With one seamless cut to a celebrity interview before the tribute to terror victims in the Olympic opening ceremonies, NBC reinforced the perception that Americans have neither compassion nor the ability to relate to tragedy abroad. Americans didn’t need to see it because it didn’t happen here. The Olympic tribute was “not about America.”
If you were watching the opening ceremonies in the U.S., NBC edited the tribute out and, instead, cut to an interview with Michael Phelps and Ryan Seacrest. Perhaps NBC felt there was an absence of something, some American visual or ritual, a military flyover or specific 9/11 reference, to which American viewers could relate.
The two elements of the tribute to victims of terrorism were brief: the Wall of Remembrance with photos of worldwide terror victims consisted of a series of quick montages; the sparely sung Scottish hymn and dancing tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London terror attacks lasted just a few minutes. But after watching the tribute, if NBC felt that Americans would find the images capturing people, symbols, and events somehow “foreign,” does the network feel the presence and commemoration of Americans killed in the London bombings would be perceived as foreign as well? There were at least two Americans on the Wall of Remembrance. One was an unidentified Marine; the other was U.S. Air Force Academy cadet Andrew Chin. We don’t know how many other Americans might have been pictured.
Beyond the presence of the two Americans, however, it’s also troubling to consider that the live performance would be somehow too abstract, artistic or somehow inaccessible to speak to an American audience. The tribute to the London victims, for example, started with a dust explosion, so readily recognizable to Americans who watched the dust from the World Trade towers as they imploded and choked New York’s Financial District. And as the dancers devolved from still to the chaotic motion of survival, Americans too might remember the frenetic pace of fear and rescue and, perhaps, the march to war.
Many Americans would also know the simple hymn sung by Scotland’s Emeli Sandé in an almost halting yet haunting manner as dancers kept a crazy pace in the dim of dark hues on the stage. Abide with Me is a well known song of surrender and comfort in God in life and death, sung nearly a capella by Sandé as she stood in front of an Olympic Bell eerily reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell.
But if you think about it and watch these diverse dancers, perhaps representing victims, grasp the child dancer and lift him into the light above the chaos, the network’s error becomes most obvious: in editing out the tributes, NBC perpetuated the myth that terror only happened to Americans. That we can’t identify or relate to the loss experienced by other peoples, other nations. That we don’t look or feel like everyone else. Instead of the opportunity to experience this visual empathy on a national scale, we get Michael Phelps and Ryan Seacrest and NBC fills the absence of something–anything they believe Americans can’t understand–with nothing.