August 16, 2016
I'm watching the Olympics via streaming for the very first time this year.
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[After vowing to get back into a weekly publishing schedule with this personal journal of mine this year, I have once again this summer lapsed into big periods of inactivity (although this time for the justifiable reason that my job search has recently ratcheted back up into high gear). Nonetheless, I'm going to be cranking out several ideas for journal entries in rapid succession for the rest of the summer, literally once every four or five days for at least the next four or five weeks, so I appreciate any of you who want to get back into the habit of regularly visiting, or saving yourself some time and just subscribing to the RSS feed or my Twitter account.]

So first, a simple confession -- although I've been watching the Olympics opening ceremonies on a regular basis all the way back since 1976 (the first Games I was ever consciously aware of, back at the age of seven, mostly due to the insane hype behind adorable little Communist Nadia Comaneci becoming the first gymnast in history to score a perfect 10 at an Olympics), I tend to never watch the actual events that happen in the two weeks following, both because I'm not really a "sports guy" and because the TV networks tend to never show the more obscure stuff I'm mostly interested in, but rather an endless parade of swimming, diving, gymnastics and track & field. But, 2016 is the first-ever year that the Olympics has been streaming online in its entirety while I've had a computer powerful enough to handle that streaming and I've had home broadband internet; so I decided this year to finally bite the bullet and make the time to watch the games themselves, with the ambitious goal of at least sampling as many different of the 42 disciplines that are being offered this particular year.

But there was one big problem to start things right off -- that the greedy little corporate fuckfaces at NBC are once again banning anyone from accessing their online content unless they can prove that they pay for a cable account, because cable is starting to becoming a dying medium and so the gatekeepers of that medium have decided to do what they always do, squeeze every last penny out of that medium as they can before it dies for good, no matter how much that screws people over. But thankfully I already had a workaround for this; for a couple of years now I've had a paid account at a "virtual private network" (VPN) service called Tunnelbear, where for eight bucks a month you can trick the internet into thinking you're originating from one of a dozen different countries around the world. I originally signed up for the service so I could watch British television quiz shows directly from the BBC's online streaming service, then kept my account because in the last year or so I've started becoming much more aware and proactive about ensuring "everyday security" regarding the data and my activities on my computers (but more on this in another journal entry soon, including how I'm now using Linux as my main laptop operating system while out at public cafes, and how I taught myself Tor for my more sensitive web browsing). And the BBC is showing every second of the Olympics this year in online streaming format too, so I'm simply watching it all through them and am avoiding NBC altogether (minus one infamous night that I tried watching their broadcast network coverage, but more on that in a bit).

And what have I thought? Well, let's start with this -- that despite the Games having become an overblown financial catastrophe in modern times that essentially now bankrupts any non-dictatorship city that hosts it, there's still something really awe-inspiring about the history and sense of continuance that goes into making the Games happen, even as they subtly morph every four years in an attempt to be more inclusive and to better reflect the interests of its times. Here in Rio, for example, I've watched sports that go all the way back to the 19th-century European aristocracy who were the exclusive participants of the first several modern Olympics -- such as equestrian dressage, for example, whose description can literally be boiled down to, "How well as an upper-class noble have you trained your horse to be calm and obedient?"; or the modern pentathlon, in which an athlete fences, swims, shoots a pistol, does a cross-country run, and jumps walls on a horse over the course of a couple of days, the set of skills that were considered a requirement for any good military officer prior to World War One. But I've also watched competitive whitewater rafting, gymnastics performed on a trampoline, and of course the juggernaut that beach volleyball has become in recent years, a "sport" that thirty years ago was considered only a drunken pastime for slacker hippies; and I really love that one athletic tournament can accommodate such a wide array of interests, which is clearly the element that has allowed the Games to thrive through 120 years and two world wars by now.

But that said, watching a wide sampling of these sports this year, and especially seeing which regions of the world tend to do well in each, makes it clear that there's also a lot of politics that go into determining which events stay and go with each Games, and that one country's eye-rolling is another country's national treasure. For example, if it was up to Americans, table tennis would clearly not exist as an Olympics event ("Fucking ping-pong? Are you serious?"), and only does because it's such a national obsession among far-Asian countries like China and Japan; handball (which you can think of as a cross between soccer and basketball) barely even exists in America, but I've learned is taken hugely seriously in most of the countries in eastern Europe; and the one sport I've gotten into enough this year to watch every single day, women's weightlifting, is almost exclusively dominated in each weight class's finals by a combination of southeast Asians and South Americans, while these same countries have almost no presence at all in an American favorite like beach volleyball.

