From athens to Beijing: The closing ceremony and olympic television broadcast narratives

Christopher Kennett, Miquel De Moragas

Research output: Chapter in BookChapterResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

It is a characteristic of Olympics broadcasts throughout the world that national distribution systems have a major impact on how narratives are communicated and received. Much of what is written-in this book and elsewhere-deals with efforts by host cities and nations, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and sponsors to manage the story by scripting and thus affecting what gets transmitted. There are key moments in the course of Olympic rituals when narratives emerge and global impressions are formed, and these are particularly interesting from the perspective of the producer and transmitter. In this chapter, we continue a long research effort by the Centre d'Estudis Olímpics to study modes of transmission and how they relate to intended narratives. We analyze the broadcast, in five countries, of the closing ceremony in Athens, with its "handover" to Beijing. The closing ceremony and its components form an integral part of the Olympic Games process and contain unique ritual and symbolic value (MacAloon 1989). Central to this ceremony is the handing of the Olympic flag from the mayor of the current host city to the president of the IOC, who then passes it onto the mayor of the next city to host the Olympic Games. This is the precise moment that a new Olympiad begins. During the closing ceremony of the Athens 2004 Games, the mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyyanis, passed the Olympic Flag to mayor of Beijing Wang Qishan, signifying the closing of Greece's Olympiad and the beginning of China's. In a stylized and elaborately produced production, Beijing stepped onto the global stage and presented itself to international television audiences through a combination of a sixty-second video and eight minutes of cultural displays. Within the context of complex regional and international geopolitical relations, this ritual handover and cultural display meant far more than the beginning of the Chinese Olympiad. It was meant to reaffirm the emergence of China as an economic, political, and sporting world power (Xu 2006; Ren 2002). The representation by international television broadcasters of Beijing's presentation as Olympic host is an interesting object of study for several reasons. The structure of the closing ceremony meant that Chinese culture was framed within the wider Olympic context, combining universal messages of Olympism with those of national culture. The broadcast commentators were faced with the challenge of interpreting Chinese cultural displays for their respective national audiences. The handover moment also provided an opportunity to comment on Beijing as an Olympic host and for comparisons to be made with other host cities. A comparative content analysis of ve international broadcasters, including NBC (United States), CBC (Canada), TVE (Spain), Televisa (Mexico), and Eurosport (broadcast in English in Europe), was undertaken for this segment in order to identify how Beijing as host city and Chinese national culture were represented in this context, and what type of narratives were adopted by broadcasters. This limited analysis provides an insight into the complexities of controlling the Olympic narratives. Our focus is on the brief moments of global transmission in Athens in 2004, but from them we gain insight into how the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games may be broadcast internationally and the substantial differences and similarities that exist between national broadcasts. As China approaches a key moment in its long history, the construction and communication of a desirable identity through the international media will play an important role in determining the reception of the Games by the international community. For the pre-Games period, salient features of Beijing as an Olympic host can be observed through its architecture; through the official symbols of the Beijing Or-ganizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG); and, as we claim, through its cultural presentation during the Athens 2004 closing ceremony. © 2008 by University of Michigan Press. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOwning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China
Pages260-283
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2008

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