The philosophy of spoilers

I talked a while ago about when I realised how much more enjoyable becomes when I avoid spoilers, and the basic principle I derived from that.

Right now spoilers are a big topic, because of the Olympics.  If, like me, you’re on the East Coast, you have to wait until 8PM EDT for NBC to start their broadcast of the day’s major events.  That’s 1AM BST–in other words, it’s right when actual competition is wrapping up for the day, and it’s hours and hours after many of the events we’re most interested in have finished.  You have to wait three hours longer on the West Coast.

But while you’re waiting, lots of your friends on Twitter and Facebook already know the outcome, either because they watched it live in Europe or because they’ve gone online–maybe even to NBC’s website itself–so they don’t have to wait.  And they’re talking about it.

I’ve seen both extremes in reaction to this.  I’ve had someone in my stream declare that we need to hold our tongues even after this stuff airs on NBC, to accommodate those who are watching on DVR(!).  And I’ve had someone tell us all that you either can have Twitter, or you can not be spoilt, but that you’ve got no right to expect people online to consider others when spouting spoilers.

I think they’re both wrong.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I’ve refined my position down to a basic standard:

If there’s a time we’re all supposed to gather together to watch something, I think it’s really rude to spoil it beforehand.  What this means, as far as the Olympics go, is that it’s my own responsibility to avoid what’s being said by the people I follow who are actually in Britain–they’ve all seen it live on TV (or in a few instances, in person).  But those in America, who are heading online to see it before the rest of us?  They should be taking the rest of us into consideration.  And I’m speaking here as someone who is far more interested in Team GB than Team USA, so this system leaves far more of the onus on me than it does on others.

Note that this does not mean that you can’t talk about what you know. Just have the politeness to ensure that people are able clearly to see that they’re about to read a spoiler before they read it.  Best way to do this is generally to start off with SPOILER in big, obnoxious capital letters.

For TV shows, that rule stands until the episode airs. (Yes, that includes not spoiling things that are being revealed in the adverts.) For a big movie, until it’s been in release for a week. For a book?  As long as it’s a new release (ninety days from publication), certainly, and then probably as long after that as it remains a top ten bestseller.

Note also that this is a minimum.  I for one have always tried to maintain a higher standard.  As far as movies, TV shows, books go?  I try always to include a spoiler warning in some form.  I was going on thirty the first time I saw The Third Man, and it was over sixty years after the film’s first release.  Yet somehow I’d managed never to be spoilt on one of the most famous movie twists of all time, and it was brand new to me.  If I’d known what was coming, it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have nearly the appreciation for what’s now my all-time favourite film as I do.  But as far as sport goes?  If I’m watching a live event on TV, and I have something to say about it, I say it.

We can talk about the things that engage us.  But we don’t have to trample all over everyone else’s engagement with them to do it.


Signature moment

Whenever a new actor is cast as the Doctor or as James Bond, one of the comments that invariable gets made is that now, that actor knows what the first line of his obituary will be. And it’s true–Matt Smith is twenty-nine years old, but he knows that no matter what else his life holds for him, his obituary will introduce him as, “the eleventh actor to portray the title role in the BBC television programme Doctor Who“. There are really only two actors across the two roles who’ve accomplished enough else in their careers that most people don’t automatically think of the Doctor or 007 when they see their faces–Sir Sean Connery and Peter Davison–but even both of them still know that those relatively brief periods of their early lives will still be the first thing that shows up in their obituaries.

Similarly, sportsmen and sportswomen have moments that define their career in much the same way. It’s pretty much impossible to run a news story about Joe Namath without showing the footage of him jogging off the field of Super Bowl III with the single finger raised over his head in victory. Brandi Chastain will for the rest of her life be the player who whipped her shirt off after scoring the goal that won the shootout against China in the final of the women’s World Cup. Whenever Michael Phelps gets mentioned on TV, we’ll see his one hundredth of a second victory over Milorad Čavić. Gordon Banks’s save against Pelé’s downward header at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, when his body seemed to defy the laws of physics, is the signature moment for both players, as Pelé ruefully admits: “It’s amazing because it was 35 years ago, but people ask me about that save all the time–not just in England, but all over the world. You know, I scored a lot of goals in that World Cup, but people don’t remember them. Sometimes I watch TV and before games they show this save. I say, ‘Why don’t they show the goals?'”