Watching a wide variety of sports like this makes you highly aware of just how biased American coverage of the Olympics is -- that NBC doesn't just exclusively air swimming and gymnastics because those sports are somehow "better" than the others, but merely because these are sports that will draw a large "U-S-A! U-S-A!" audience. But on the other hand, since Great Britain earns so few medals in any given year, their coverage of the Games is by definition a lot more egalitarian; I mean, sure, they get as annoyingly nationalistic as Americans when it comes to an event they have a good chance of winning (I never need to hear the word "Mo" again for the rest of my entire life), but since that hardly happens, usually their coverage is a much more balanced and interesting affair, giving an even look at all the competitors and letting the natural drama of the event itself take center stage. Watching the BBC's coverage instead of NBC's has literally made me a better citizen of the world, and made me more appreciative of the actual athletics being demonstrated in any given event, the natural highs and lows of an athlete beating their personal best or disappointing themselves in an event they were favored to win.

And that's another thing about watching the streaming coverage versus the television coverage -- the streaming video never includes any of the "storytelling" vignettes that regularly pepper TV coverage of an event, and their absence makes you realize just how insipid and manipulative those vignettes actually are, designed expressly to artificially raise your motivation to care about whatever person is making that TV network the most money. That was the thing that was so clear to me last Saturday, during the first day of actual competition, when after a day of BBC streaming I unwisely decided to spend Saturday night watching NBC's main network coverage to see how it compared. But between the incessant goddamn commercials literally every five minutes, their Trump-like attitude of, "If an American can't win it, then it's a sport that doesn't exist!," and the full ten minutes of every hour of sappy storytelling vignettes instead of just showing the fucking sports, I found the whole thing such a demoralizing experience that I turned off my TV after a couple of hours and haven't turned it back on again since.

It's an experience like that that gives you a whole new appreciation for the fact that the way the media chooses to portray convicted criminals depends entirely on how much money that convicted criminal stands to make for that media organization; for that was easily the most disgusting thing about my Saturday night watching NBC Olympics coverage, just such an ethically disgusting thing, the way that NBC reminded us over and over, literally a dozen times in two hours by half a dozen on-air personalities, what a "remarkable comeback" from his "youthful mistakes" two-time convicted drunk-driver Michael Phelps has made, and how we should all immediately forgive said "youthful mistakes" (i.e. his multiple occasions of deliberately risking the lives of innocent people around him) when NBC would be raking other people over the coals for the exact same behavior. (And by the way, that second DUI conviction happened less than 18 months ago, so fuck your "youthful mistakes" bullshit, NBC.)

And the reason NBC went so out of its way to assure us what a great guy drunk-driver Michael Phelps is, is of course because every other commercial on NBC that night featured Michael Phelps, with this sort of circle-jerk of millions of dollars that flows between these entities (the sponsor pays millions to Phelps and millions to NBC, Phelps generates millions of viewers for NBC, NBC delivers millions of eyeballs to their sponsors' ads); and the only way that circle-jerk works is for NBC to do everything in their power to make people forget that Michael Phelps is a twice-convicted drunk-driver (who has therefore probably driven drunk at least a dozen times without getting caught, putting every single man, woman and child he comes across at risk of death), and to convince us instead that he's this "great guy" who has staged a "noble comeback" from his "youthful mistakes."

That's why I have absolutely no ethical qualms at all about my technically illegal act of watching the Olympics through the BBC via VPN, and thus depriving NBC of one more set of ad-watching eyeballs; for when you rip off an organization that's morally bankrupt to begin with, you're actually contributing a moral good to the world at large, a Robin-Hood-like act of stealing from the douchebags in order to benefit the commoner (that commoner being me, the guy who can't afford cable). It's not a moral crime when the people you're stealing from are black-souled monsters; and make no mistake, when NBC executives voluntarily choose to portray a twice-convicted drunk-driver as some white-hat hero who children should look up to and admire, that makes NBC executives black-souled monsters, a fact that doesn't stop them from becoming filthy rich but a fact that nonetheless absolves me from giving the tiniest fuck what they think of my behavior. And meanwhile, like I said, the BBC coverage is better, fairer, less manipulative, makes me a better global citizen, and as an added bonus features commentary always delivered in a sexy British accent.

So, that's the view from around here, where at these games' halfway point I have now racked up viewings of 22 events and counting. You can get a rundown of them all and my pithy little thoughts on them over at my Twitter account (the same place you can get notices about new entries of this main journal of mine); or if not, I hope to see you back here in another few days, where I'll be taking on the subject of existential crises and how this relates to the struggle these days to change my career in middle-age. I'll talk with you again then.

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