Monday, February 22, 2010

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

On February 22, 1980, in the early evening, the US watched its hockey team beat a Soviet team that had utterly dominated the international game. The Miracle on Ice, they still call it.

I remember watching that game. What I didn't remember is that the actual game had been over for the better part of an hour before most of us saw it. More than that, most people watching didn't know the outcome. I'm pretty sure I didn't.

It's hard to imagine such a thing happening today. Today, the game would be live, if only on some affiliated channel. In 1980, your ABC station was your ABC station and that was about it. They weren't about to preempt their regular programming to show the home team's inevitable crushing defeat.

Today, even if you missed the game, chances are someone would text you, or email you, or post something on Twitter, or on Facebook, or you would see the results online, or whatever. In 1980 if you were too far from the Canadian border to catch the game live, well, maybe someone might call you.

Today's generation lives in real time on the net. And yet, in a different way, it's the 1980s world that lived in real time. There wasn't TiVo. Sure, you could tape shows on your VCR, and people did, but it was a hassle (anyone remember VCR+?). Basically, if you didn't happen to be there to watch, you missed it. If you didn't catch what someone said on the radio, there wasn't going to be a transcript or podcast online. If you stepped away to answer a call of nature at a crucial point, well, you missed it. Rewind live TV? That's a contradiction in terms, right?

I'm not trying to wax nostalgic here about how it was so much better in the old days or how Kids These Days just don't know how good they've got it because all this modern technology has rotted their brains. I like being able to look up scores and transcripts online and time-shift TV without juggling video tapes. Rather, my point is that enough technological change has accumulated in the last 30 years for media to have developed a noticeably different flavor. One can argue over better or worse.

Another example: ABC aired the Olympic games under its famous Wide World of Sports banner. Viewers of a certain age will recall its trademark introduction: "mumble mumble blah blah yada yada ... The thrill of victory! And the agony of defeat!" and a spectacular wipeout on skis. And maybe some other stuff. I forget.

Wikipedia points out that while ABC would vary the images for the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat was illustrated, for decades, by that clip of Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj losing his balance at the bottom of the ramp and tumbling into the crowd (fortunately, he suffered only a minor concussion and went on to successfully  coach younger jumpers -- "OK, guys, now don't do it this way ...").

Two interesting things here: For a while, the web had a fairly patchy memory. If it happened after WWW became a household word, chances are you could find something about it. If it was textbook history, someone might have a site on it. But if it happened in the decades before the web, you probably weren't going to find it.

Now that we've got Wikipedia and everyone has uploaded their old videos to YouTube, the web's memory has cleared up considerably. I wasn't at all surprised to find a clip of the WWOS intro. Ten years ago, I would have expected not to. Next time you're visiting the early 80s, take heart. If you missed something notable, no problem. Just wait 30 years or so and it'll be on the web.

The other interesting thing is that for years, Vinko Bogataj was famous. Anyone who'd ever watched WWOS would remember that wipeout. Years later, Muhammad Ali would ask Bogataj for his autograph.

Bogataj  was famous, but no one knew his name. Moreover, he had no idea he was famous until ABC called him do do an anniversary show (ironically enough, he was involved in a minor car accident on the way [or at least on the way to some ABC interview]). Today's unfortunate skier can be absolutely certain that the footage will be on YouTube within the few seconds it takes for the medical crew to arrive.

And conversely, how did I find out Bogataj's name? I searched for "Agony of Defeat" on Wikipedia and it redirected me to Bogataj's page. As well it should.


Anonymous said...

And, actually, he's not that bad a painter.

David Hull said...

I agree.