This is the first Olympics that I have viewed in a post-Tivo world. The DVR is such an omni-present part of my TV viewing experience that I am now finding myself struggling to view the Olympics without mediation by my Tivo. Like so much about the Olympics, though, I am torn about how Tivo affects it.
The biggest problem is also the greatest strength—the ability to fast-forward. Once you start picking and choosing your way through a five-hour portion of Olympic coverage, it becomes very clear just how little you care about most of what is going on. In most cases, it simply is not compelling to watch a bunch of people who you do not know engage in the same task over and over again. You sit and watch the clock as various people ski down a hill (or, even more identical, race down a bobsled or luge course), wondering what you are supposed to be looking for. The carefully-packaged back-stories are only provided for people who will medal or crash… oh, or Americans—is our narcissism any clearer than in how we cover the Olympics? But without these segments, the actual competition is meaningless.
So what are we left with? Episodes of 24, that’s what I usually am left with. Each night I find myself moving more rapidly through the Tivolympics, less and less compelled to watch some random Austrian skiing down the same hill that ten other people have just skiied down. And the figure skating… once you take away the live-ness of these events, they become even easier to fast-forward through.
Because the single biggest thing I have learned about myself as a result of using the Tivo to mediate my 2010 Olympics is how much of my engagement is entirely jingoistic. If I watch an event, or even part of an event, that an American does not medal in, I get profoundly annoyed. Why aren’t we better in bobsledding? What kind of lazy-ass bobsledding program do we have in this country that we can’t do better than Germany? Without those touching stories about Norwegians who used to have eating disorders, my Olympics becomes about which countries I like better.
Ultimately, I think the Tivo only draws out the real motives lurking beneath the Olympic-viewing experience. Because, faced with a competition between the worst American I can imagine and the best person from any other country (Snooki vs. Mother Teresa?), I would honestly say that my allegiance would lie with Snooki.
I should probably stop writing about the Olympics now.
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