In case you have been living under a rock or have not eaten at McDonald’s in the last six months, the 2012 Olympics are here and ready to make you care about badminton again.
Arguably the first Olympics in our new Twitter generation, controversy abounded well in advance of the games—stories of citizens displaced near the Olympic grounds, missiles being placed on nearby apartment buildings, and a ridiculous draconian curfew all served to sour the mood.
Before even delving into what has become an ongoing nightmare for NBC’s PR department, let’s look at how the Olympics have in fact not been the greatest way to economically benefit the surrounding area as promised.
It is hard not to look at the Bird’s Nest rotting away in Beijing and not see a stark contrast to what London has been promising as a resurgence for the poorer areas of south-east London. Historically, from an economic perspective, building huge stadiums for three weeks of use has not been a very successful way to help out struggling areas. Arguably what Great Britain has actually done is turned Stratford into one big Westfield Mall and robbed the region of its character.
The idea of economic redevelopment and how to go about it is a discussion for another time and place, but one has to wonder if Great Britain’s tax dollars could have gone to better use by trying to help out the people in the area directly rather than displacing them and building the world’s largest McDonalds. (Which, ironically enough, will leave when the Olympics end as well.)
Leaving economic issues aside, communications around the games have been wrought with controversy this year. Twitter has been an especially brutal pitfall. Before the Olympics even started, a Greek athlete was banned from participating because of a racist tweet. While no one’s debating the tweet on the merits of taste, the Olympics should not be the governing body that decides what how freedom of speech should be regulated. Furthermore Twitter suspended the account of Guy Adams, The Independent’s Los Angeles bureau chief, for being anti-Olympics in his tweets. Preserved on Topsy, take a look at some of the things that got him “banned.” Twitter claims they suspended Adams’ account because he gave out the private information of Gary Zenkel*, who is in charge of NBC’s coverage of the games. This information is in fact not private and could be found in about 5 minutes of searching on Google.
Moving on to NBC’s TV coverage, the Opening Ceremony was just a joke. Not only did I have to wait 6 hours after it occurred to watch it, we got the “edited for US audiences” edition. They cut out the part that remembered the victims of terror from around the world because NBC believed that United States citizens would not care. Instead we got to see an interview between Ryan Seacrest and Michael Phelps. Ryan fucking Seacrest.
As for its broadcast of the actual games, the decision to stream the games live while broadcasting them hours later on “tape delay” was also quite stupid. Let’s discuss the ridiculousness of not airing anything exceptionally important live: We got to watch men’s volleyball live during the day and not the final men’s 400 IM swim because NBC wanted to wait to broadcast it during their prime time slot. Imagine if we time-delayed the NBA finals? I can’t quite comprehend how NBC thought any of this would sit well with the public.
At the end of the day we can sum it up with a horrific quote from an NBC pundit, made just after number-one US gymnastic prospect Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify (not live of course): “Quite honestly, it’s horrific.” Yes, NBC your coverage is just that: horrific.
From the physical transformation on the south end to the media coverage, this year’s games has been all about options—which are good, except when we use them poorly. Hopefully by 2014 we’ll have at least figured out how to balance streams with telecasts, how Twitter should behave on Twitter, and how to use existing stadiums instead of building new ones and displacing the citizens who live in the area.
*Gary Zenkel can be reached at Gary.firstname.lastname@example.org.