Epic, or Epic Fail?

Live TV is one of the most anxiety-inducing tasks facing artists, producers, and engineers, not to mention corporate and political types. In the past two weeks, the NFL’s cash cow, the Super Bowl on Fox and Russia’s pride and joy, the Olympic’s Opening Ceremonies on NBC tried their darndest to impress the world. Both the NFL and Russia took extreme precautions to ensure a flawless show. But in the end, the best way to wow the crowd is to fake it.

Unless you were busy getting rid of some excess beer and missed last week’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, it was obvious to anyone watching that the Red Hot Chili Peppers weren’t totally live. The vocals were live, but the guitar and bass weren’t even plugged in. Before flags could be thrown on the play, the move was explained eloquently by Flea. The NFL insisted that they play along with a prerecorded track (as is the case with almost every single music video ever produced) with only the vocals performed live.

The Peppers debated the issue, but realized that many things, and possibly everything, could go wrong trying to give a great performance in that situation. Rain, cold temperatures, and faulty wiring aside, it usually takes hours to get instruments miced properly, and when the stage has to move into the middle of a football field, who knows what that could sound like. As Flea said, “The NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period.” To satisfy both the NFL, and its own moral compass, the band recorded a track specifically for the show, and poured all the energy they could into it. And I must say—they sounded great.

Moreover, to their credit, the band didn’t try to pull one over on the crowd. They didn’t plug their guitars into wireless units transmitting to nowhere and pretend they were playing. Instead, they purposefully left their guitars unplugged, verifying for anyone interested that they weren’t playing. You known how art conservationists purposefully use identifiable brush strokes and pigments so their work will never be confused with the genuine art? Same thing here. Bravo.

And then there’s Russia. With seven years to plan and get everything exactly right, you would have thought the Opening Ceremonies would have been flawless. They weren’t. The Fisht stadium was designed and built for exactly two events—the opening and closing ceremonies. Even so, the Russians unfortunately failed to plant the landing.

One of the most anticipated moments in every opening ceremony is the first reveal of the Olympic rings. The plan was for five huge animatronic snowflakes to float down from the sky, open up into the iconic Olympic rings, and then explode in a flurry of pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, one stubborn snowflake failed to open and instead just sat there, as a kind of asterisk on the other rings. Trying not to draw attention to the catastrophe, the people running the show bailed on the fireworks. The international audience saw the unfortunate glitch occur, and life goes on.

However, in Russia, apparently failure is not an option. When that shy little snowflake refused to open, the people running the show switched over to a rehearsal tape in which all the rings and the fireworks go as planned. Russian audiences saw a perfect performance—full of pomp, circumstance, ballet, Stravinsky, and not a single mention of the Gulag. I guess Russia must always appear to be perfect, to Russians, especially.

Let’s put aside the Internet rumors that the responsible technician was found dead the next day in his hotel room, and we can skip the joke that the errant snowflake was gay and afraid to come out in Sochi. The question remains: Would you prefer a genuinely live halftime show with probably bad sound, or would you prefer a fake but good-sounding performance? And which broadcast would you prefer—the honest and imperfect one, or the Russian/perfect one? When you’re watching an epic event, do you want reality or did you tune in for the fantasy?

LordoftheRings's picture

...Who truly cares. ...The accent is on the game, and the games, not the halftime show and the opening show.
Those are simple diversions, 'preambules', financial attractions.
And glitches and safety nets are part of their protection, promotion.

We live in an imperfect world, and that Superbowl game was just another great example; totally boring!