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…