Being red-blooded American men, and ever mindful of the civic obligations that entails, we tuned into the Super Bowl on Sunday. Although we lost interest in football way back when the autumn afternoons were still warm, and had no particular affinity for either of the contestants, the Super Bowl retains a certain sociological interest. Super Bowl Sunday is the high secular holiday of American culture, with the ads exemplifying the exorbitance of our capitalist economy and the half-time show representing the official imprimatur of our popular culture and the game itself a ritual test of what’s left of American masculinity, and there’s so much hyperbole and water cooler conversation about it that it’s hard to avert one’s gaze.
All in all, the spectacle had that familiar fall-of-Rome feel of bread and circuses that we’ve come to expect from the Roman numeral-ed Super Bowls.
The advertisements, which seemed to occupy the vast majority of the game’s air time, were all opulent and grandiose and conspicuously expensive. There was one rather cheesy ad for a foot fungus ointment that featured a cartoon foot with a football helmet on the big toe, and some of the obligatory local spots were the usual pedestrian fare, but the rest of it wowed with such big-budget production values that one might gullibly conclude the companies being represented bring a similarly high level of professionalism to whatever goods or services they are peddling. Some of the offerings were ironic and risqué, including one for the Fiat car company that showed an aging Italian man being beckoned to bed by a stereotypically seductive Italian woman but accidentally dropping his erectile dysfunction medicine and watching it wind up through a series of improbable and computer-generated events in the gas tank of a typically undersized Fiat that then suddenly swells into a mid-sized vehicle, all without the expected disclaimer that dropping erectile dysfunction medicine into the gas tank of a car is not recommended by the manufacturer, and much of them featured a brawny primitive warriors wielding pickaxes or hirsute hipsters in t-shirts defying some archaic societal convention or another. Others were unabashedly sentimental, such as the tear-jerking spot that showed the Budweiser clydesdales rescuing a lost dog from a ravenous wolf, and seemed to celebrate the traditional values that the old-timers used to associate with football. At least three companies associated themselves with fatherhood, showing several ruggedly handsome men bonding with their in a masculine yet nurturing way through the help of the advertising companies, which seemed in keeping with the game until the announcers noted in the second half that one of the players’ girlfriends was expecting a child any moment. Our favorite advertisement was for some insurance company that had the cast costumed and posed and set in the resemblance of Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks” while singing The Five Stairsteps’ soul hit “Ooh-Child,” but that’s because we regard Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh-Child” as two of the greatest masterpieces of 20th Century American culture, and we wonder how many youngsters in the target audience would recognize either allusion, and in any case we can’t recall the name of the insurance company.
The half-time entertainment was in a similarly decadent vein. Headlining the affair was Katy Perry, apparently a popular entertainer among the younger set, who made her entrance atop a gargantuan robot lion amid a football field-sized cast of extras in luminous plastic balls. The ensuing performance seemed a strange mix of Busby Berkley’s old Hollywood musicals from the ’30s and ’40s and those pro-Kim Jong-Il rallies they threw in North Korea back in the ’00s, but with more up-to-date stagecraft. Perry is a rather comely lass, with a non-anorexic and non-bulimic voluptuousness that recalls Ann Miller in her prime, and we rather enjoyed a segment that had her and some similarly wholesome back-up singers cavorting on a stylized Californian beach in Annette Funicello-era bikinis, but that is pretty much the extent of her appeal. The segment then gave way to Lenny Kravitz, whose hard-rockin’-for-a-black-guy act has been around for the requisite couple of decades to get on a Super Bowl show, and then some hip-hop types we’ve never heard of in the same sort of macho pickaxe-weilding gear from the advertisements, and by that point we were heading off to do chores. Of course everyone involved was quite good-looking, just as in the advertisements, and it made us wonder what’s become of all the musically gifted but unlovely people who are undoubtedly still out there.
We can fondly recall the wondrous talents of Roy Orbison, Dinah Washington, Eric Burden, Koko Taylor, and countless other ugly singers and musicians that could have blown even such a sex bomb as Katy Perry off a Super Bowl stage, and would like to see such democratic tastes once again prevail in the culture. We noticed that a large number of the Super Bowl ads were for the broadcasting networks’ prime time offerings, which mostly seem to be about good-looking people standing next one another in very serious poses, and if only in the interest of verisimilitude we’d like to start seeing some plain folks in those offerings as well.
The game itself, if only a small part of the offering, proved entertaining enough. The New England Patriots racked up lots of yards but few points, the Seattle Seahawks some stayed even without moving the ball, and a suddenly flurry of offensive in the last minutes of the first half produced a tie. The lead see-sawed through the second half until the annoyingly good-looking quarterback Tom Brady put the Patriots ahead, last year’s hero Russell Wilson seemed to have the game back within reach after an improbable pass completion to a prone receiver on the five yard line, and then a bone-headed call by a usually shrewd coach didn’t give the ball the steam engine running back who had been a sure bet for three cards but instead called for a pass wound up in a game-winning interception by some guy we’ve never heard of. That led to a pointless brawl instigated by losing Seahawks, exactly the sort of mindless machismo that football-bashers love to point out, but it was a compelling sports even nonetheless.
We also noticed a lot of beards, in the advertisements and the half-time show and the game, and we are eager for the next trend.
— Bud Norman