What Do You Think? Framing the Olympics

March 5, 2010
By | 7 Comments

Now that the Olympics are over, and all that’s left is a hefty tax bill for the residents of Vancouver, which news frames stick with you? What were the games’ more important moments, amidst its many “firsts”? Where did coverage prove itself inadequate to the task? Which frames bugged you, and which roped you in?

Was it the spectacle of watching South Korea and Japan find a new battleground in women’s ice skating? Was it the death of Ukrainian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, and NBC’s ghoulish love in the hours afterward for replaying it ad infinitum? The US men’s hockey team’s supposedly “improbable” run to the gold medal game? Contested disqualifications and ensuing death threats in short track ice skating? The debate over who should’ve lit the Olympic flame? The British press’s determination to label the games a mismanaged failure? Joannie Rochette’s skate in the face of adversity? The Canadian women’s ice hockey team smoking cigars on the ice after winning? The Plushenko-Lysacek “to quad or not to quad” debate? “Harry Potter’s” ski jump redemption? Or even the bi-annual, “what? That counts as a sport?!” discussion?

And for our non-American readers, what are the frames that the rah, rah, USA, USA drumbeat of NBC missed? What were the equally egregious rah, rah moments from various other broadcasters that had you cringing?


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7 Responses to “ What Do You Think? Framing the Olympics ”

  1. Jonathan Gray on March 5, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    I’ll get the ball rolling here by noting my two pet peeves from this year’s Olympics:

    (1) Many US viewers’ and reporters’ seeming need to see the US men’s hockey team’s success as paralleling the “Miracle on Ice.” That term’s always bugged me anyway, given its suggestion of American godliness in the face of Russian evil. But it was a notable victory because (i) the Russians were America’s sworn ideological enemies at the time, and (ii) the Americans were a bunch of no-names up against the formidable Russian team. So when a team composed entirely of millionaire NHL players advanced to a gold medal game against their Northern friends, neighbors, and in many cases teammates, invoking the Miracle on Ice was ludicrously blind to history.

    (2) The Brit press savaging the organization of the Games. Now, as a Vancouverite, I know many people who complain about the Games and about VANOC. But no more than with any other Olympics. The Brit press’s reaction reeked to me of a desperate attempt to set the bar as low as possible for the upcoming London Olympics. I love London with a passion, but organization and infrastructure ain’t its strong suit. Or, as the Bible says, let they who can make the Circle line run for 3 successive days without problem, whose country’s entire rail system doesn’t shut down due to “leaves on the track,” and who’ve mastered the art of water pressure, throw the first stone. Of course, this sideshow to the Games is an old one — all of Europe had a good time complaining about the Athens Olympics’ supposed mismanagement. But it’s still tedious.

  2. Lindsay H. Garrison on March 5, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    I have to say for me it was probably the whole “Lindsay Vonn v. Julia Mancuso” cat fight that so many other outlets commenting on the Olympics constantly discussed (and constructed). First of all, Lindsay Vonn is an interesting sports celebrity in herself; as a wholesome young, white, blonde girl on the cover of Sports Illustrated, (in a questionably playful cover pose, and additional bikini photos on the inside pages) battling a sudden injury, she fit easily into the “America’s sweetheart” Olympic athlete. When Julia Mancuso, Vonn’s lifelong rival and Olympic teammate, comments that all of the attention on Vonn ignores the other talented members of the American team, it’s immediately blown out of proportion and framed as a cat fight, that Mancuso hates and is jealous of Vonn.

    I admit, it took me a while to get over Mancuso’s insistence on always wearing a tiara, but in listening to interviews with her, I think she is making a fair and valid point in expressing her concerns that the level of Vonn’s media attention – much of which she may be actively seeking out – often negatively affects team practices and overall team dynamics. But turning that into a cat fight simply reinstates problematic notions of female jealousy and averts any sort of self-reflection on the part of the media and its viewers.

    • Andrew Bottomley on March 7, 2010 at 9:22 AM

      It’s interesting because Vonn and Mancuso are the same age, but coming into this Olympics the media seemed to be writing Mancuso off as over-the-hill and unlikely to medal. When Mancuso won the silver in the downhill during the first week, NBC appeared gobsmacked. Vonn got the gold (and it was deserved – her run was amazing) and the coverage of her win totally overshadowed Mancuso at first, I think largely because NBC was trying to figure out how this other American got on the podium and how to deal with it.

