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Sorry about the presuming. For my part, I once enjoyed watching the girls women's gymnastics at the Olympics, but I have spent twelve years dreading them and studiously turning on a radio to avoid them. For you, it could be the ice dancing or figure skating at the Winter Olympics or the men's swimming. Whatever your poison, you probably have some element of NBCOlympics that you react to with anaphylaxis.

"In short, I found that people don't care to give alms without some security for their money; a wooden leg or a withered arm is a sort of draught upon heaven for those who choose to have their money placed to account there..." -- Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling. (which isn't as bad as you think)
I was ten years old in 1972, when the terrorist attack happened in Munich. In 1982, I had every event logged and planned out, and I think McDonalds was starting its giveaways. At any rate, the Olympics were shown pretty much as they occurred. The Museum of Radio and Television has an exhibit on TV and the Olympics, but it will not say what needs to be said about the packaging of the games and the decision, in 1984, to make the television games a separate phenomenon from the real games.

In 1984, with the L.A. games, we had a UFO to greet the children of the world with the USC marching band, or some such nonsense, at the opening games, and it was a clear announcement that Hollywood was in charge in more ways than one. I've ranted about "Hollywood" before, and I should be clear that I do not mean a town. I mean a business model where investors in a corporation are guaranteed a high return by entertainment products with no regard for bad art or good art or any art at all. It means safe, completely bankable television products. It means focus testing.

Jetpack guy coming over the Coliseum was tailored for a close up. (Have you ever been in a stadium when something like that happens? What do you see? You see a speck and an arm movement, perhaps, but you have all sorts of waiting for it.)

Ever since 1984, American television Olympics have been NBC'd. They have been out of sequence, edited, time delayed, and interpolated. They have had narratives imposed over them, and the producers have multiple pre-arranged victory stories ready in case of upsets. Television cannot be surprised by an outcome, must not be surprised by an outcome, because it must set an outcome at a dramatic moment where the highest ratings are and the greatest investment has been made.

You know this already, though.

Sentiment: A good thing

We all have sentiments. Nothing wrong with that. As cynical as we can get, we all have warm spots in our hearts. Even Dick Cheney probably gets misty eyed when he thinks of a war crimes indictment. Heck, we even have some reliable, universal human sentiments, and that's where things get tricky.

Some situations and contrasts are universal, or nearly universal, emotional triggers. If you see an alcoholic in the gutter and imagine him as a child full of promise, in his mother's love and expectations, your heart will break. This is because of a juxtaposition of cruelty and love. The disjunction causes pain.

If you imagine a woman working on her clothes and makeup, her hair and shoes, rehearsing in a mirror for her date's arrival, and you see her sit alone for hours as she realizes that she has been left alone, your emotions will respond in empathy (I hope). You may be angry at the cad or just sad at the woman's plight.

Show a hungry child or a crying infant or a....

Sentiment in art

The most successful poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, and film makers provoke emotions that are either mixed or unusual. Think about the emotions the viewer experiences in the last reel of "Apocalypse Now!" Are we happy at the killing of Kurtz? In "Full Metal Jacket," Stanley Kubrick invites those of us who believe in peace to feel the desire to kill a sniper.

I don't want to violate any copyrights, so I invite you to take a look at the brief "September Song" by Geoffrey Hill. The speaker is thinking of a victim of the holocaust as leaves burn in autumn. He notes that this victim died in September and that his attempt at an elegy had only been a memorial of himself, and

September fattens on vines. Roses  
flake from the wall. The smoke  
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

The emotion is not self-contempt, but not guiltless. It is sad, but it is not truly elegaic. The speaker, and reader, comes to read "This" as a moment, a satiety, a life, and a parallel with the victim's grave in the roses "flaking" and the time "fattening."

When the 18th century novelists developed their "sentimental novel," they were operating under a scientific illusion. David Hartley's associationalism had influenced a great many theories of moral sentiment. Additionally, after Frances Hutcheson's Theory of Moral Sentiments and many others writing along the same lines, there was a belief that we would all be better at empathy if we read novels and watched plays that had empathetic examples. If we watched people feel, we'd learn to feel more.

