Why the Super Bowl matters

I’m not a big sports fan. In fact, I’m generally one to decry the treatment of sports as important. I find it at best silly that such a large percentage of our “news” show times are devoted to the breaking, shocking news that when one team played another, one of them won. I find the presence of the endless public shows of support for the local teams who are going into or coming out of the championships to be tiring (to the degree that I’m far happier to learn that the local team has been having a respectable but unspectacular season.) I find the government underwriting of sports arenas to be near-criminal.

But the Super Bowl is important, and growing more so.

There was a period there of true mass media, a time when reaching your message across America was possible. Milton Berle or Gone With The Wind or Amos And Andy or the Andrew Sisters would be experienced by a significant fraction of Americans, and would be part of the shared convesation, a touchpoint we could share.

But even as TV was rising as a unifying force, teenager culture came along, splitting the music world. TV generally unified for a while, but the emergence of cable and the multi-hundred-channel universe, plus the home video options, have shattered the ratings of the top-rated series to a fraction of what they once were. The great democratic force of the Internet means that we can each find our own gripe-fest, there just for voices who share both our issues and our way of looking at them. If your gripefest isn’t out there, you start your own.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are mostly good things to be said about all these developments. But it fights against the generation of a uniting culture, generating countless subcultures instead – and while that is great for personal satisfaction, it has some cost in terms of understanding. When we meet someone, we do not share their understanding of music, of story, or of news. Even when we both watched “the game” last night, it probably wasn’t the same game. About all we share is common tragedy; we share 9/11, the war, the understanding of the Katrina wreckage. And relationships built on shared tragedy eat at the soul.

The exception is, of course, the Super Bowl. For one day each year, a significant portion of America is watching the same game, recognizing the agony of the same near-misses, seeing the same overblown musical performances, being pitched the same sexual performance drugs.

And if you don’t think this gives us a common language, reflect on this: the arguments on censorship and the public airwaves are built around the Super Bowl. Our discussions of the dotcom boom and bust are framed in discussing the use of Super Bowl advertising. Even those of us who don’t care who was playing on the day of the wardrobe malfunction, much less remember the teams from the day a startup spent millions to show us a monkey playing a drum, still can talk in terms of those events.

So if I understand correctly, on Sunday a bunch of Seattle birdwatchers called the”See Hawks” will be trying to get the ball down to a goal area, and a gathering of Pittsburg thieves called the “Stealers” will be trying to achieve the exact same thing only with a differ goal area — and then at half time, they will each have a change of heart, decide that the other was right in which goal area was the correct one, and hilarious consequences will ensue. And on that day the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Nat’s TV will be filled with folk, most of whom will not have seen another football game since the same event last year. We will consume cartoonishly large pizza, wolf down national-chain-brand fried chicken, and snack on a wide (but, alas, not particularly imaginative, this year) array of snacks and drink strange sodas. And for those few hours, we will culturally be not Buffy fans, comics geeks, Mike Pattonaholics, or whatever other strata we usually occupy.

We will be Americans.

(And if anyone out there in the sound of my blog voice wants to join us at the gathering, drop me a line and let me know.)

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Published in: on February 2, 2006 at 1:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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