      NBC didn’t have all the interviews and clips packages prepared for Mancuso the way they did for Vonn (Vonn’s pre-Olympics “injury” only fueled the fire). That’s because the expectations for American female alpine skiing were entirely put on Vonn for this Olympics. Granted, Vonn won back-to-back World Cup championships in 2008 and 2009, and she’s clearly THE female skier to beat right now in the world. But it’s Mancuso who had medaled previously in the 2006 Torino games, not Vonn, so it seems weird to me that they were totally unprepared to feature her.

      Nevertheless, once NBC realized they couldn’t ignore Mancuso, they quickly framed her as a competitor of Vonn’s, as Lindsay so excellent describes above. It was something of a desperation move, and it created the oh-so-desired drama and tension. But I think it goes to show how much of the media’s sporting coverage is pre-scripted, particularly for such a drawn out media event like NBC’s Olympics broadcast, where they must prepare countless hours of canned pieces beforehand. America loves an underdog, but for these televised Olympics, they pose a particular problem.

      Oh, but I hate that tiara.

      • Jonathan Gray on March 7, 2010 at 9:44 AM

        “America loves an underdog”? I’m sure many in the country do, but NBC’s construction of the country is fond of the myth of being an underdog, but usually overlaid onto someone who is an obvious contender. Witness the American men’s hockey team, who were highly competitive from the start, with one of the best goalies in the game (with the best numbers going into the tournament, no less) and a fast, highly-skilled team of pros, yet we get “Miracle on Ice” coverage. Or Apollo, who is a clear contender, yet is depicted as needing to fight the South Korean Machine and those Canadian brothers, both of whom are probably cheating and working together, so NBC implied at every possible turn. Even Shani Davis was at times framed as getting on in age, and thus perhaps likely to be eclipsed by younger guns, when nobody (but for a few Dutchmen) expected him to do anything but win gold.

        Mancuso, though, came up against the blunt end of this broadcaster game, though, since it was a fellow American, not a Canadian, Russian, South Korean, Dutchman, etc., who was the ever-so-slightly more favored.

        (And yeah, the tiara’s silly, as is her odd need to shimmy everytime the camera is on her) 🙁

  3. Sean C. Duncan on March 6, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    What were the viewer demographics like? Ratings?

    I realize I’m potentially opening up a can of worms here, but I didn’t watch a second of the Olympics and I just don’t “get” their relevance or why anyone watches them. On Facebook (the only venue where I encountered anyone discussing them), there seemed to be three types of reactions — puzzlement or utter indifference to the Olympics (myself and a number of my former students; hence the demographics question), the occasional person who obsessed over a single sport (figure skating, snowboarding, etc.), and then those caught up in the nationalistic vibe of the games (many Canadian hockey fans, some US hockey fans).

    I’m left wondering is who cares, and why? I don’t mean “who cares” in a dismissive sense, but a demographic one. Perhaps I’m being “too American” here, but why would one spend hours watching this rather than watching/doing a million other things?

    • Jonathan Gray on March 6, 2010 at 11:25 AM

      Kind of a bizarre question, Sean. Why would one watch CSI? Why would one read The New York Times? Why would one buy a ticket to Up in the Air? Listen to The Beates? Go see King Lear? Or, why would anyone watch any other sport or event for that matter? Surely, there’s no single group or answer.

    • Erin Copple Smith on March 6, 2010 at 11:33 AM

      Hm. Well, I think a lot of people from a lot of different demos love the Olympics, and I don’t think I fit into any of the three categories you’ve described, here.

      I love the Olympics and always have. For me, it’s a confluence of various factors–it’s one time where I feel really proud and “rah rah” about being an American, but can also cheer for and celebrate with other nations in their victories. And I love a good underdog, and there are tons of great underdog stories at the Olympics. Also, I grew up watching them with my family, so there’s a lot of nostalgia there for me, too. So, even with my cultural critical frames on, I can still enjoy the spectacle, the nationalism, and the global dynamics of the games in a way that plays to my emotions in a truly wonderful (to me) way.