I've paid very little attention to the Olympics, primarily because I lack the inner strength to suffer through the NBC coverage of the games. Instead of showing viewers, you know, the Olympics, they broadcast the occasional event in which an American – more accurately, one of a small handful of Americans deemed marketable – is expected to do well. There are events other than swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and the 100m dash, believe it or not. By following the No Americans = No Coverage rule, NBC (and the rest of the American media) missed one of the few legitimately interesting and compelling things to happen so far.

In a fencing match between a South Korean, Shin A Lam, and a German, Britta Heidemann, Shin was leading with 1 second on the clock, meaning all she needed to do was go one second without being touched to win. Unfortunately for her, the timekeeper – who turned out to be a 15 year old (!) volunteer (!!!) – did not start the clock when the match resumed, giving the German extra time to land a hit on Shin and win. One second was actually more than three seconds.

The South Koreans appealed, and the appeal process required the athlete to remain on the floor for the duration. In this case that meant 75 minutes. Seventy-five excruciating minutes of watching someone who has probably spent her entire life preparing for something that lasts a second, and then having the accomplishment taken away by the ineptitude of the Olympic bureaucracy. So, this is what everyone watched for an hour:

I mean, why cover that when you can do another fluff piece on Michael Phelps or Douchebag of the Decade candidate Ryan Lochte? Anyone else thinking about blowing your brains out rather than sitting through another Andrea Kremer Q & A? Yeah, I thought so.

But it's just the Olympics and sports are an irrelevant distraction, you say. You're not wrong. Yet this is symptomatic of the provincial attitude that dominates all news coverage in the US, not merely the Olympics. What the cable networks euphemistically call "World news" is a small part of all coverage and is inevitably America-centric anyway, focusing on wars (at least those of interest to the US) and economic news covered from the what-it-means-for-America perspective. As ignorant as most Americans are about their own country, our domestic knowledge is genius-level compared to what we know about the rest of the world. That ignorance has practical consequences; it's relevant that lots of Americans believe that Canadians and Brits have to wait a year to see a doctor or that France is the last bastion of Marxism-Leninism. We hear bits of foreign news filtered through our established stereotypes about other countries – the bi-weekly "Mexico overrun by drug lords" story tells us what we expect to hear without bothering with the minutiae of, I don't know, why Mexico is a narco-state and what might solve the problem.

In 2004 during the coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami, possibly the most destructive natural disaster in recorded history, several cable networks noted separately the death toll – eventually around 200,000 – and the number of Americans killed – something like 75. I remember being taken aback by the tone of that coverage, the assumption that American viewers either cannot, or do not care to, identify with 200,000 dead (brown) people but might consider this a legitimate human interest story if we point out that a few dozen American vacationers may have been in there as well. The implication that the lives were somehow differently valuable based on nationality was…I'd say shocking, but in reality its par for the course with the US media. All of our news, whether it covers sports or major world events, is passed through the "How does this affect ME?" filter in an effort to prevent us from learning anything we don't absolutely have to know, or learning much of anything at all for that matter.

Shin lost, by the way. The officials boned her a second time after the lengthy delay, despite video evidence of the rule violation.

39 thoughts on “CHAUVINISM”

  • You're not wrong, but I've always thought this particular Cracked article was an interesting way of looking at the phenomenon:

    They're not just feeding us American-centric views because ZOMG AMERICAN LIVES MATTER MORE, although that's certainly part of it. They're feeding us what's psychologically satisfying and personally relateable, because that's what'll keep people tuning in. The fact that in doing so we tend to miss the larger picture is just an unfortunate side effect of the battle for ratings.

  • Shin did get a measure of satisfaction back in the Women's Team Epee event, where she and her team took the gold medal. It felt good to see her and her team win after the utter screwing she got in the individual tournament.

    And despite the American media's dearth of coverage on anything that doesn't immediately appeal to American nationalism (as well as nbc's positively stupid strategy of trying to limit who can watch olympic events online, live and in replay), I managed to know about this when it happened because I am a fencer and I keep tabs on the fencing events during things like the Olympics. On the part of the Olympics, I can't think of a bigger fuckup to happen during this Games.

    Speaking of American chauvinism, I'd say the biggest fuckup of the coverage must be nbc's cutting of the 7/7 tribute in the opening ceremony. That right there could get a paper written on it, I'm sure.

  • I was (once upon a time) enough of a fencer that I could watch Shin's performance and follow exactly what happened and OH MY GOD did Heidemann have the families of every timer and judge tied up in her basement at gunpoint?! Also: C.B. Bucknor phoned in to ask "Uh, you guys *sure* about that call–kinda looked like bullshit to me."

