(A rant)It does make me feel better seeing the many supporters of Olympic athletics on the Internet and within my community- clearly we as a society have not forgotten all those nice things the Olympic Games stood for in the past. As a symbol and a global ceremony, the Olympics provides something unique and highly valued by people of all races, genders, and ethnic origins. Democrats and Republicans, capitalists and communists, everyone comes together for a few weeks every 2 years to play sports and cheer on the valiant athletes. I guess this feeling is what underlies the many complaints and frustrated gripes that sprinkle the Internet about how NBC’s Olympics works.
There are really two Olympics going on- the one in London, where the athletes are competing, and the one the rest of the world gets to see. Because NBC holds an absolute monopoly over the Olympics media in the US, whatever this company deems not interesting enough will simply never appear on the TV screens and computer screens here. And, since NBC has no competitors for this event, they can show us footage from events on tape-delay it they wish, because nobody else is going to show this footage in real-time. Of course, tumblr and facebook are not NBC puppets, and they operate on real-time, so while we may not see all the footage on time, we can actually know who won from those who were there, long before NBC gets around to showing us anything. Even on twitter, which apparently has a special relationship with NBC for these games, information rolls in as it is available, not limited by NBC’s schedules and interests. And, while there are features like streaming video on BBC that we can’t always see here, we can at least get more timely information from British (and other non-US) news sources. So, we do in a way get to ‘see’ the actual Olympics in London, via social media.
But the Olympics is not what it once was. Instead of simply using the popularity and visibility of this event, companies which sponsor the Olympics demand their own monopolistic hold on their niche-spaces within the games. Thus, companies like Coca Cola and McDonalds expect that their brands will be the only ones visible at the games, despite the fact that having the games in different cities is about exploring local cultures too. Are there no British or Irish beverage companies, that everyone in the Olympics has to rely on Coca Cola for their drinks? Does McDonalds serve “Brighton Rock”, black pudding, haggis, etc?
There was an article in one of the online newspapers talking about how the cops working the games had to put all their snacks in unlabeled baggies so that they would not inadvertently ‘advertise’ other brands besides those of the sponsors, but would it be terrible if when we looked at pictures of the London games years later, we could see the wrappers of British snacks in the hands of British cops? If all Olympics from now on are going to look the same, sponsored by the same big companies, and thus cleared of all local details like pastie wrappers (seriously, can you really get pasties in branded wrappers in the UK?), and if we only see snippets of whatever NBC thinks was worth seeing, we might as well just put on old tapes of past Olympics next time and just change the athletes’ names to match the current athletes. I like that Coca Cola, one of my favorite international corporations, is sponsoring the games this year, really. But my tendency to drink Coke products will not be diminished by my being aware of what people consume besides Coke in London, and my favorite company would seem less heavy-handed if their sponsorship of the games did not have to mean excluding the competition.
In a sporting event that is all about bringing rival nations together and competing in a friendly, sportsman-like atmosphere, surely the corporations which sponsor this event could handle a little real competition too. Otherwise, the Olympics is really just a big advertising gimmick, one which tarnishes the power and glory of the true Olympic spirit.