There are several things I find interesting about these career-defining moments. The first is that we don’t know they’re coming. There was no reason, until it actually occurred, that the finish to Michael Phelps’s seventh final of the 2008 Summer Games should have been any more significant than the dozen or so races he’d already swum those Games (counting both qualifiers and finals), during which he’d already won six gold medals, or the following race, in which he hoped to win an eighth gold medal. There was no reason to expect that that one particular shot from Pelé would result in what most football analysts believe is the single greatest save a goalkeeper has ever made; indeed, it’s precisely because it was unexpected–that it looked, at the moment Pelé struck the ball, impossible–that it’s so great.

The second is that it’s not necessarily the player’s greatest moment. Phelps’s win was the first time, in seven attempts, that he failed to set a world record in a final race in Beijing. Brandi Chastain’s bra-bearing celebration came after she scored a penalty kick, probably the most routine and pedestrian thing a goal scorer can do. Indeed, sometimes it’s a really low moment that becomes the first thing people associate with a sportsman–the blood trickling down Greg Louganis’s forehead; Paul Gascoigne’s blubbering tears upon receiving a yellow card in the World Cup semi-final against West Germany.

So if it’s not necessarily their most brilliant moment, then what makes that indelible instant that will come to define a player’s career in the years ahead? It ends up being combination of factors. The spectacle of the moment is certainly important. But so is the importance and visibility of the context–who knows how many other acrobatic, apparently impossible saves Gordon Banks made, that happened to be in league matches for Leicester City against Blackpool or Burnley rather than for England at a World Cup finals?

Or there’s the possibility of the moment running against expectations. Like Pelé having his shot saved. Or Dennis Law, who scored about two hundred goals for Manchester United (his record as United’s most prolific scorer in European competition stood into the twenty-first century, when it was broken by Ruud Van Nistelrooy), but the goal that always gets mentioned is the one he scored against United, when he moved on to a season at Manchester City at the twilight of his career, for that was the goal that condemned United to relegation to the Second Division.

Wayne Rooney’s winning goal in Saturday’s Manchester derby has been getting reshown in sports coverage ever since he scored it. How big has it become? Big enough that it got discussed here on Washington, DC, talk radio, on Tony Kornheiser’s local show. And it didn’t even need to be introduced or given context–“Did you see Rooney’s goal?” was all Kornheiser was asked, to which he responded, “Yeah, I did.”

I think Rooney’s goal has a strong possibility to be that signature moment of his career–to be the first line of his footballing obituary, if you like; the one moment most likely to be referenced, to be replayed, every time Rooney is mentioned following his (eventual) retirement from football. So many factors are aligned in its favour.

It came against Manchester City. It came thirteen minutes from time, shortly after City had equalised. The eyes of the whole world were on that match; with United in first and City in third, it was the most significant Manchester derby since that 1974 meeting when Dennis Law scored for City. For Wayne Rooney personally it’s come after a very tough season–his controversy in the tabloids, his declaration (subsequently retracted) that he wished to leave Man United, and of course his ten months dry of goals scored in open play, a period he really only ended a couple of weeks ago with his two goals against Aston Villa.

And the goal itself is spectacular enough on its own that, even if it had come against Luton Town in the fourth round of the League Cup, it would still have made any Top Ten Goals of the Season list.

What it really depends on is how the rest of the season plays out. Should Man United lift the title in three months, then that goal will be cemented as the key image of Wayne Rooney’s career; only scoring the winner in a World Cup semi-final or final will be able to dislodge it.


