By Paul Brighton, Head of Department of Media and Film
The success of the London Paralympics so far has rested on a number of factors: the obvious public appetite for tickets; the extensive media coverage; and, of course, the extraordinary achievements of a number of GB paralympians.
The Channel 4 coverage has increased in response to positive news on viewing figures. And, while the presence of regular commercial breaks was a bit of a shock initially – especially in the Opening Ceremony – most of us seem to have got used to it fairly quickly.
What isn’t yet so certain is how the media lens will transform the competitors’ lives after the Games. 2,500 years ago, the Greek poet Pindar wrote a series of superb Odes in celebration of athletes who triumphed in the ancient Games of Olympia.
There was a debate at the time as to just how famous those champions should be. Were they greater than casualties of battle? Did victory lead to excessive pride? Was the sudden fame of the athletes a threat to the stability of society? Were champions so admired that they were, in Maurice Bowra’s phrase, “thought to be more than men”?
Perhaps fortunately for them, the Ancient Greeks did not have to worry about the media. You won the competition, asked a great poet like Pindar to tell everyone about it, and settled back to enjoy the fruits of your triumph. Now, it’s the media who pretty much decide on levels of fame.
For every Tanni Grey-Thompson, however, there’s a Mike Kenny. Sixteen Paralympic medals between 1976 and 1988; but no regular TV slot: let alone a knighthood. Indeed, he says he can’t even afford the cost of the fare from Manchester to London to get to the Games as a spectator.
So, forget the illusion of influence given by premium-rate reality TV phone-in votes. The mainstream media and the advertisers are still in the driving seat.