Is There More to Olympic Coverage Than Meeets the Eye?

Today’s official opening of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing brings to mind a study I found several years ago while I was writing a paper about The West Wing.

One of the areas I was exploring was whether the popular television program promoted nationalism. While conducting my research, I came across an article in Critical Studies in Mass Communication titled Manufactured Conflict in the 1992 Olympics.

In it, the authors suggested that television can unknowingly contribute to the social construction of an American identity. Their analysis of television coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics, concluded that “political nationalism is completely woven into the fabric of the greater discourse.”

The study cited numerous examples in which team and individual performances were presented in terms of nation-states’ relation with the United States. For example, TV commentators described the American hockey team as the “unheralded heroes of Team U.S.A.” and said the following about the Unified Team: “Do you think anything’s changed because of the dismantling of the Soviet Union? You’ve watched the old Soviet team, the Big Red Machine, and now, of course, that sports system is in shambles.”

Sixteen years later, it will be interesting to see if similar commentary finds its way into the coverage of the 2008 Olympics.

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