So what about this candidate made you say, "He’s the perfect fit!"?

Ian outside Valley Parade stadium, BradfordBesides the Yorkshire Ripper and the Black Panther, Bradford–where I’m from–is famous for really only one thing: its massive South Asian population has made it the curry capital of the world. So I was a bit disappointed when we spent 24 hours there last weekend and didn’t have a single curry.

A few days later, though, we planned to drive from Sunderland to Manchester, and since Bradford lies on the route between the two, less than an hour northwest of Manchester, my parents conceived the idea of stopping there and having a curry for lunch. On the way down, I suggested we also stop by Valley Parade–the home stadium of Bradford City Association Football Club–and head into the club shop.

We headed to the stadium before lunch. Only one employee was present, and my dad asked him about any decent curry places located nearby.

“I’m not actually from Bradford,” he said. “I have to ask directions whenever I go somewhere.”

Bradford City being such a small club–currently they play in League Two, the fourth and lowest tier of English professional football–there’s only so much space that the club shop can fill with jerseys and with a handful of t-shirts about how awful Leeds United are. The remaining floor space is given over to other, non-Bradford City items manufactured by City’s kit manufacturer, Surridge.

Surridge, it turns out, is principally a cricket outfitter, and in the back of the club shop I found a rack with the caps from all the various cricket clubs Surridge is the manufacturer for; I would guess over half the counties were represented. Neither my dad nor I particularly follow cricket–not least because it’s so impossible to find in the States–but we figured that, with the caps priced at only two quid apiece, we’d pick up a Yorkshire cap if we could find one.

We’d have expected Yorkshire’s emblem to be a White Rose, but none of the caps had a White Rose. There were, however, several emblems that we couldn’t identify, so in the hopes that one of them was Yorkshire, I took them over to the store clerk and asked if he knew what teams they belong to, or if he knew if he had a Yorkshire cap in stock.

“Search me, mate,” he said. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

So … the only employee in Bradford City’s club shop is neither from Bradford, nor, apparently, much into sport.


PS Yorkshire’s emblem is indeed the White Rose, and their kit manufacturer is Canterbury, not Surridge.

Pretenders to the throne

Sir Alex Ferguson lifts the Premier League trophy, the FA Cup & the European CupManchester United’s matchup against Inter Milan–concluded last night with United beating Inter 2-0 on aggregate–was definitely the most hyped tie of the European Cup’s second round, eliciting a media frenzy because the return leg was Inter manager Jose Mourinho’s first time back in England since his abrupt (and characteristically enigmatic) departure from Chelsea early last season.

Inevitably, given that just last week Sir Alex Ferguson described himself as being in the “penalty shootout” days of his career, the question was asked of Mourinho whether he saw himself as a likely successor to Ferguson when he finally departs Manchester United and retires from management. Mourinho, typically, gave an answer that you can’t be sure how seriously he means–that he’s happy to consider it principle, but that he wouldn’t expect Sir Alex to be retiring anytime in the next twenty years.

But somehow I think we’ll be looking for a new manager rather sooner than that. After all, the original announced date for Ferguson’s retirement passed seven years ago. He’s the longest-tenured manager currently serving in English professional football by some nine years; next season he’ll equal United’s other manager-knight, Sir Matt Busby, as United’s longest-ever serving manager.* He turned 68 on New Year’s Eve.

And I admit, from time to time I get worried about who’s going to take over for him. It’s a cliche in virtually every field of leadership that a strong, successful leader is almost always succeeded by a failure, and sport is no exception. Man United supporters need only look at Sir Matt’s departure in 1969 for a cautionary tale–only a year before United had become the first English club to be crowned European champions, but the reign of Busby’s successor Wilf McGuinness was so disastrous that, following his sacking in December 1970, Busby himself had to return for six months to take the reins at the troubled club. After Sir Matt’s second departure, at the end of the 1970/71 season, United began a slow decline that climaxed–or bottomed out–with relegation to the Second Division in 1974, and that wasn’t really overcome until Alex Ferguson won his first major (English) trophy with the club, the FA Cup, in 1990.

