and Jessica Ennis. I will take a deep breath, count to ten, and smile when Bob beams that ineffectual smile of his when coverage starts. Or perhaps I’ll try and figure out how to get the Canadian coverage of the games.

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