HEY, GUESS WHAT: NBC TREATS WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS LIKE A BITCHY CAT FIGHT, BE SURPRISED
In totally standard/I-can’t-believe-I’m-even-shocked Olympic news, NBC aired last night’s women’s gymnastics qualifiers straight from Catty Voyeur City.
Look, I realize Olympic gymnastics has always been lousy with personalities, whether it’s the (usually Russian) so-called Diva Gymnast or the commentators who make their own creepy sport of over-deriding and/or over-praising anyone who dares set foot on that floor mat. It’s an uber-competitive event. Most of its biggest stars are very young girls. There’s a huge conflation of emotion, pride and jealousy in pretty much every corner of the thing which is, of course, why so many people watch and is, of course, exactly the conflation major networks court forever and always.
But last night was particularly disgusting, starting with Jordyn Wieber’s unexpected elimination from the all-around competition. The American world champion was a favorite going in, and though I don’t understand the scoring system and probably never will, she failed to qualify by only a fraction, ceding the spot to Alexandra Raisman — a girl who, from what I understand, no one considered a threat.
But rather than celebrate Raisman’s totally unexpected/amazing accomplishment, NBC trained its cameras on a sobbing, shaking, viscerally inconsolable Jordyn Wieber — and didn’t move them for the rest of the broadcast. The depth of this girl’s upset was seriously among the most uncomfortable things I’ve seen, not because she was clearly shattered — of course she was — but because NBC felt it necessary to air and re-air, in close-up and slow motion, every tear. Even when they interviewed Raisman about her qualification, Wieber stood crying not five feet away. And though I realize the cameras were where they were, couldn’t someone have moved Raisman, like, 3 steps to the right? Give Wieber a few seconds to fucking be the fuck upset away from millions of viewers? I don’t care about your public stage. That shit was gross and intrusive all the way around.
And then came the Russians. Because American viewers apparently can’t handle watching foreign athletes sans ham-fisted narrative — or because NBC can’t figure out how to talk about young girls without pasting on some vague and catty controversy — the segment opened with a piece about the New Russian Diva Aliya Mustafina. It compared her to Russian Divas of yore — including Svetlana Khorkina who, they failed to mention, had her most famous Diva Moment in Sydney when the fucking vaulting horse was set to the wrong fucking height. God. Suck it up, you know?
Anyway, the piece was predictably dumb and manipulative, with her coach quoted often as saying that she was too stubborn, too emotional, too blah blah blah blah blah blah snooooooore. But then, in a quiet moment after team-mate Viktoria Komova’s floor routine, we watched a solid three minutes of Mustafina kissing, hugging and being generally awesome to Komova on the sidelines. And it didn’t seem like a forced congratulation, or even a congratulation at all. The girls were just hanging out, laughing with one of the coaches, hugging all over each other. I’m not saying Mustafina hasn’t had some attitude problems, or that Svetlana Khorkina didn’t before her. But to perpetuate — and by perpetuate, I mean create — this towering Diva narrative against the Americans’ apple-pie and ice-cream is more than a little disingenuous. Especially considering the American girls seemed to be substantially less rad to each other between events.
Anyway. News flash. American media is voyeuristic and predatory. The ongoing diva concept is dumb as fuck. Film at 11.
(Update: BUST Magazine reprinted this piece here.)