And if that seems too long ago, as a Gator fan I spent three years being reminded of it during the period now referred to–usually in a quiet mutter–as the Zook era at the beginning of this decade, behind Steve Spurrier’s departure and Urban Meyer’s arrival.

Of course, ever since Ferguson he would be retiring at the end of the 2001/02 season, I haven’t been the only one who’s been interested in who would eventually be taking over for him. In the past decade, “possible successor to Sir Alex Ferguson” has become a phrase the media have attached to any manager who’s shown a fleeting moment of success in the English game as easily as they attach “object of British hopes to win a Wimbledon championship” to any even vaguely promising teenaged British male tennis player. This is particularly true for the surfeit of young managers who’ve entered the profession in the past few years having learnt their trade–either as players or as assistant managers–under Sir Alex’s personal tutelage at Old Trafford.

So over the next couple of days, I’m going to take a look at some of the possible contenders to take on the top job at Man United when the era finally comes to a close and Ferguson decides he needs to devote more time to the horses. Hopefully we can pick a winner–not just someone who can win the job, but someone who can keep the club winning once he does so.


*Counting only Sir Matt’s initial 1945-1969 stint; he’d need another half-season if we also count Busby’s return in 1970-71 following the Wilf McGuinness fiasco.

Sir Tom Baker

Sir Steve RedgraveThe petition.

Yeah, I totally signed it.

And it turns out that when you sign an online petition, you then have to respond to a confirmation email. There’s something a little cool about getting a message from “10 Downing Street” in your inbox.

Now, the petition to have David Tennant light the London Olympic Flame in costume as the Doctor? That one, I’m not so much impressed by.

Personally I’d like to see either Sir Steve Redgrave or Sir Bobby Charlton light the flame. I’d suggest Jayne Torvill or Christopher Dean, too, except that I don’t know how you’d pick one over the other.

Sir Bobby CharltonShould it turn out that there won’t be a Great Britain football team participating in the London Olympics, then I’d recommend Bobby Charlton all the more strongly, to see British football somehow represented.


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An Olympian Olympics

Sarah Ayton, Pippa Wilson and Sarah Webb with their gold medalsA few statistics from Great Britain’s performance at the Beijing Olympics:

–Team GB’s nineteen gold medals put them fourth in the medals table, Great Britain’s highest position since placing fourth at the 1924 Paris Olympics. We were in third place for most of the second week until Russia slipped past us on Thursday.

–The nineteen gold medals and 47 medals overall are our second highest totals in both categories ever, second only to the 1908 Olympics, held in London (at a time when the host country provided the judges and officials).

–Those nineteen gold medals fall just one short of equalling Britain’s gold count from the Sydney and Athens Olympics combined, and are, indeed, four more than Britain’s total medal count from the Atlanta Games.

–Of the eighteen available cycling gold medals, Team GB won eight, and also won more cycling silvers than any other country, with four.

–Team GB was one of only two teams to win two rowing gold medals in Beijing (Australia was the other), and the only country to win two silvers.

–Team GB won more sailing golds, with four, than any other country managed to win sailing medals (Australia and France both won three total medals).

British medalists from Beijing–Nicole Cooke, Great Britain’s first gold medalist in Beijing (in the women’s cycling road race), is Wales’s first Olympic champion since 1972.

–Rebecca Adlington’s first gold medal of the Games, in the exhilirating 400m freestyle final, is Great Britain’s first swimming gold for either gender since the 1988 Seoul Olympics (a year before Adlington’s birth), the first swimming medal of any colour for a British woman since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and Great Britain’s first women’s swimming gold since the 1960 Rome Olympics. Her second gold, in the 800m freestyle, makes her the first British woman ever to win two swimming golds.

