Denying Commemoration, Again: NBC Programming Tailored for U.S. Audience

Singer Emeli Sande of Scotland performs ‘Abide With Me’ during the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games. (By Gabriel Bouys, AFP/Getty Images)

The theme of last year’s American Association of State and Local History’s Annual Meeting, Commemoration: The Promise of New Beginnings, is still on my mind. Why? Commemoration is the public healing process of reflection and hope for a better future and provides the lens by which future generations come to understand how and why historical events impact contemporary issues.

In last week’s Museum Minute post, Denying Commemoration: Remembering the Munich 11, I shared my opinion on the International Olympics Committee’s (IOC) refusal to allow a formal moment of silence in remembrance of the Munich 11.  In the week leading up to the opening ceremonies, Bob Costas of NBC declared his disappointment and stated he would hold his own moment of silence despite the IOC ruling. If you watched NBC’s broadcast of the Parade of Nations it was fairly easy to miss that “moment” of silence. I know I did. As the Israeli team was announced to the crowd and the NBC cameras followed them around the track, Costas reflected on the Munich 11 and said, “still, for many, tonight with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died.” Next, there was a short, awkward pause, followed by a cut to commercial. Personally, I would have liked to hear an explicit declaration, “and now for a moment of silence.” As I watched the Israeli team enter the arena I was ready. I wanted to pay my respects with the world.

And… nothing. The intended commemoration was not well executed.

This week, I’d like to continue the discussion about denying commemoration and, more specifically, another of NBC’s editorial decisions surrounding the broadcast of the opening ceremonies. The ceremonies, what the U.S. saw of them, were quite the spectacle. Music, dancing, lights, history, drama, evolution and star power. Love it or hate it – the program was unique.

That being said, what did you think of the awkward Ryan Seacrest interview of Micheal Phelps? Not great, right? Well, it was filler. NBC cut the tribute for the victims of the 2005 terrorist subway bombing in London from its  coverage with filler. Why would they do that, you ask? NBC defends its editorial decision by arguing that a tribute to the London bombing just wasn’t tailored for the U.S. audience.

Are U.S. terrorist victims the only victims U.S. audiences are expected to care about?

To view the tribute click here.

The United States was not the first country in the world to experience the horrors of a terrorist attack.  Nor is it the most recent. But just as the world has shared in the shock, horror and subsequent recovery of the United States in the years following 9/11, so too have Americans done the same for places like Mumbai, Madrid, Oslo and London (among many others).  And yet, with their decision to strike the 7/7 commemoration from the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games, NBC has sent the message loud and clear, not only to the U.S. audience but to the world: the U.S. is all that matters (and all that the U.S. should care about).

Do you agree? And more broadly, what are the ripple effects of the IOC’s ruling and NBC’s editorial decisions beyond the debates of this week? How might our communal memory be effected by such a decision? What responsibility do we in the public history field have with regard to an event like this?

2 thoughts on “Denying Commemoration, Again: NBC Programming Tailored for U.S. Audience

  1. I noticed the ‘attention’ Costas tried to draw to the Israeli team, that was the ‘moment’ of silence?! As you said, not well executed and I agree. In regards to the Seacrest/Phelps interview, I didn’t even know it was a filler (though I only heard about that segment). I think the ripple effects send the wrong message about tailoring to one audience. The Olympics are set to be an event for the world to celebrate and come together. So why tailor it?! As those in the public history field, I believe our responsibility is to educate all people for a better understanding of the world around them. Not just where they live. This is why there are World History classes. We must continue to educate/promote!

  2. Apparently, even that little bit of tribute Bob Costas tried to pay was under protest, as the network didn’t even want him to do that much. I thought it was weird to have that Phelps interview in the middle of the ceremony, but the only reason I knew it was filler was because of Twitter, and it was ticking everyone off. I regret that we weren’t allowed to participate in those remembrances. It’s insulting that NBC is painting the picture that United States citizens aren’t concerned with or affected by that history. I know we have the tendency to not be very reflective (with lots of people believing that we should just “get over” the parts of our history we’re not proud of) but this was a perfect opportunity to bond globally over issues that have affected nearly everyone on the planet.

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