Several individuals have reminded me that today is the Super Bowl. A thuggish “working-class” team will be duking it out with a Red State team. Bruce Springsteen has either been enlisted for a halftime negotiation between the two sides, or will be performing some music which suggests that, despite the millions of dollars he has reaped from his fans, he is still somehow “working-class,” “a man of the people,” and that he understands what it means to live from yesterday’s flimsy paycheck to tomorrow’s nonexistent one. And the millions of people who will watch this football match will swallow such illusory class roles without question, because that is what they have been trained to do for so many years. Pundits will be examining the many commercials for their apparent artistic and entertainment merits, but they won’t consider the possibility that drawing attention to a commercial is, in a considerable sense, serving the commercial’s purpose: to sell products and to get a specific brand name discussed among the “rabble.” It will not occur to the Super Bowl crowds that perhaps they are being manipulated, viewed with condescension by those who have put up the money, and that the painted faces of fans serving as B-roll aren’t so much celebrated, as they are ridiculed. Plus, the anchoring amalgam of Al Michaels and John Madden is more dowdy than innovative. (Love or hate Dennis Miller, it took some chutzpah to have him tossing around esoteric references during Monday Night Football some years ago. The anchoring choice was so idiosyncratic that I was then a regular watcher.)
I’m certainly not against the shared television experience. I was there for the 2008 presidential elections and the Obama inauguration. I’ll likely be there for the Oscars. I’ll even be there for future Super Bowls and likely the World Series.
But this year, I will be sitting out the Super Bowl. At this time of this year, it seems more trivial than anni previous, particularly with so many phony working-class labels attached. There’s the practical concern of not having any money on the game and therefore possessing no pecuniary incentive to watch. But there’s something fickle here that goes beyond mere money: how can anyone enjoy a game of football while this nation faces a rising unemployment rate, an economy that may not correct itself for some time, various international skirmishes with no resolution in sight, and the like? I’m not suggesting that the Super Bowl should transform into a political forum. It is, when it works, a rousing form of entertainment. And I have often gotten involved in all this, bellowing at the screen in favor of a team I have either (a) followed through the year, (b) selected at the last minute without thought, or (c) selected the contrarian choice because everybody else in the room has hedged their ballyhoos with a particular favorite. There’s something wonderfully primitive in shouting at the top of your lungs, blaming the quarterback for blowing a snap or faulting a head linesman for a failed call.
I approve of all this. I just wonder why, in a time of national crisis, this nation can’t direct the same energies towards more pressing concerns. If they could do that, there might be a televised event that’s more entertaining, more meaningful, and certainly more historical.
[UPDATE: I’m as much of a sucker for a good football game as anyone. And I ended up getting sucked into the fourth quarter after catching a fire-like flicker of the 100 yard TD while on the street and hearing later reports of a potential Cards comeback. If, as some of the commenters suggested, this game was a healthy diversion, well, given how crazy the game was (even crazier than last year’s), I’d have to agree. In fact, if you didn’t catch this game, then you missed out on one of the best Super Bowls in recent memory. So I stand partially corrected, while likewise repeating my concern over why these energies aren’t also directed towards more substantive issues.]