Skipping the Super Bowl

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.]


  1. “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.”

    This is the kind of deconstruction these hallowed “traditions” cry out for, Ed; the scale on which the audience self-medicates with projected illusions of normalcy-and-triumph is brainboggling. Now connect the dots to the Bread-and-Circuses 2.0 of media torture porn and we’ll have some full-spectrum dissent going. Even if you don’t: good post.

  2. I hear your point Ed, loud and clear. And I agree with your points about commercials and Bruce Springsteen. But the Super Bowl is an annual event and the natural end to the season of a sport that many people use to distract themselves from issues like the economy–people who oftentimes are not interested in distracting themselves with, say, a book like 2666.

    I agree that it is a shame that a majority of people cannot direct their enthusiasms towards something more productive, but it is pointless to blame an annual event like the Super Bowl. It is what it is.

  3. As you point out, the nation is facing some very serious problems. I think you misjudge people’s reactions though. It isn’t as if “Joe Laid Off” doesn’t understand that we’re facing a huge crisis. Lots of those people probably understand it on a very personal level. It’s for that reason that events and traditions like the Super Bowl are so important.

    Tomorrow we’ll all be back watching the economy continue to collapse and worrying about our jobs. If people can’t have a raucous party every now and then, they’ll go nuts with anxiety and hopelessness.

    I do agree with your point though, that the energy could be directed towards the pressing concerns. If, for example, the Super Bowl had a zero-carbon footprint, or something like that, I think the event could be totally fun and more meaningful.

  4. I’m with Bertrand Russell when he advises we solicit happiness from as many different sources as can be surmised…

    Springsteen and Stevie, the Sopranos, Schopenhauer, Skydiving, Sex with Goats, the Superbowl…

    one thing however that didn’t make me at all happy, and I’m not even an Arizona fan, (speaking of “…faulting a head linesman for a failed call.”) is how that asshole of a referee made it his mission to control the game, and get on camera more times than Kurt Warner

  5. Bruce Springsteen is the only working-class hero who has never had to work a day in his life. As Richard Meltzer said: Bruce Springsteen is what would’ve happened had the Fonz started a band. That some of his “fans” were all agog at having learned that the “Boss” signed a deal with Wal-Mart says more about their delusions of who he is and what he stands for than it says about Springsteen (and his affected Kentucky farmhand drwal) himself.

  6. You’re going to watch the Oscars, a jerkoff session between thousands of spoiled millionaires, but you attack Bruce Springsteen. Wow, I’d like to see the math behind that one.

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