The Reading Room

Olympics unearths media goldmine

A billion pairs of eyes around the world saw the Olympic opening ceremony through the wonder of television – a picture of Britain that caused many jaws to drop in amazement. Sir Tim Berners-Lee tweeting from the Olympic Stadium during the ceremony was one of the key features of Danny Boyle’s mescaline mash-up view of Britain and it gave a clear signal that social media was going to be a big player in this Games.

The first “social media” Games

Right from the off, internet creator Sir Tim was recognised for his monumental contribution to tech culture. Unfortunately NBC’s Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer suggested to their American TV audience that they could maybe Google him to find out who he was. A few days earlier we had had the indignity of visiting Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney mocking England and our Olympic ambitions, and now this. But Meredith and Matt got their comeuppance with a good Twitter trolling and all round mockery of their ignorance – a lesson for them on the power of social media, an offshoot itself of Sir Tim’s happy and glorious invention.

An unlikely American hero of the new social media Olympics turned out to be Samuel L. Jackson – there was no royale with cheese or snakes on his plane to obscure his ringside TV seat view and an extraordinary series of tweets throughout the sweaty Lycra fortnight. Some of the highlights included: “Ahhight!! Good MUPFUGHKEAN Beamin’!! Looking’ solid. Still wanna put foot to those judges asses though!” and “Bout to shut it down. Looks like Romania ain’t what it used to be…in gymnastics. prolly gon fall asleep to that White Water Kayaking!” and who can forget “Water Polo!!! As dope as always! Speed, tuffness, durability. STRONG SWIMMAFOUGKAHZ!”

Trolling in the deep

Even if you weren’t watching the Olympics, you might just have been watching SLJ’s tweets to see what fantastic and enthusiastic exclamations he was going to come up with next. Disappointed sports fans were trolling in the deep when Tom Daly’s unsuccessful dive for gold saw him subjected to some insensitive Twitter comments, leading BBC commentator Clare Balding to say about one of Tom’s tormentors: “clearly a young guy saying stupid things and I think I’ve had tweets from him, actually.”

From the opening ceremony, we were off and running. The world’s media declared it a triumph. “Brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British,” said the Telegraph. “Adventurous, self-confident, playful, entertaining,” said The Times. “Now, thanks to Boyle, we really have seen everything,” said The Guardian. “An amazing show,” said The Mail. “For thrills, imagination, surprises and sheer joy it was unbeatable,” said The Sun.

“A wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful; the conventional and the eccentric; and the frankly off-the-wall,” concluded the New York Times. “The opening ceremonies of the London Games sometimes seemed like the world’s biggest inside joke,” said the Washington Post. Some game Americans were actually over here, struggling with the culture of two nations divided by a common language. Dave Barry writing in the Miami Herald said: “I have confirmed that there is, in fact, a place called “Dorking.” What is more, there is a giant cockerel there. I am not making this up. Rest assured that I will continue to pursue this story regardless of where it leads, unless it leads away from my hotel.”

There were some social media casualties closer to home, who fell at the first hurdle, such as Tory MP Aidan Burley who was widely castigated for calling the opening event “multi-cultural crap” and then lamely trying to suggest his tweet had been “misunderstood.” MPs and social media never go well together – it’s like Dad Dancing at weddings – they go at it with great enthusiasm and an alarming lack of skill.

Boris’s old flame

Some were above embarrassment, about 20 feet above embarrassment and hanging on a zipwire over Victoria Park for 10 minutes like London Mayor Boris Johnson. The mainstream media here didn’t make too much of his latest mishap, many quoting the Prime Minister’s view that “If any other politician got stuck on a zipwire it would be disastrous. With Boris it’s a triumph”, and instead, high themselves on Olympic fever, writing many lengthy thought pieces about how Boris could run away with the Tory leadership after his Olympic triumphs. Certainly Boris had the polished phrase in his armoury when he greeted the Olympic torch at the Tower of London ahead of the Games, quipping: “As Henry VIII discovered, with at least two of his wives, this is the perfect place to bring an old flame.”

But, when it got into its stride, the Games, the Games, the global coverage was all about the Games and the personal and team highs and lows and medal snatching personal bests, sports reportage, by-and-large. UK headline grabbing pre-Games stories like G4S’s incredible security staff blunder, ticket sales fiascos and rooftop missiles being a distant memory. Missing keys for Wembley Stadium and rows of empty seats at many events caused the odd blip in coverage, but once it got underway, it was mainly about sport.

The final big non-sports story that got the world commenting and a tweeting was the closing ceremony, a celebration of British music down through the ages selected by muso David Arnold and presented by Take That stadium show stager Kim Gavin. Anything featuring One Direction, Jessie J, Tinie Tempah and grizzled grown-ups like The Spice Girls and George Michael was bound to be unpopular with many. The day after the ceremony George Michael was taking to Twitter to rebuff those who criticised him for having the temerity to play his current hit White Light. “I hope you are not bothered by the press reports of my scandalous ‘promotion’ !!!” he said while thanking his fans and encouraging them to tell the media where to go. Meanwhile everyone from the Rolling Stones (invited) to Kasabian (not invited) was queuing up to say they were glad they hadn’t appeared in the show. While the world’s media had been pretty appreciative of the opening ceremony, most were reflecting the public’s view that the closing ceremony was a bit of damp squib, at best a misjudged medley.

TV or social?

For Sunday Times TV critic AA Gill, in this age of satellite, broadband, on demand, red button broadcasting it was all about TV rather than social media, of course, saying of the Games: “They have grown as television has grown. Before the 1960s, they were sports meetings you read about or might have seen on a bit of flickering newsreel a month later. It’s the technology of TV that makes them what they are, and as the sportsmen grow faster and stronger, so television becomes ever more subtly responsive and intimate, giving us that sense of being part of something that stretches around the world: the huge pleasure of the electric occasion.” Or, as Manchester pop legend Morrissey would counter on the True to You fan site (quoted at length by the Daily Mail) regarding the blanket coverage: “I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event. Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism? The “dazzling royals” have, quite naturally, hi-jacked the Olympics for their own empirical needs, and no oppositional voice is allowed in the free press.”

Whoever won the TV versus social battle, social doubtless appreciated having Ryan Seacrest in its trenches for NBC, regularly updating Stateside viewers on gems such as The Queen being the subject of 1.5m tweets for “parachuting” into the stadium with James Bond and how the station had partnered with Facebook on a new tool called the Talkmeter.

So highs, lows, Usain Bolt’s super speed and Victoria Pendleton’s tears, it’s all over now and time for media pundits to put their heads together as they watch the dust settle and sum up how London’s event went. Anthony Faiola of the Washington Post said: “At these Games, the United States and China might be coming home with more gold, but this country of 62 million roughly the size of Michigan reminded itself of its uncanny ability to punch above its weight.” And as The Australian put it: “There is one simple indication of the success of the past two weeks. That is the feeling of surprise among ordinary Londoners and people close to the Games that after all that anticipation and all their doubts, they had pulled it off so well. It is not a sense of ‘We told you so’, more one of ‘My god, we actually did it!'” AW

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