    Shin's response proved that heroism is often the result of rage and adrenaline in dosages sufficient to give a bull moose a heart attack: "No, no–this doesn't end until you all reveal yourselves to be the cowardly pieces of shit that you know you are–you are going to have to come up here and compel me to leave with the eyes of the world upon you, knowing what you did, but too cowardly to own up to it, and forced to take a shame-walk that would kill anyone with a soul. We both know that as a result of what you've done here today, none of you will be able to achieve an erection for the rest of your lives. Bring it."

    When they hand out the medals for chutzpah, I expect her to be standing at the top of that podium.

  • They actually air a lot of the non-basketball/gymnastics sports on American TV.

    Problem is they're aired live (aka ~3 AM here) and on the Outdoor Channel, so maybe a hundred people are watching at most.

    That's the worst part. The weird, "what the hell sport is this" sports that are actually interesting to watch played, like handball, are the ones that are hardest to watch because they're on so late.

  • Quelle coincidence. Fencing was my sport in college as well (standard foil, some epee) and I've been bitching about NBC's new mascot, Michael Phelps, for weeks.

    Regarding the full post, I agree; but all I can offer in mitigation (not excuse) is that for-pay "journalism" in the U.S. has led people to throw up multiple filters as a defensive measure. The constant barrage of horrific (and therefore clickable — how dare you turn away?) news stories has forced some folks to focus only on the desperately grievous news that is closest to home.

    That said, it used to be strictly a matter of xenophobia. Didn't Alison Bechdel once say (something like) if Martians landed in Toronto, it would be page six news because it happened in Canada rather than the U.S.?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    We Americans look at other countries much as rich and powerful people like Mitt Romney look at the rest of us Americans:
    -"The Help" – those not related, but who assist is in some way. Sycophancy is not plus, it is expected.
    -"The Hindrances" – those get in the way of what we want. Brown people, "DUCK!"
    -"The Enemies" – Those who don't accept our "Exceptionalism," and must be defeated at all costs.
    -"The Suckers" – those to be exploited for financial gain and/or power.

    As for the Olympics?
    You couldn't pay me to watch them.
    If I want jingoistic nationalism, I'll wait and watch the Republican National Convention, thank you. At least there'll be less commercials.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Double benefit here: Ed's post and c u n d's comment.

    Thanks, guys. Truth hurts, but cogently expressed, it's like a popped blister. A relief when somebody else notices.

    Lousy simile, what?

  • The Olympics, a vast, seething cesspit, with moments of beauty. Not enough beauty, let's tell the God-botherers that it's a neo-pagan festival, and let them off it.

  • Where you go wrong is in that you imply that this is an American phenomenon. Maybe there are countries that do it differently, but essentially all countries have about the same type of news coverage. The sports in which their athletes do well; the news that are directly relevant to (1) the country itself, and (2) its major former colonies or mother country, whatever applicable; and catastrophes along the lines of "200 people died, as far as is currently known no Germans among the victims".

    The only difference is, the smaller a country is the less parochial its population is, by necessity. Danes and Dutch are fairly cosmopolitan while the USA are at the other end of the spectrum – in the first two you drive a bit and you have suddenly left the country, in the last you have a huge job market, huge cultural diversity and varied vacationing opportunities without ever having to own a passport…

  • Alex SL, thanks for the bullshit. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have lived in other countries know that the original point made is accurate. What passes off as "normal coverage" in this country is disgusting navel-gazing.

  • The interesting thing to me is that smart writers can sometimes exploit this tendency in order to get editors to okay stories that otherwise would get little attention. Check out this article from the Wall Street Journal on the recent heavy-handed government actions in eastern Tajikistan:
    By framing it in terms of the "Western Tourists Stuck in Foreign, Dangerous Place" this story was able to provide some coverage to an event and place pretty far removed from most readers consciousness.

  • Posting a picture of a crying woman reinforces negative stereotypes about women. You should have posted a picture of the winner, not the loser, because she is a woman and a winner!

  • You can always get the less-edited video feed online. (Complete pommel-horse routines, no commentary, no context, one after another… kind of mesmerizing.)

    Prime-time is going to be lowest-common-denominator, most-easily-televised sports anyway. Soccer takes 90 minutes to broadcast, so that gets skipped.

    And everybody's parochial. When I did study-abroad one of the most popular TV shows in Chile was one that was basically short bios of Chileans living abroad. "The guy running a Chilean sandwich shop in Boston – even Americans love our sandwiches!" "The woman who married a Japanese guy and lives in Tokyo: Sometimes misses traditional Chilean foods!"