–Chris Hoy’s three cycling gold medals make him Scotland’s most successful Olympian ever, and the first Briton to win three golds at the same Games since the 1908 London Olympics.

–Added to her silver in rowing quadruple sculls at the Athens Olympics, Rebecca Romero’s gold in the cycling individual pursuit adds her to the exceptionally short list of Olympians who have medalled in two separate disciplines, the first British woman to join that list ever and the first Briton of either gender since 1908.

–Louis Smith’s bronze in the pommel horse is Great Britain’s first gymnastics medal of any kind since the British women took bronze in the team competition in Amsterdam in 1928. Furthermore, should the Chinese gymnasts be stripped of their medals (which, in all honesty, I really hope doesn’t happen), Beth Tweddle will be promoted to bronze medalist for the uneven bars, and Britain will have two gymnastics medals from the same Olympics.

–Team GB’s three boxing medals (one gold and two bronzes) represents Great Britain’s first multi-medal boxing haul since the 1972 Munich Games.

–Ben Ainslie’s third successive gold medal in the Finn class, added to his silver from Atlanta, makes him the most decorated British Olympic sailor of all time.

–At the Games in which the Olympics held their first ever swimming marathons (the 10K openwater race, also called the flatwater race), Team GB took three of the six available medals (the silver in both races and bronze in the women’s).

–The Games’ middle Saturday, the 16th, was Great Britain’s most successful single day at the Olympics since 1908, with four gold medals, one silver and four bronzes. The following day, Team GB won four golds, three silvers and a bronze. Team GB also won four golds (and two silvers) on Tuesday the 19th.

One final note. I’m sure that the award of the 2012 Summer Games to London has led to significant investment in the British Olympic programme. But it’s the nature of sport and athletics that the fruit of investment like that cannot be borne so dramatically in just three years. The Great Britain Olympic team has shown steady improvement since the nadir of the Atlanta Games, and the success Team GB enjoyed in Beijing–or something approaching it, at least–was coming even before London got the Games.


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My new all-time favourite piece of Olympics sports commentary

Luke Smith (Thomas Knight)The earliest archaeological evidence of a canoe was discovered in the tomb of a Sumerian king near the Euphrates River, dating back nearly six thousand years. That king, most likely, could never have foreseen what would unfold in the medal races of flatwater canoeing here in Beijing today.
–Jim Lampley

I’d just like to point out that this NBC commentator only specifies that our six thousand year old Sumerian King could only never hope (well, most likely not hope) to guess the outcomes of the flatwater events of 23 August 2008. Slovakia taking gold in three of the four slalom canoe races? His Majesty the King of Ancient Sumer totally called that result ahead of time.

(Seriously, the final medal tables for the slalom canoeing at every Olympics until 2084 are inscribed in cuneiform on a tomb wall in Sumer. Verifiable fact. Check it out. And in Ur, they’ve uncovered a clay tablet listing every American Idol winner for the next seven seasons.)


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That’s one way to spread the wealth

Rebecca AdlingtonRemember back in 2004, when Michael Phelps, already having accrued plenty of glory and gold medals, gave up his place in the 4×100 medley relay final to Ian Crocker, so that Crocker would have a chance at his own gold?* Apparently whoever writes the headlines at thought that was a good precedent, though I doubt they consulted Rebecca Adlington about it.

“Breaking News: Patten Breaks World Record to Win Second Gold,” read the headline. I was a bit confused as to how I’d missed this Patten’s first gold, but I was nevertheless excited that this meant Great Britain now had two more golds (since I had apparently been unaware of the first one). Clicking on the link, though, took me to a story about how Rebecca Adlington had won her second gold, smashing a nineteen-year-old world record in the process. Cassie Patten finished eighth.

erroneous headlineThe headline has now been fixed, so no big deal. It does mean we’ve one less gold than I (briefly) thought, since I was already aware of Rebecca Adlington’s first medal. But it still brings our gold medal count up to four. And while no British woman had won a swimming gold medal since 1960, Adlington has now won two in the same Games. She’s nineteen now. All I really know about swimmers’ ages is that they peak around the age of twenty, so I’ve got no idea whether we should be expecting to be around and turning in the same sort of performances in front of the home crowd in London four years from now. But I hope so.

Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic logoIncidentally, I love the Great Britain Olympic team logo. The only problem is that I can’t find merchandise with it on anywhere. I just want a t-shirt or a baseball cap, dammit.


*Since Phelps had already swum for the US in the qualifying rounds of the relay, he was guaranteed to receive any medal the US won in the final even if he didn’t swim. It’s one of his bevy of golds.

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An Olympic moment

Rebecca Adlington and Joanne Jackson

I’ve seen several Americans around the Blogosphere today quite rightly exulting in the United States men’s team’s improbable come-from-behind finish in the most exciting swim race I’ve ever seen (though I am in no way a connossieur of competitive swimming), so I’m sure no one would begrudge me a little nationalistic chest-beating of my own over the events of the women’s four hundred metre freestyle, which had been swum a few minutes earlier.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post how poor NBC’s coverage generally is of events that aren’t likely to end with “The Star-Spangled Banner” being played at the medal ceremony. So I consider it somewhat by accident that I was able to catch Rebecca Adlington’s amazing display as, after being sixth in a field of eight at the race’s midway point, she swam a remarkable final fifty metres to overcome the intimadating advantage American Katie Hoff had built up for herself over the last several lenghts, and beat Hoff to the gold by seven hundredths of a second. And no less impressive than Adlington, right behind them came Joanne Jackson, winning bronze after being dead last throughout the first half of the race.

Lisa and I had a conversation once about the differences between following the United States or Great Britain in the Olympic coverage. For her, as an American, it was a case of it being, if not quite routine, then at least not out of the ordinary for the American competitor to win or medal, so the strongest reaction she can typically expect to get out of an event is one of vague surprise and slight disappointment should that not happen. (Lisa, if I’m mischaracterising what you said then or how you feel now, feel free to clarify.) But for me as a Briton, I get much less opportunity to become jaded by success, so when I see a British win, it’s a moment of sheer joy and pride in my country.

And moments like last night serve as a vivid reminder of why I’d rather be in the position of a Great Britain and Northern Ireland fan than a USA fan. There might of course still be more memorable times to come, but at the moment, that last length of last night’s race, with Adlington and Jackson moving so fast–in adjacent lanes–that the other swimmers genuinely seemed to have slipped into slow motion, and Hoff’s apparently insurmountable lead of three or four body lengths dwindling inexorably, and the American commentators reassuring viewers, even as both Adlington and Hoff both stretched for the finish line, “Don’t worry, she’s [Hoff] still gonna win it,”–well, that’s going to be my defining memory of the Beijing Games, just like my defining memory of the Athens Games is the British men’s team just pipping the heavily favoured American team to gold in the 4×100 relay.*

(There’s a funny story about Lisa–who was a thousand miles away from me, in her parents’ living room, when that race was run–cheering Great Britain’s win excitedly and apparently rather protractedly, until her brother somewhat irritatedly snapped, “Shut up, we lost!” But I’ve pretty much just completely summed up the funny part right there.)

And I should really also include a picture of Great Britain’s other medalist from the Beijing Games’ first weekend, Nicole Cooke, gold medalist in the women’s road cycling race (the race whose geography I discussed yesterday):

Nicole Cooke

These women have made me so very proud of my country–so proud I won’t even be churlish enough to point out that Adlington is holding the flag up upside down in the photograph at the top of this post. Or to complain that NBC didn’t show the medal ceremony, even they showed the ceremonies of the races both before and after it (and the ceremony for the race before it didn’t have any American participation).

