I am sure that you were fearing censorship at these Beijing Olympics.
No, not censorship by the Chinese.
Censorship by those folks at NBC who would prefer you to watch what they want you to watch and, most specifically, when they want you to watch it.
Well, here I am live on a Friday night, freely watching NBCOlympics.com, and witnessing the quite glorious sight of a Chinese cyclist trying to mend his bike.
It looks to me as if his back wheel has suffered a case of the bends.
Looking beneath the screen, I see that his name is Zhang and he is in 135th place. Who knew there would be that many riders in this, um, race over some sort of distance along misty roads that resemble London at six o'clock in the morning (except that there are no drunks visible)?
Here's what is strange about NBC's online coverage: I have no idea what I am watching. Yes, I have clicked on the commentary, which takes the form of a live blog stream--except that the writer is endearingly honest about his predicament.
This is how he has just spoken to me in writing: "The first time up the major climb of the finish circuit has substantially damaged the peloton, but we are still waiting on names and time gaps."
So this commentator is telling me he has no idea who is winning, no idea who is second, no idea who is third, and no idea of the time differences between the riders.
If this commentary had appeared on NBC TV, the commentator in question would have been removed from his post quicker than persons of color and Mongolians have been asked to be removed from the bars of Beijing by the authorities. This commentator would have been sent to televisual Siberia.
There is a wonderfully eerie quality to the live online footage of this Olympic Some Sort of Cycle Race Along Roads.
The picture quality is quite spectacular. The mist is so real it could not possibly have been photoshopped in there by the Chinese authorities to provide some extra menacing ambience. This makes YouTube seem like student video. (Which I know some would contend it is.)
Meanwhile, the NBC livestream commentary is now telling me this: "Apologies for the data stream in the play-by-play window. We are trying to remedy the situation."
They cannot get a handle on the data. They are out of control. We have a situation here, people.
The riders, however, ride on. To the muted shouts of spectators who bang thunder sticks against the roadside barriers, as if they were praying for Kobe Bryant to miss another free throw.
Ah, NBC has heard my pleas and an overlay has appeared to tell me that we are watching a men's road race. The overlay, however, only stays on for a few seconds. Then it disappears again. So now I must rely on the official NBC Olympic online commentary. Here is the latest:
"The leading pursuit has shed some riders as they press towards the finish line 4'11" down on Patricio Almonacid."
No, I don't think they are four feet, eleven inches down. I think those are minutes and seconds. But all I can hear is the silence of a few rubber tires passing through a tunnel.
No voice is there to lead me through my bewilderment. No words of wisdom help to create excitement. Just the vague whistle of a spoke in the wildnerness. This is the live NBC Olympics.com experience.
The scrolling commentary has political news: "Iran, USA detente at the head of the main peloton as Iran's climber Hussein Askari takes a flyer and is joined by (we think) USA's Jason McCartney."
We think? We think? This might be a U.S. assault on Iran. And all they can say is "We think"?
I continue to ponder these words, watch the struggling bottom of the Iranian cyclist, and listen to the echoing nothingness that accompanies these besottingly shiver-making live images. It is as if NBC has hired John Carpenter to direct their online Olympic coverage.
And I can barely wait to see what he will do with the Romania versus Kazakhstan women's handball game.
I am tired, however. This has been live, uncensored (by NBCTV) online footage from the Olympics. I am comforted to know that I will slide beneath my comforter still a free man.
Free from the tyranny of NBC TV and happy in the otherworldly bosom of NBCOlympics.com.
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