  • I love the Olympics. I've been in the UK for the whole two weeks, so have had the advantage of watching it in the home timezone and on the BBC, which has three full channels of coverage and a whole raft of other stuff online. I've been to see a couple of events, neither of which involved any of the countries that I've lived in or feel a particular tie to, and had a great time. I love the attention paid to lesser-known sports, and to women's sport, and the celebration of all of these people who work every day in the cold and sun and rain to try and be the best of us. I love the sportspersonship, and the unlikely victories, and the happiness of the winners, and (being a giant sap) the symbolism of people coming together with one purpose. I know that the Olympics is a bloated cesspit of commercial interests and ugly politics, but I love the volunteers who gave up their holidays to say to their fellow man and woman, "Welcome to Salt Lake City/London/Barcelona/Athens/Seoul!" and "Enjoy your adventure."

    On the news, I agree that everyone's TV news especially is likely to view all events through the lens of national self-interest. However, I think of all the countries I've travelled to or lived in, America's TV news is the most inwardly referenced. Even CNN International is pretty hit and miss in its coverage. I'm not sure how much international news the casually interested news consumer would get from newspapers, either.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Since I am member in good standing of the G&T butcher I'll contribute from perch on the Pacific shores.

    NBC notwithstanding the athletes demonstrate amazing human achievement hard work dedication and determination. We should applaud that.

    Even American expert of parts and events of the world don't have a clue about the real thing. It's pathetic. As a later in life immigrant to thee US I know things that never get the light of day here.

  • NBCs coverage is pretty horrible, but I expect all countries' coverage has a hint of chauvinism. Most media emphasize athletes from their country–at least the british publications that I read are doing so (they do have the excuse of being the hosts). But the number of US athletes in the games, particularly at the medal level, means NBC can basically show American athletes nonstop, and I expect that it's the same way in China.

    I do find the "rivalry" between the US and China to be a little excessive, since it seems to be framed in the exact same way as the geopolitical/economic rivalry. Especially in gymnastics, there is a tendency to glorify the US "free" coach/college system in opposition to chinese "state training"

  • "You can always get the less-edited video feed online"

    —not necessarily. That's true in pretty much every other country besides the US, but NBC has gotten a lockdown on all streaming coverage, getting foreign streaming providers to block streams to the US, and only providing it themselves it if you are paying someone (cable or satellite) for coverage. If you watch TV only over the air or over the internet, you can't view the video feeds without doing some sort of questionably-legal workaround. (Which, to be sure, a lot of Americans are doing. But it's nontrivial and may or may not be, strictly speaking, legal.)

  • mel in oregon says:

    the olympics are sold to make money for the big corporate sponors & some (mostly western industrialized countries) athletes. a gold medal winner from a tiny, third world country might get $250 & then go back to being a goat herder. & am i the only one that is sick of beach volleyball? after all aren't there a few other viewers than 14 year old boys with a continuous hard-on, or 40 year old guys in a titty or sports bar on their fourth marriage? maybe the stupidest remarks in sports, are the commentators that say, "our brave men & women in uniform that are protecting us". bullshit, they are brave; hell they put their lives on the line, but they aren't protecting john q public, they are protecting wallstreet, american outsourcing corporations, & generals & admirals striving for their next star.

  • I'd not heard "window-licking" as a pejorative insult before. That'll go in the rotation.

    And when I hear something like Elle's appreciation of people who work "to become the best of us" I don't disagree, but I usually think about Monty Python's depiction of the finals of the All-England Summarize Proust competition.

    Scientists, artists, academics. Even government bureaucrats and business executives. Athletes make up a very small portion of the people who work hard and sacrifice to extend the boundaries of human capabilities/achievement.

  • @Both Sides

    I felt that 'the best of us at triathlon' lacked poetry, but I doubt anyone here seriously thinks sportspeople are the ne plus ultra of human boundary-expanders.

  • terraformer says:

    I think Alex XL gets to the issue somewhat: Americans are isolated, geographically, which makes it much easier for the consolidated media to proffer narratives reinforcing status quo preferences.

    We are not surrounded by countries with different cultures and languages – at least not to the extent that Europe is, for instance – and thus we not only are not routinely exposed to those differences, we are even more xenophobic when we are exposed.

    Thus, negative stereotypes about people and issues are reinforced with little pushback, while the rationale for ignoring the reality of life outside our borders is LIBERTY and SHUT UP.

  • Elle,

    Yeah, I probably read too much of the pervading attitude towards athletes and athletics at large into your comment. Still, I'm glad I got a chance to bring up the All-England Summarize Proust competition.

  • Still, I'm glad I got a chance to bring up the All-England Summarize Proust competition.

    The world is enriched by every mention.

