Let the (Commercialized) Games Begin

August 9, 2008

Fireworks During the Opening Ceremony at the Beijing, China Olympics

The opening ceremony of the XXIX Olympics in Beijing, China — or what we could see of it 12 hours after the fact — was spectacular. The National Stadium, popularly known as the Bird’s Nest, was enveloped in a cascade of fireworks. While an estimated four billion people worldwide watched the ceremony live, here in the States we were treated to a broadcast by NBC at 8:00 pm, which was interrupted early — and often — by commercials for ExxonMobil — portrayed as warm and caring — McDonalds, Wendy’s, Chevrolet and other advertisers.

NBC won’t release the price they paid for the exclusive stateside broadcast rights. But surely there was some other time during the approximately 3,600 hours of coverage in which commercials could air. Commentators Bob Costas and Matt Lauer, laboring under the delusion that they were covering hard news on CNN, interspersed political commentary as athletes representing various countries appeared, referring to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, unrest in the South Ossetia region of Georgia, and other current and historical events. Sometimes, silence is golden.

Olympics Fever Grips China, Including This Practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine

China spent at least $40 billion on staging the 29th Olympiad, viewed as modern China’s formal debut on the world stage. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told the audience: “Beijing, you are host to the present and gateway to the future.” Inside the Bird’s Nest, 5,000 years of Chinese history was portrayed, with stunning choreography worthy of the Circque du Soleil. Thousands of people jammed Tian’anmen Square, shouting “Go China!” Tickets, if they could be found, sold for $15,000 each on the streets of Beijing. Some enthusiastic Chinese took it a step further, such as this traditional medicine practitioner in Guangzhou, who inserted 205 flag-bedecked needles into his head.

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Photo credits: Reuters / Mike Blake and Wenn.

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