The one thing I really like about the Superbowl is that for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon in February, the whole urban world goes very quiet. Just about everyone else seems to be glued to the television, eating guacamole and downing beer. Since neither guacamole nor beer figure in my concept of the good things in life, I politely decline invitations to Superbowl viewing parties and instead, roam the empty streets and appreciate the silence.
And yesterday, as I indulged once more in this unwonted peacefulness, I realized that despite my seemingly un-American aversion to American football, I have lived in the United States more than half my life.
I was somewhat stunned by this fact. It’s been many years since I added an American passport to my British one (the airport shuffle: “which one do you want?”), yet I still don’t think of myself as “an American.” On the other hand, I don’t think of myself as British either. For someone who’s lived on three continents, nationality is not a big definer of identity.
Yet you’d think that after so much time, I’d have a good handle on American folkways such as the Superbowl. I followed baseball with a passion for the first few years I was here, and a column I wrote on it for the New York Times is still probably the most reprinted piece I’ve ever written. It even became part of a Smithsonian exhibit. But whatever the opposite of a passion is, that’s what I have for American football.
A new acquaintance once tried to turn me on to the game (if “game” is the right word for a ritual in which people do their best to bash each others’ brains in, with well-documented and utterly predictable long-term results) by explaining that it was really all about real estate. If he’d known me better, he’d have tried a different tack. This was in New York, where at the time, real estate regularly made for stultifying dinner-party conversation.
More recent attempts to persuade me that it’s really a game of strategy just made me long to get back to the backgammon board or the billiard table, at both of which I acquit myself with much more gusto than skill.
Call me slow on the uptake, but this morning I finally realized that the Superbowl is about neither real estate nor strategy. As Bernie Sanders would doubtless point out, it’s about money. Big money. Which is why a considerable portion of the news coverage of the game today is devoted not to the game itself but to the commercials.
The Superbowl is really the fraternal twin of that other big-bucks rite of communal television worship, the Oscars (with the difference that in football you actually get to see black people in starring roles). And for me, at least, it’s just about as irrelevant, which is why I’ve already turned down invitations to Oscar-viewing parties (I used to accept, only to find myself in endless complaint about the awards going to the wrong people and the wrong movies). Nothing for it but to just be un-American again, and take to the streets to commune with the silence…
Nothing is an accident darling.
I couldn’t agree with you more on all counts, and I was born and raised in the American Midwest — the “amateur sports capital of the world,” in fact. (Yes, that’s really Indianapolis’ tagline.) I find myself repulsed by the loud, big-money, crass consumption that is both the Superbowl and the Oscars, and through the years my lack of interest has turned to embarrassment and disgust. Is this what it means to be American? This is how we celebrate our culture and history? To buy into these grossest of consumerist fantasies? Guess I need another passport, too…
I’d say think of it as a manifestation of Trumpery — or Trump as a manifestation of Superbowlery.
Declaring that the Super Bowl is “about money” with what appears to be a sudden gasp of realization is a bit disingenuous. Of course it is, always has been and never tried to hide it. That’s what pro sports is about, by definition. It’s not a bunch of plucky 9-year-olds going out there for the love of playing a game on a beautiful afternoon. Pro sports is an entertainment business featuring millionaires who quibble about whether they are willing to perform for $15M when they really need to make $17M before they could show their face around town. But it’s never been a secret that it’s strictly “show me the money.”
Now the Oscars…that’s a different story and your point is well made. Movies are supposedly about art (well, perhaps the first outing before the project becomes a franchise) and we find many many people willing to put their time and effort into acting without expecting multi-million dollar payouts plus endorsements. Many otherwise sane adults do it just for the love of expression and being a part of an artistic endeavor. But the Oscar event has become mostly about scandalous dresses, swag, borrowed jewelry and brand-building.
And by the way, being someone who has always enjoyed seeing the creativity and attempted creativity of SB commercials, I looked forward this year once again to being entertained, delighted and even possibly inspired by the efforts — only to find a vast wasteland of ill-ventured. lame, pointless and over-ballyhooed drivel this year. Perhaps most disappointing was the rash of celebrity sell-outs hawking merch that one would have thought was below their dignity as artistes. But maybe this goes to show, as our esteemed blogger might have noticed, that Oscars and Super Bowl have finally merged into one large melange of Oscar Bowl.
“Oscar Bowl” — love that!
And nothing disingenuous about my total agreement: seeing actors whose work I otherwise respect shilling for cars and snacks is a dismaying turnoff. How can I ever take them seriously again?
“shilling for cars and snacks” – love it.
I guess I can almost understand an actor down on their luck — I mean, we all have to make a buck even if they’ve booted away their Porsches and ocean-front properties through bad decisions…or worse. But really, Christopher Walken! Do you need the money that bad? And even my hero, Helen Mirren, in what I saw as an overblown thespian turn — acTING! — did you have to take a sip of the Budweiser, as though to say “Yes, they’re paying the bills so now I’m going to take a responsible drink of my favorite beverage just in case you think I’m just a shill” thus taking shillery to a new level?
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