Who’s Olympic Stories Do We Hear?

DSC02949The past few days have begun calm, only to turn quite windy in the afternoon. By the time we are ready to kayak, usually in the later afternoon or early evening, the wind has come up and the water has turned to choppy to go out. This morning is quiet, the leaves barely moving on the trees. The milky sky is reflected on the broad water, promising a fine day.

We have been trying not to become completely captured by the Olympics on the television. Still, last night we found ourselves staying up late to watch women’s gymnastics. As is their want, the networks sandwiched the prerecorded gymnastics on either side of live events, notably swimming. They also focused almost exclusively on the U.S. team.

This over-focus on the home team seems problematic, as the Olympics is supposedly about a diversity of cultures and athletes. Ideally we viewers are exposed to many individual and national narratives, allowing us to see other competitors as human, if different in some ways from ourselves.  Instead, we are presented with Cold War like narrative of American exceptionalism, every other country and competitor cast only in relationship to the  aspirations of the U.S. team.

Watching the Olympic coverage, I am left with questions. What other narratives might be explored by the announcers? How might we view our own athletes differently? Might we highlight the diversity of human experience, rather than focusing on a very few heroic narratives? What would the viewing experience be if the focus were on something other than winning? Who decides which stories are worth telling?  What would happen if the announcers sought to make the ideology inherent in their coverage visible and transparent? I wonder.


18 thoughts on “Who’s Olympic Stories Do We Hear?

  1. Very disappointing the TV presentation in prime time. It is a one side transmission of our athletes only-which I admire, don’t get wrong- and constant commercials. It is kind of boring, when there are so many wonderful stories from around the world. That is what it has become, as you describe in your post.

  2. for what its worth..
    yes, the popular narratives of success and heroic achievement point in one direction, but the energy bodies of some athletes – including a few feted by the media – speak an entirely different story, and tell of great damage.

  3. You asked great questions, Michael. We are camping and don’t have TV so we haven’t been watching. I did tune in last Saturday but turned off after about 30 sec because of the hype and the commercials. Commercialism has gone haywire and taken us all with them. Thanks for reminding us that there are more important things to think about than what we need to buy and about our own little dot on the map.

  4. I don’t have a TV, but I see what Yahoo deems as newsworthy (?) on the internet. I miss the days when there was more “spanning the globe” and the “constant variety”. Stories of athletes in their unique cultural contexts are fascinating, I think.

  5. Yes indeed. It seems we only get to see non-US athletes when they are in a race that features an American, or to fill time while we wait for the American athlete to compete. I have to say, though, that is was my non-American spouse who had to point this out to me. We seem to be so conditioned to only expect to see the Americans, that the absence of anyone else doesn’t seem odd.

  6. I love the questions you bring up here, Michael. You made me think about these questions and wonder how different it could be. I agree with the slant being mainly on American athletes…in some cases it was like there weren’t any other countries competing!
    Hope you are well and getting ready for fall. Have a great week ☀

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