Some Nuanced Thoughts on Olmypic “Spoilers” and Modern Media
I don’t really get into the Olympics.
But this year I can’t criticize people for not watching their favorite events live, which would seem like the obvious solution to “spoilers.” In many cases it’s not possible, at least not without going online and watching international coverage.
A lot of events apparently aren’t getting broadcast as they happen. I’m told, for example, that NBC didn’t broadcast Ksenia Afanasyeva’s fall (which cost Russia any hope of the gold) until after the US team’s entire performance, simply so that there would be the false suspense of “can they beat Russia or not?” — even though the US team could have crapped on the mat and still won.
That’s a worryingly bad job of television’s primary function, which is to be a reliable real-time record in a way that written accounts can’t. I don’t actually give much of a shit about the Olympics, though, so let’s talk about the broader problem that this is symptomatic of instead:
Television replaced daily newspapers as the most mainstream way to learn about current affairs a few decades ago. I’m not sure everyone of my generation actually believes it, but TV is still how the majority of America gets its news, and that’s important to understand.
It’s also important to understand that the switch happened in the first place because TV seemed more reliable. An editor can always slant a column one way or another, but video is indisputable fact. You see it as it happens. Commentary can come after, but the real-time video footage is the backbone of televised news, offering an accuracy that print can’t match. And so the networks pitched it for more than a generation.
NBC is doing us all the favor of vividly disproving that, albeit some years after dramatically-edited footage became standard.
If you watch TV (why?), do yourself a favor: next news program you sit down to, time how much of the segment is actual, real-time footage of actual events as they happen.
I’ll be impressed if you break the five minute mark.
What you’re watching these days is commentary. You might get a very bare skeleton of facts relevant to the story at hand — though the facts will be selectively edited — but mostly you’ll be watching people with slick hairdos talk reasonably about how these facts should make you feel. And you won’t get the one thing TV was supposed to provide: a full visual record of the event in question.
The Olympics are a relatively harmless example. I hope the people who are angry about the Olympic spoilers are also thinking about how NBC (or Fox, or whoever) has edited every “news” report they see to make everything exciting, whether the actual event was exciting or not.
The women’s gymnastics event was a formality by the time Team USA took its final round on the floor, but NBC tried to air it as a nail-biter. Odds are the outrageous political news of the day — whichever side you prefer to get outraged by/at – is just as non-eventful, and just as dependent on selectively-edited footage.
Keep it in mind.