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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

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The Quarterback Scores

At the risk of sounding un-American, we will confess we’ve paid virtually no attention to football this past season. That’s partly because all the domestic abuse scandals and head injury lawsuits and offensive team name controversies and all the resulting litigation and moralizing grew so tedious, and partly because the Wichita Heights High School Falcons and the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Kansas City Chiefs were all knocked out of championship contention way back when the early autumn weather was still warm. So complete is our indifference at this point that we’ve barely even noticed the pre-Super Bowl brouhaha about deflated balls, but we were heartened to hear the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady tell a massive throng of reporters that “This isn’t ISIS.”
The excessively handsome quarterback was widely criticized for the comment, but we’ve yet to hear any of his critics explain why a wee bit of air pressure that might or might not have been removed from the game balls in last weekend’s conference championship is as newsworthy as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Some explanation is called for, given that ISIS continues its head-chopping, crucifying, genocidal romp across an Indiana-sized swathe of the Middle East, and that a slightly softer football could hardly account for the game’s lopsided result in any case. We’re also grateful to Brady for getting ISIS back in the news, as it’s lately been edged out by such fare as sports scores and the surfeit of white folks honored with Academy Award nominations.
So little attention has been paid to ISIS lately that President Barack Obama was able to boast in his State of the Union address that an American-led coalition has stopped the terror gang’s advances without drawing a derisive laugh from his audience. That claim is not corroborated by any press reports we’ve been able to hunt down, and will surely come as a surprise to the unfortunate residents of Mosul and Fallujah and numerous other cities that once enjoyed the protection of American troops but are now beleaguered by ISIS’ murderous gangs, and is acknowledged as a falsehood by Pentagon officials, but that’s easily overlooked when there’s a charge afoot that a professional football team might have deflated a ball. The president further claimed that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been halted, that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program in gratitude for the president’s protection from economic sanctions, and that he somehow deserves credit for America’s recent oil boom, but until some photogenic sports star draws attention to such balderdash it will also go largely unnoticed.
At least the president didn’t repeat last year’s boasts about his successes in Yemen, where another terror gang has lately taken high government officials hostage and American warships are readying to evacuate America’s diplomatic personnel, but he probably could have gotten away with that as well. There’s a Super Bowl coming up, and a too-white Academy Awards ceremony after that, some celebrity or another is bound to be getting a divorce a sex-change operation, sooner or later someone will get around to grousing about such a jingoistic team name as “Patriots,” and America has its priorities.

— Bud Norman