And so we end on a little bit of Olympic trivia: Britain is one of only three countries to have competed in every Olympiad of the modern Games, both Summer and Winter. Anyone know (or care to hazard a guess) what the other two are? (Hint: they border each other.)


*Defining memory of the Sydney Games: Lisa and I were attending a state conference with the rest of the IRHA (dorm student government) exec board. Even though Florida was hosting the conference that year, we were supposed to treat it like we were at a foreign campus and absolutely not leave the conference. We snuck out and drove to Jenny Lemasson’s apartment for Ed Borden’s birthday party (or maybe it was Ed’s apartment for Jenny’s birthday, I’m not completely sure). We stayed for about an hour, watching the Opening Ceremonies, then left so we could make it back before we were missed. But when we got outside to the car park, we discovered Lisa’s car had been towed.

Defining memory of the Atlanta Games: well, the bomb. And Great Britain winning gold in the very first event held when the Games restarted after the bomb. There had been serious discussion of cancelling the Games when that bomb went off, and it turned out to be our only gold of the 1996 Olympiad.

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NBC and the Chinese Ministry of Truth

I don’t plan on watching terribly much of NBC’s coverage of the Beijing Olympics, firstly because very little of it is live, and secondly because one of the most annoying things about the way NBC covers the Games is that there’s almost no coverage of events where there aren’t any Americans likely to medal. (I do acknowledge that this is only even possible because America is one of the few countries–along with Australia, Russia and probably China–that has enough athletes likely to medal that NBC can actually fill their coverage with them.)

But this afternoon I happened to catch a few minutes of the women’s individual road cycling race. I came into it just as the racers were entering a certain very famous public square in the heart of Beijing. I’m not going to type the name of that square, because I’m aware just how rigidly the PRC suppresses any mention of what happened there nineteen years ago, and if this blog somehow showed up on their automatic software I wouldn’t be surprised if just the name of the square was enough to get this blog blocked in China. And frankly, if someone in China were to somehow come across this post, I’d like them to be able to read it. (Not that I’m particularly expecting it to happen. But I’ve had the occasional hit from the People’s Republic before.)

But what I will do is post a picture of the square:

A public square in Beijing

As I said, I was watching NBC just as the racers entered the square. And it’s the largest urban square in the world–one hundred acres–so it took these women a good few minutes to get around it. The announcers therefore had plenty of time to talk about what they acknowledged as one of the best-known places, to Americans, in Beijing. They talked about its creation under the Ming Emperors. They talked about the Gate of Heavenly Peace. They talked about the Monument to the People’s Heroes. They talked about Mao’s mausoleum. They talked about the heavy traffic that ordinarily clogs the square.

Anyone want to guess what they didn’t mention even once?

Yup. Not a peep.

Now, I’m not surprised by this. Plenty of other American telecommunications companies have behaved far more heinously in their collusion with the PRC government’s suppression of open communication, not least when Yahoo has provided the Chinese political police with the information it needed to identify, capture and jail PRC citizens for posting online about their desire for democratic reform. (Once again, I’m not going to list them by name, but this Wikipedia article contains their names.)

Next to that sort of thing, I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that it’s relatively minor for NBC to simply accede to the People’s Republic of China’s wish that they pretend that their own best-publicised and most embarrassing act of repression–and one of the most heroic acts of civil obedience that anyone has been brave enough to perform in my lifetime–never happened.

I mean, I very much doubt the Chinese government would have refused NBC entry into China if they’d refused to go along with this sort of thing–that would be exactly the sort of international public relations nightmare this disgustingly casual rewriting of history is designed to avoid–but I’m also quite sure that the NBC staff like things like having their drivers show up in time to get them to the events they’re covering, not having their live feed to the States accidentally cut just as Michael Phelps is about to dive into the water, having their food prepared by someone who washes their hands before they start cooking, or any of the other myriad harrassments they might well be subjected to if they’d refused to play ball. And all they had to sacrifice in return was any semblance of journalistic integrity.


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