  • You should try being a non-American living here and watching the Olympics. Admittedly, Australia has had a shocking (by our usual standards) time but still – yes, those were four very nice girls there but they came THIRD! Oh, and that girl in the green and gold who led over the hurdles the whole way? She is the current world champion – maybe you should keep an eye on her in the final, because, hey look, she won. It's been very aggravating. It's led to some amusing conversations at home – waiting for the men's 100m the other night (which, because I follow the BBC's Live Reporting page, I already knew the result of) – I said to my husband 'How late does this go??' to which he replied 'Until the Americans win all the medals'. Australia is much more isolated than the US, but we have had (for decades) TV stations like SBS that cover many languages / countries all by itself and even our general news is qutie world oriented. Of course, with a population of only 21 million, you need to talk about the rest of the world, or you run out of things to say…

  • @ Elle and Both Sides: I'm sure we've all set our DVRs to record the Upper Class Twit Of The Year finals. I think this is the year that the Hiltons bring home the gold for the USA.

  • skyskier,

    You are aware that I did not actually doubt that there is navel-gazing, but only that the same applies to varying degrees to all countries on this planet?

    Also, I have never lived in the USA but in four different countries on three eastern hemisphere continents (although admittedly only three of them really count as I was a child in the first one), and I have spend another 13 months of my life in various countries of Latin America and am fairly capable of opening a newspaper or turning on the hotel TV when on a conference trip to Canada or New Zealand. So I do have some data, and I am not an American chauvinist trying to defend my own country's image here.

  • Andrew Laurence says:

    Every time there's a disaster in country X, the news media in country Y mentions the total death count and how many of them were citizens of country Y. America is not special in this regard.

    If you want to get over US-centrism, pick up a copy of The Economist and read it cover to cover. Repeat, every week, for six months. You'll never look at the world the same way again. I can tell you the name of the new president of Ghana, but I had no idea an oil refinery explosion happened down the street from the home of one of my best friends and not 15 miles from where I live until he mentioned it to me at dinner.

  • Argh, that sentence should of course have been: You are aware that I did not actually say that there is no navel-gazing, but only that the same applies to varying degrees to all countries on this planet?

    By the way, I enjoy this blog very much, the problem is only that I am more motivated to comment when I have a wee nit to pick than when I agree fully…

  • I think it's that way everywhere. My friend is living in Frankfurt, and was complaining the other day that he wasn't seeing any US coverage.

  • Our Amero-centrism, as noted by A. Laurence and others above, extends to all facets of the study of "others". This leads to stereotyping (Muslim=Al Queda), caricaturing (French surrender monkeys) , and profound misunderstanding of the world we inhabit with others.

    It further makes it almost impossible at times for me to have an intellegent discussion on economics, foriegn policy, or you name it with my fellow countrymen. Sad and frustrating.

  • "USA, USA, USA" is what Newt yells when he peels back is gut fat to grab hold of his teeny weeny. It's Olympian alright. That's for damn sure.

  • Ah yes, the Olympics. Where people spend their youth mastering incredibly difficult feats of skill and endurance, only to be utterly screwed by officials that are either incompetent, corrupt, or both. While not conversant with fencing, the situation described doesn't surprise me a bit. I am a boxing fan, however, and the atrocious judging is so bad that they can't disguise it, sending judges and referees home, so egregious is their conduct. The capper, however, is womens soccer. Canada was so obviously robbed in their match with the US that all you can do is shake your head and laugh. In the final, the US gets the gold, aided by an absurdly bad call when the ref ignored an obvious handball in the penalty area. I've played enough team sports to know how it feels to be jobbed, but it's almost worse to win when you know the contest was decided by horrible officiating. The NBC commenteriat was predictably jingoistic regarding this, but what else can they be? USA! USA! USA!

  • @Canadian Stomping. No, I saw it just fine. Obvious red card. Would that have had as obvious influence on the outcome? Possibly, but maybe not. Oh, and two wrongs don't make a right. Thanks for adding more evidence to my contention that the officiating was horrible.

  • The Olympics coverage is grating. Is it really that tough to show a whole line of runners as they run toward you? Do you have to focus in on only the American(s)? Would it kill us to acknowledge there are other people in the race? You know, since that's what makes it a race.

    Speaking of horrific international disasters, I though coverage of the Haitian earthquake was the most absurd. For days it seemed the only people in the U.S. interviewed about it were the parents of students studying abroad or the family of honeymooners and other tourists in Haiti. All white of course. There are large numbers of Haitian immigrants and Haitian Americans in the U.S. The Today show couldn't make its way out of lower Manhattan just once to find a Haitian with family on the island?

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