This is one reason that later 18th century plays aren't very funny. Everyone is weeping and being polite. The idea was that people would pick up their characters from what they saw and felt around them.


Sentimentalism is, generally, coercing emotions or art that labors to produce easy, obvious, basic emotions.

You know how it is. The music swells in the scene. Strings get louder and louder, until an aural marshmallow is being shoved at your face, and you have no choice but to realize, "I'm supposed to feel something now."

NBCOlympics is television. They have spent a lot of money -- a national gross domestic product -- for the games, and they want to ensure return on investment. They demand that they control the narrative (time), and that they can generate peaks of coverage and stars to which they have access and owned coverage and footage.

They learned early on to go from "Up Close and Personal" to this year's "Pets of the Olympians." They do not want the Olympics, with all of its confusion and simultaneous competition. They need a star, and they must have it be emotional, sensational, tear-jerking, and therefore profitable.

You don't really dislike that ice dancing pair, or that plucky thirteen year old girl gymnast. You're just responding to emotional Ipecac.


How can NBC next get some sentiment out of the games?

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| 19 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)

    Everyone is innocent of something.

    by The Geogre on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 08:38:24 AM PDT

  •  The strikethrough (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, Larsstephens

    Women's gymnastics is beautiful. I'm not sure it's at the Olympics, though. I think the fact that the athletes are successful inversely to maturity is disturbing.

    I have a dark suspicion that NBC stumbled on the "cute cute" (as in acute) size of the girls and the lack of emotional maturity as spurs for more emotion, more sentimentalism. They'd rather a weeping teenager than a stoic mid-twenties guy who runs a race on a broken leg and says, "Yeah, I thought something was wrong." They're both sport, but one's close up ready television.

    Everyone is innocent of something.

    by The Geogre on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 12:57:26 PM PDT

  •  The same incident (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Larsstephens

    can happen with different commentary and the end result is much, much different. Women's gymnastics and women's boxing got the same narrative here (and it was ever so subtly racist, but not sentimental).
    Bookmarked. The turn to hysterical emotion is part of an interesting process which, as you say, began in the 18th century and became universal in the 19th. I really need to get a copy of The Politics and Poetics of Transgression so I have time to do more than skim it, after I investigate Hartley. Thanks for the heads up.

    "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

    by northsylvania on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 02:12:38 PM PDT

    •  We mine similar veins (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, northsylvania

      What offends us, I think, is the sentimentalism of "television." Bette Davis once reportedly told her director, "I'm coming down the staircase, and if Mr. Newman is coming down with me, you can forget it."

      In 1930's films, sound and music masked the lack of effects. Watch the original "Frankenstein," and you will notice that music makes, quite literally, the outdoor shots sound like a chase. There isn't a real crowd there. By the 1950's, the music was a big, overwhelming fist. It was a pillow over the face of the audience. It went from sentiment to sentimentality, from serving art to controlling the audience.

      The 18th century's Hutcheson-Shaftesbury-Hartley-Smith (yes, that Smith) line was part of something ostensibly empiricist, but only in the vaguest sense. It relied upon the concept of a natural state for man that is benign unless mistreated. By Wordsworth, this would be a positive sermon to go out into nature, where one would be elevated by observing such peaceful naturalness. (A Victorian later said that nature was "red in tooth and claw.") We can recognize in this a reaction against the urban density of a London and York going up in population 300% and more, the emergence of smog, the establishment of policing and therefore prisons, and a failure of traditional models of theodicy and evil.

      Today, though, sentimentality is, I argue, crass. The producers who create it do not care if it is good or bad: they know that it is predictable, and that is all that matters. It generates "beats" for pacing the commercials. It creates photo shoots. It gets rumors of celebrity hookups going. It increases people paying the fee for NBC footage. It is, in other words, far superior to anything so frightening as a sporting event.

      Everyone is innocent of something.

      by The Geogre on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 04:12:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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