The Running of the Bikes

No big crashes in the Tour’s twelfth stage today, which, if you’re keeping score at home, ended with a sprint finish taken by the points leader, Tom Boonen of Belgium.

No wipeouts: apparently that’s exactly the opposite of what Versus, the network televising the Tour in the United States, wants to see. That’s because Versus, in an effort to position itself as the premier purveyor of knucklehead blood sports, is promoting bicycle racing as part of its package of violent, dangerous, jackass programming. The Versus ad campaign is “Red White Black and Blue Summer” (trailer here), and lumps in bicycling along with cage fighting (scary tattooed guys beating the tar out of each other) and bull riding (nothing crushes your spleen like a half-ton of angry beef on the hoof). Oddly, some versions of the Versus promotion also include yacht racing as one of its “pain is good” offerings. Just to make it clear that Versus is advertising cycling as a NASCAR-like crash fest, its daily Tour coverage now offers a daily recap of the top five crashes in this year’s race.

On a couple levels, “Red White Black and Blue” is dumb and disturbing. Dumb because no matter how you dress it up, and now matter how many big bike pileups you get on camera, you’re not going to suck in the same audience that’s turned on by the intimate orgy of violence exhibited in cage fighting or the stomping mayhem seen in the bull-riding arena. Just not going to do it. There’s no doubt that a crash in a bicycle race can be electrifying; but to really be excited and alarmed by it, you have to be one of the bike geeks who finds it fascinating to watch Men in Lycra for hours and hours on end. Most bike crashes happen fast and with little drama and the cameras are hardly ever in the right place to get a close-up view of the action unfolding. The crashes that are replayed and replayed again and again are the exceptions.

So that’s the dumb part. The disturbing part: What’s going on with us that so much entertainment, especially for younger guys, centers on such stupid and unrestrained violence; that so much of this entertainment tries to find an audience by selling the promise of seeing someone carted off to the intensive care unit?

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4 Replies to “The Running of the Bikes”

  1. I think it’s our nature to be drawn to this stuff. What’s different now is that whereas we and media used to be embarrassed by this side of human nature, now we and they feel no shame.

  2. Good analysis, and good question. As for bike riding, maybe Versus is banking on a new level of excitement (blood on a bike) for people who are no longer a fazed by their everyday, run of the mill cage violence. I think there’s a generation of people, and some kids are coming into it, who think nothing of violence. So, maybe they’ll catch on camera a bone poking through the skin of some unfortunate bike rider and the crowd will roar. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the network’s advertisers.
    In any event, I bet they don’t have the King of Cage.

  3. Okay, I feel ya Dan, but what about the very sexy Team Tennis ads featuring Anna Kournikova and Venus Williams? No violence in that. Please don’t tell me that you are opposed to sexy tennis players too?
    Anyway, I’m with Fast Freddy. It is the tour organizers’ fault that there are so many crashes this year. What is it with all those crazy turns and angles at precarious moments?
    In my mind, the greatest violence in tour coverage is Phil Liggett. If he wasn’t a white man, he would have been fired years ago.
    Peace and love from Carolyn

  4. Hey, Carolyn: ‘
    Well, you’re right about Phil. Paul’s no better. I don’t think it has anything to do with them being white men, though. But if you do, tell me what announcer of color is standing in the wings to take their place? They’re the incumbents, and the people who are doing the broadcasts lack the imagination, the guts or the enterprising nature to go out and find more competent broadcasters. I’ve fulminated about this for years, but I feel sort of resigned now; those two are just joining a long list of colorful, goofy sports announcers — baseball is littered with them — who pretty much suck at what you might expect their basic job to be.
    On the Venus/Anna front, gosh, no, I’m not opposed to sexy tennis players. I just haven’t watched a single one of those ads. No denying that’s part of the Versus appeal to the drooling knuckleheads, though.

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