It gets worse every year. I’m talking about the Super Bowl in general, and the vaunted halftime show in particular.
Each year, the Super Bowl makes me more embarrassed for American culture. It’s humiliating. It stands for nothing I can be proud of, nothing I find appealing about my country.
It makes me wonder why communities ache to host the Super Bowl, as Detroit will in 2006. Or why anyone frets about abandoned storefronts and tawdry streetscapes or a dearth of quality hotel rooms or an adequate number of “lofts” — the prerequisites of a properly gentrified “world-class” city.
The problem is not with football, per se. It’s a highly entertaining sport. I played football in college. So I know what’s unfolding on the turf. I know what that action looks like through a facemask. I know the hollow pop and the white flash that come with a helmet-to-helmet collision with a very angry, very well-conditioned linebacker. I know how it all sounds, smells and feels, which is frequently exhilarating, frequently painful, frequently risky. I like taking risks.
The New England Patriots’ last-second victory made this year’s game one of the best ever. But my understanding of the game and the thrill of the finish cannot assuage my scorn for the product or the people who produce it, hype it, pimp it. Or the misguided communities that covet it.
Nobody who knows me would call me a prude. Quite the contrary. This paper under my watch has been criticized for what some have categorized as sexist imagery.
There is a time and a place for exhibitionism and innuendo. That place should be where mature people expect to find it — premium channels, adult magazines, even the back pages of this rag. When people pick up Metro Times, they know they may encounter the ubiquitous “adult themes.”
Such images and themes do not belong in a prime-time event that’s become an American tradition — the all-ages, all-American tribute to achievement. My grade-school-age kids were watching the game. So were my parents.
As I viewed the tableaux of consumption, the celebration of capitalist frenzy, the thinly veiled burlesque, the coarse and vulgar commercials, I kept thinking of my kids and my parents. And I felt sickened.
MTV, the most vacuous cultural influence in existence today, produced this year’s halftime spectacular. It featured a mob of marginally talented and fading singers and rappers, accompanied by scantily clad dancers, in an artless orgy of preening decadence.
There was Jessica Simpson, famous for being a bimbo, exhorting Houston to “party.” There was P. Diddy in his fur-lined coat, rapping about himself. There was Kid Rock in an American flag poncho, looking like a hungover iguana, singing about himself. There was Nelly exhorting the kids to “take off all your clothes.”
Which, of course, nearly happened. The cyborg Justin Timberlake and Janet “The Normal Sibling” Jackson conducted a faux sodomite dance that the “Tiffany” network, CBS, described afterward as “flirtatious.” My mother would probably describe it as illegal in several states.
Their mating ritual concluded with Timberlake tearing off half her brassiere, exposing her right mammary to millions of souls. The so-called “incident” looked contrived to me. MTV, which is owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS, issued an apology, claiming, unconvincingly, that the cheap, wholly untitillating boob-tube stunt was “unrehearsed[,] unplanned and completely inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance.” Right. And that breast was never augmented.
Unplanned or not, I could not help but think at that point that my country and my society are beyond pathetic. Caligula would be proud.
All this high-minded expression was brought to you by CBS, the network that bowed to troglodytic tautologies to suppress a miniseries about that paragon of virtue and rectitude, Ronald Reagan.
And while CBS snorted up commercials at $2.5 million per 30 seconds — including one dubbed “Horse Fart,” including one dubbed “Geriatric Brawl,” including multiple ads for three different erectile-dysfunction drugs — the network refused to air a thought-provoking commercial submitted by MoveOn, an organization that pushes a populist political agenda. The ad, which can be viewed at MoveOn.org, is a haunting loop of images of small children toiling at grimy, menial and industrial jobs. It closes by asking rhetorically who will pay for the president’s profligate spending. Incredibly, CBS says it rejected the MoveOn ad because its policy prohibits “issue ads.” Introspection will not be tolerated on Super Sunday.
I don’t know if Detroit’s leaders were taken aback by what they saw on their telescreens last Sunday. I do know they will continue to cite the Super Bowl’s imminent arrival as the righteous impetus for downtown development and redevelopment.
Does anyone else see the folly, the empty expedience, of erecting new buildings and destroying old buildings to impress people who’ll descend on the city for a week, or a long weekend? We Detroiters, apparently, are mere extras in the international drama of world-classification? Why don’t our leaders ever go out of their way to impress us? It’s because pols everywhere have been conditioned by the chamber of commerce mantra to see such spectacles as the Super Bowl as a validation of their worth. Despite the cultural swill splashed across their TVs Sunday, they don’t recognize that the term “world-class” has long since become synonymous with “no-class.”Jeremy Voas is the editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org