It is a running joke that Americans learn geography or about countries outside the United States only when the US military decides to invade a country. Presumably, this is why NBC broadcasters Bob Costas, Matt Lauer, and Meredith Viera announcing the Olympics opening ceremony would be sharing trivia about each country, especially information that Americans might be able to understand even if they were terribly uneducated. But that should be no justification for the candor of the commentary during the broadcast of the Opening Ceremony, which was frankly an example of smug American elitism and often outright condescension.
For example, Bob Costas said North Korea’s greatest athletic achievement belongs to “dear leader Kim Jong-Il who, according to his official biography, carded 11 holes-in one, not over a lifetime but over the first round he played.” Matt Lauer then reacted, “I’m sure you joke. You’re not going to vacation there.” Costas added, “Unlikely.” This occurred while athletes from North Korea were marching in as part of the Parade of Nations. These are people who have been anticipating this moment for months, and yet instead of discussing the athletes, he chooses to test his ignorant wit on primetime television.
This went on for just about every other country. “Churchill never met Idi Amin,” Costas said as Ugandan athletes walked in the stadium. An anecdote about Kuwait mistakenly playing the Kazakhstan national anthem in the film Borat was shared as Kazakh athletes made their entrance. He mentioned the animated movie franchise Madagascar as Madagascan athletes strode by the camera. And, of course, like a school boy learning the country’s name for the first time or a character in a Christopher Guest film, he said, “There are some countries whose names just make you smile,” as Djibouti walked by.
The comments were not limited to quips that fell flat. Costas’ introductions of many of the countries seemed to highlight the worst aspects of each country’s history or inadequacies in the country that Costas himself may or may not have experienced personally. He said, Egypt is in “a transition of some sort,” and added, “From military dictatorship to Jeffersonian democracy? Not quite.” He noted that Kiribati does not have regularly scheduled flights to Honolulu. He ominously reminded audiences that world leaders are keeping a “wary eye” on Pakistan. He described how Australia was “originally founded as a penal colony.”
When Iran entered, the opportunity to discuss international tensions had to be taken. Costas talked about issues over sanctions between Iran and the United Kingdom, as if the United States has played no role in imposing such measures, which have taken an economic toll on her citizens. He also avoided mentioning current US involvement in Yemen when athletes from that country entered.
Coupled with the fact that NBC cut out the ceremony’s memorial of the 7/7 terror attacks in London and Saudi Arabia’s first female athletes entering, NBC’s presentation of the opening ceremony was appalling, hokey, and downright imbecilic. Broadcasters of the American idiocracy were in true form.
It is not like Americans are given much exposure to people or culture in countries outside of the United States. They are consistently indoctrinated with this idea from all politicians that they are citizens of the Greatest Nation on Earth. So, perhaps, it is not surprising that broadcasters on NBC would reinforce this predominant ideology of exceptionalism in our society. But is it too much to expect that NBC announcers would, for the few seconds that these countries go by, not offer smug or sneering remarks that call out the imperfections of each country’s current politics or past history?
Is it reasonable to characterize this as being smug American elitism, a symptom of the nationalistic culture of the country from which the broadcasters hail? It is unlikely that such a spread of remarks would have been made by people who did not think they live in a place that is a number one superpower that no other country in the world could ever equal.
What is refreshing is the people who tuned in to NBC were constantly calling out Costas, Lauer and Meredith Viera. Numerous messages were sent out on Twitter last night from people repulsed and infuriated by the way that NBC was announcing not only the Parade of Nations, but also the entire Olympic Opening Ceremony.