I was working late on the 808, but we all stopped what we were doing to watch bits of the Olympic Ceremony. Ritual dull, but there is a nice feeling of, say, communion as you realize that one billion people are watching together. Which is why I found the next headline online odd. Apparently, Americans couldn’t participate at all because NBC wanted to show the ceremony at prime time, for better ad space, so they delayed it by 12 hours. And then their staff went around trying to get all the ‘unauthorized’ video off the Internet. For an event steeped in numerology and a specific time, place and experience, I think that was a pretty shitty thing to do, and bad business. It’s also a bit of shame because, sitting here in Sri Lanka, I thought it was one global moment.
I, of course, watched only a few minutes of it, but still. Those global TV events are interesting, and they kinda stick with you. I remember being very young and being allowed to go to school late to watch Nelson Mandela get freed from prison (YouTube). I also remember when Premadasa exploded, missed a bit of school. Then there was the OJ Simpson verdict (YouTube). I was in Ohio and they actually wheeled TVs into each classroom which, come to think of it, was fucking disturbing. I remember when the verdict was announced the black schoolteacher said ‘Yes!’ and smiled while the all white kids (besides me) just sat there. Come to think of it, that was also disturbing.
However, millions of kids and people in America just missed that bit of history that comes from experiencing stuff at the same time. It’s always a product, I know that, but there’s still a tingle you get watching stuff live, knowing that the fate of a ball or a flame is so temporarily important, and that so many perceptions are trained on that fate. Especially as a kid, there’s something memorable at waking up at odd hours in your jammies, to see that the world keeps turning while you’re asleep.
It’s a shame that NBC kept that experience, even of something so historically mundane, from the millions of people in America. They paid $894 million for the broadcast rights, but I don’t think that should buy you the right to move history to prime time.