In light of the 2012 Summer Olympics, I’ve decided that I will keep a daily journal of what I observe on NBC network television, and whatever’s out there and trending in the internetosphere.
According to the BBC, NBC is sending over 2,700 people there to cover the event. However, despite that breadth, I think what they actually show will be very superficial: mile wide, but an inch-deep.
The bulk of what NBC will focus on I think will be mostly the white athletes representing the USA.
I’ve suspected that the TV coverage on NBC has been tilted heavily towards sports and athletes with white people in it. Men and women’s swimming, women’s gymnastics, and US Women’s Soccer. It’s just almost an “expected” and “accepted reality”, meaning a societal norm we just kind of expect: white folks, and by proxy white athletes to be the stories “we” want to learn more about. “We”, meaning the American TV viewing audiences.
Meanwhile, Track & Field seems to get cursory mentions, even though its the sport that the history of the Olympic games is built on events in Track & Field.
It’s not like there will be another station covering the Olympics, so I wonder why representation of athletes and their racial and ethnic categories do not seem to be equal.
Why do I focus some attention on racial and ethnic identity? Because I think if race and ethnic identity truly didn’t matter as stated in the popular and public American discourse, then there should be equal representation of US athletes.
Yes there is a story or two about a black guy struggling in the hood and making the Olympics, as if “economic hardship” is on the same plane as “training hardships.”
Yes, I see the multi-racial commercials, the multi-racial backgrounds. But right now it’s just that, people of color are that “backgrounds.” “Background” meaning not the main story. Not the “main” story, meaning not the human story they expect US audiences to desire, engage, and relate to.
I’d like to think that ideally audience viewers will fall in love with and like anything in which they can view some type of progress, regardless of race, color, creed, sex. People like following trajectories, stories, rumors of things they care about.
What people care about in mass media is usually stuff that invokes categories that they are associated with either voluntarily and/or involuntarily. “Categories that they are associated with either voluntarily and/or involuntarily” are things like hometowns, country, high schools, race, ethnicity, religion, political views, sex.
She’s Filipino, I hope she wins. He survived San Pedro, CA I hope he wins. He’s from my high school, let’s watch because of him. It’s why I was hyping everyone up about former Loyola High School runner David Torrence’s drive to make the Olympics team. David Torrence falls into a category of “Loyola High School.” I happen to fit into that category. I also fall into the category of “Loyola High School Cross Country”, which he falls into. I just wasn’t one of the more revered members of that category, that is, mostly because I didn’t do anything to make the category improve in its prominence while participating in its core activity.
I know that the Olympics and Olympics coverage are a “business”, and that perhaps there is a “demand” for covering the white “true” American athletes. Perhaps they assume that people want white true American athletes, so NBC will stick with that business model built around those viewer demands. But again if that’s true, then race and racial identity does actually matter; seems like its the responsibility of NBC and a lot of other mass media to make that known.
There are many types of races and ethnic identities representing the USA, but it seems as if national media coverage is less likely to embrace those who are seen as something else (i.e. Asian, black, Latino, etc.), before they are seen as simply “American.”
I hypothesize that the athletes of color seem to be seen in terms of these nouns and adjectives: “Renters”, “2nd-class”, “temporary” people who are to be acknowledged and engaged but merely on a superficial level before we get to ‘real’ superstars.
What I’m Watching Out for:
Coverage of Track and Field athletes of color, Carmelita Jeter, Ashton Eaton, Leonel Manzano, Bernard Lagat. The Gymnasts Gabby Douglas, John Orozco, Danell Leyva. I can’t quite document hard numbers, but I can document quotes and quips in this journal and compare them to the coverage of white athletes like Ryan Lochte, Hope Solo, etc.
I don’t think it’s really white athletes demanding to be covered like this, it’s just coverage that seems to be foisted on them. I don’t blame any of the athletes for telling their stories and sharing their routines, its the work of media, and whoever is controlling the content they put out there.
Today’s Observations (7/25)
Watched most of the Today Show and Access Hollywood Live.
On Today, they looped Michael Phelps’ interviews. He was asked about what it felt like being a 14-time medalist and this Olympics run being his last hurrah. He made mention that he was beginning to watch The Wire, something as a Baltimorean I thought he’d a come across earlier.
They seemed to focus a lot on swimming with 4 different segments: 1) Michael Phelps’ interview 2) segments on veteran Natalie Coughlin, 3) Missy Franklin, and 4) the woman’s swim team.
Today, I had hoped they would talk about Track and Field. At some point in the Today show program during Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford’s portion, they invited former Decathlon champion Bruce Jenner to speak about “sports and entertainment.” Bruce Jenner is some kind of host now, but before that he was a Decathlon athlete.
The Decathlon is the event where the athlete does multiple track and field events:
However, despite making his name as a Decathlon athlete, there is not a word spoken about the actual Decathlon contenders past or present.
You might think this lack of mention is because we suck, but the past few Decathlons have seen strong US representation. Mixed race Afro-Asian Bryan Clay won the Silver in 2004, and the Gold in the 2008 Olympics. Not a single mention of Ashton Eaton, who set a world record in the 2012 US Olympic team trials already.
One commercial I noticed is that they’ve already found a way to brand this Olympics’ US women’s gymnastics team: they’re calling them the fab 5 already. Gabby Douglas, Aly Reisman, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross, and another girl [Mackayla Maroney]. [As I was observing, I named them just at the top of my head, which is why I'm not sure of the name of the last one.]
Olympics-related Segments on Today 7/25/2012:
- Michael Phelps: ‘I have a job to finish here’
- Al Roker gets his knight on in 15th century armor
- David Beckham on royal pals: Princes are ‘amazing’
- Natalie Coughlin to newbies: Olympics will ‘fly’
- U.S. Women’s soccer team battles controversy
- Missy Franklin: I’ll win to ‘shine light on Colo.’
- Cancer survivor Eric Shanteau swims for gold
- Al gets a lesson in Olympic fencing