If you’re like me, you have fond childhood memories of watching U.S. Olympic gymnasts go for the gold.
In 1984, at age seven, I was absolutely romanced by a tiny, spunky athelete…
…and also one that just so happened to be from West Virginia. Just like me!
So you can almost hear the sad trombones that sounded when I found out that the 2012 U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team had won the gold medal in the London games….about five hours before I wanted to know….while I was still at work trying to artfully word an email gently suggesting that you have to have your computer’s speakers on to hear sounds.
Don’t get me wrong: I am thrilled for The Fab Five and break-out star Gabby Douglas. Just as I was crushed for the U.S. Men when they got pummeled on the pommel.
But I would have loved to have watched it live-ish or, at least, in ignorant bliss. And I am not alone, in being frustrated at the London Olympics viewing experience after the explosion of Twitter—only two years old at the 2008 Beijing summer games—and Facebook and mobile messaging and Etch-a-Sketches and all the fancy things. Add that to NBC’s business decision to target their coverage to primetime viewing (and primetime potential for advertising moola) and its awkward coupling with NBC’s desire to be scooped on the results by the time-space continuum…and, well, you have a lot of frustrated Olympic viewers. Especially in those time zones west of England.
Here’s the dealio, though: I’m not sure how mad we should be at NBC. I mean, we should be mad at them for this…
…but is it really reasonable or realistic to expect NBC to run the events and—more to the point—live commentary at a time when no one is awake? Except for drifters, and they only like to watch water polo because it makes your average drifter feel really good (“Hey, at least I have pants.”). Sure, they could cover and rerun the events with real-time commentary, but by then Twitter, Facebook, news websites, NPR, or some kid on the street has likely ruined the surprise for you anyway. And, as a news organization, NBC can’t exactly feign surprise or risk coming off as not knowing any better. They could eliminate the commentary but then what would Bob Costas do?
Yes, NBC, could be producing and commenting more artfully. And even though I understand why they’re TELLING ME WHAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN ON THE FRICKIN’ POMMEL HORSE SO HELP ME TIM DAGGETT I AM COMING THROUGH THIS TV SCREEN BART CONNER WOULD NEVER HAVE DONE THIS TO ME, I wish they would hold their tongues. Or lock their commentators in a cushy vault so they have to watch and comment on footage versus live happenings.
But solving the TV problem is, well, not really solving the problem, right? If you have a day gig during which you can avoid online media, social or otherwise, I salute you.
But many of us simply cannot. The spoilers are coming. The spoilers are chasing us. Ducking and weaving in between weather reports, Dow Jones tickers, trade mags, and text messages. And ducking out of Facebook and Twitter chatter means we could miss some of the fun of a global event. Connecting with people who—GASP!—aren’t that worried about Michael Phelps. Or making icky cracks about strong women because they don’t want to sleep with them (I guess)?
So we’re not likely to opt out of social media altogether for a two-week global event. And we’re not likely to change the basic business model of network television. And I’m not even sure that’s our chief gripe. C’mon, fellow Americans—North, Central, and South alike—are we maybe just an eensy bit mad that the Olympics aren’t happening on OUR schedule?
I’ll admit it: I would be enjoying this more if it were happening in a more convenient time zone. Remember how gutted we all were when Chicago didn’t get the 2016 Olympic bid? It wasn’t even jingoist national pride—okay, maybe it was, a little—it was about convenience. It was about feeling as big a part of the games a possible and, naturally, the easiest way to feel a part of something is to host it.
So I think we all need to chill out a little about spoilers and enjoy, instead, discovering the beauty of events that don’t necessarily get above-the-fold media attention. Or events we understand so little that we wouldn’t know a spoiler if we heard it. And let’s let the U.K. and all their time zone buddies have their day, gracefully and gratefully. I mean, at least, for once the rest of the world is pissed off at them.
Happy Olympics, all! But mostly to those for whom afternoon tea happened hours ago…