The Super Bowl and the Changing of the Seasons

Football season finally came to an unexpectedly dramatic end on Sunday, so we’re now only a few long weeks away from pitchers and and catchers reporting to baseball training and other harbingers of spring, and on Saturday the Wichita State University Wheatshockers played their best basketball of the season against their only serious rival in the Missouri Valley Conference and looked as if they’ll keep us watching well into March Madness. Our nearly as beloved Kansas State Wildcats won a road game against the second-or-third ranked Baylor Bears, the hated but secon-or-third ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks lost to Iowa State University, and for the most part sports provided us a pleasant distraction from politics here on the Kansas plains.
Although the game turned out to be a compelling come-from-behind and history-making victory by The New England Patriots over a worthy Atlanta Falcons squad, we don’t expect that Super Bowl LI set any ratings records. The past season has seen declining viewership across all the networks that have paid dearly for the broadcast rights, attendance and arrests for drunk and disorderly behavior at the stadia have been down almost league-wide, and even on Super Bowl Sunday none of our friends at church nor the more more unchurched friends we called in search of a Super Bowl party evinced much interest in the game. Some say that the second-string quarterback on a second-rate San Francisco Forty-Niners squad’s refusal to stand for the national anthem had something to do with, other say that the league’s characteristically politically correct stand on that had ore to do with it, several callers to sports talk radio programs we’ve heard it blame it on all the interminable video reviews and annoying advertisements that prolong less than hour of actual play through more than three hours, writers in sophisticated magazines and lawyers in pending legal cases note all all the worrisome injuries to the brain and other important body parts that players seem to suffer every year, and we suspect that all of it had something to do with the public’s ennui.
Nor did the matchup offer much in the way of a proper storyline. The New England Patriots were favored from the outset due to the record-matching number of Super Bowl victories they had won since coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady first teamed up a million years or so ago, and by now most of the football-watching country was tired of that storyline. Belichick is an annoyingly snarling fellow who seizes every advantage no matter how it might skirt against the rules of the game, Brady is an annoyingly handsome fellow married to an annoying gorgeous underwear model, both had run afoul of the football establishment during the much over-inflated “inflate-gate” controversy, and it was all to political for a football to endure. Despite being in New England Brady is also an admitted friend of President Donald Trump, and has even been photographed wearing one of those red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, so we assume that the portion of the American sports-watching public that worries about all those worrisome injuries to the brain and other important body parts were also rooting against the Patriots. That meant they were de facto rooting for the Atlanta Falcons, and we can’t imagine that did the ratings any goods.
By half-time the Falcons were up to a seemingly insurmountable lead, and then came Lady Gaga for the big half-time show, and we expect that the intriguing combination nudged the Nielsen numbers a percentage point or two. So far as we can tell Lady Gaga is a popular song-and-dance entertainer, and according to numerous YouTube videos she’s also a shape-shifting reptilian alien who is part of the Illuminati that surreptitiously controls The New World Order, and we have to admit that she put on quite a show-biz performance, even by our MGM standards. There was some anticipation that she would make sort of anti-Trump political statement, but she opened with a surprisingly rousing rendition of “God Bless America,” warming our old-fashioned hearts with some Irving Berlin, then segued into “This Land Is Your Land,” which we recognized as a composition of Woody Guthrie, who was pretty much a Commie but also a through-and-through Okie as well, and we doubt that either Lady Gaga or any of her fans were were aware of the very subtle implications of this beloved American folk classic. The rest of it was a high-kicking extravaganza the likes of which you’d have to pay good money to see at a Las Vegas casino, and Mr. and Mrs. Gaga’s daughter Lady is indeed as leggy and musical a lass as you’d be likely to see there, and all in all we found it pleasantly apolitical.
The other big attraction of these annual Super Bowl spectacles is the advertisements, and for the most part they were dreary but at least apolitical. The same Budweiser beer-brewing company that usually provides uplifting scenes of Clydesdale horses hauling their product through nostalgic small town streets through driving snow storms had an already-viral spot of its German immigrant founder encountering anti-immigrant prejudice on his way to founding an iconic American brand, which is now majority owned by Brazilian investors, and there was no mistaking a slightly political slant to that. Some other company selling computer services or some such modern annoyance had an ad that was all about diversity, judging from all the diverse faces that kept matching together in modern Madison Avenue style, but we had the sound turned down at that point.
We also missed most of the Patriots’ remarkable and record-setting and argument-for-greatest-ever comeback, right up to the time when we tuned into watch Brady and the rest of the cast tie it up and then play out 20 or seconds of defense to bring it into overtime. At that point we figured that Belichick’s and Brady’s experience and all those million years or so of Patriot dominance would win out, if our 50 years or so watching grown men play this silly game told us anything, and sure enough that’s how it turned out. We expect that most of the country was disappointed by the outcome, no matter how it might be spread out around the Electoral College, and like most of us we weren’t at all enthusiastic about either team to begin with, and even such a compelling game seems to be losing some appeal, but at least it provided some distraction from the state of the world.

— Bud Norman

The Super Bowl and Trending

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