The media children of the Games

Allan Fotheringham February 29 1988

The media children of the Games

Allan Fotheringham February 29 1988

The media children of the Games


Allan Fotheringham

My favorite Olympic story in volves the grader that was in the process of preparing the field for the opening ceremonies at Mc Mahon Stadium. At one stage, to turn the unwieldy vehicle around, the oper ator backed out of a gate. Couldn't get back in. He didn't have the proper cre dentials hanging around his neck.

This is the perfect example of officialdom gone wild, as it does at most Olympics and equally so in Calgary. Take a normally sane gas station op-

erator, give him an official uniform and a lot of tags around his neck, and you create a monster, drunk with power and eager to use it. People hearing that a reporter is going to cover the Olympics always enthuse jealously about how much fun it must be. It’s fun only if you like being a child. It’s a return to childhood..

Children out in public are treated as interchangeable parts. They are herded through schools as a mob, shoved on buses, told to stand still and stand in line, told not to make a noise.

Essentially, they are told

everything. They are to listen and obey. That is the fun way the lucky press types are treated at an Olympic Games. It’s back to the womb.

They are sequestered in something resembling a nursery, a media village whose architectural style could be termed Early Quonset Hut. It is fondly known as Soweto. As with children, it is the school bus that counts—not the children. At the Olympics, no one can move until the bus wants to move. The charms of Soweto are cleverly situated untold miles away from anywhere, thus cowing the reporters/children into instant obedience/reliance on the school bus.

High-priced celebrity journalists from around the world, sullen at first, soon subside into fear of being left behind and lapse into frightened silence, their knees jouncing their chins in the school bus, their real importance in the scheme of things

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

made apparent to them. They are then transported to a giant holding pen called a Press Centre, decorated in Early Clapboard, where they spend their time watching television screens that record the events where real live human beings called spectators actually attend.

To eat, we return to childhood memories. Cafeterias. Lineups. Inedible junk food. An Olympics, to the stomach, means 16 days of cocktail food. Children, when they don’t like gunk that passes as food, throw it against the wall. Reporters eat it. This is one

of the advantages of being a child.

All of this, we hasten to add, is the fault of the media themselves—the pencil press and their bastard cousins the electronic jockeys. They now attend these affairs (any public affair) in such numbers that the only solution is for officialdom to label them “children” and herd them about as such. There are 3,000 media types in Calgary—outnumbering, as is usual these days, the athletes and coaches. There were 3,000 media types in Iowa for the first test of the presidential candidates. There were so many scribblers and cameramen pursuing Gov. Mike Dukakis on his final days there that he couldn’t get within 50 yards of a voter.

The presidential race and the Olympics aren’t all that much different. Only the names are changed. There’s not too much difference between Swiss ski idol Pirmin Zurbriggen and Gary Hart. The only change is that Pirmin achieves his fame in the daytime. The top Olympic athletes are showmen,

just as are the top politicians—Churchill, Trudeau, FDR, Dief for a while, de Gaulle. They all skate and slide. Just change the names.

As for the children/scribblers? What can be done? Among other things, the public’s increasing distaste for the media is increased—at any event worth mentioning—by the mob of shoving, bearded cameramen in Reeboks who block the view of everything. It is the fault, if you must know, of the Information Explosion and the Japanese. Because of the former and satellite transmission and suchlike, we

want all our info live from anywhere —from Christa McAuliffe to a Zurbriggen crash on Mount Allan.

Thanks to the genius of the Japanese, electronic miracles can be purchased by every threebody TV station in the realm and they all come to the Olympics, the political conventions. A good TV sound man these days is more important than a syndicated columnist. ABC knows its priorities.

There are those of us, who do not like being treated like children, who propose that the media people apply to them-

selves the same criteria that Olympic selectors do. You cannot make the Canadian Olympic track team if you run the 100 m in, say, 16 seconds. They won’t send you. Such restrictions could be put on the three-person TV stations from Otter Haunch, Man. If there is any problem of deciding the standards, I will be the judge. I will do anything to get out of these cafeteria lineups.

There are some who would say that this, in fact, is a very good, salutary experience for the overfed, overpampered mobs of the media. That being treated like children is good for them. That may be true, but it misses the point. I enjoyed being a child, when I was a child. I wouldn’t mind doing it again—if they can perfect the Alley Oop time machine.

It’s just that I don’t like being treated like a child when encumbered by an adult’s body. One more bus, and I’m going to suck my thumb. It’s not a pretty sight.