Friday, February 4, 2011

Tackling the Super Bowl, a Civic Soapbox essay by Robin Traywick Williams

I often think how blessed we are as a nation to have an institution that so perfectly reflects the American psyche and our deep attachment to tradition (by which I mean beer). I’m speaking of course about the Super Bowl.
On February 6, a hush will fall over the land as the American people gather before the family shrine for the annual rite of winter.

For people who wear team jerseys and buy lava lamps in their team’s colors, Super Bowl Sunday is the holiest high day on the religious calendar. Super Bowl Sunday easily eclipses New Year’s Eve as a party event. There may be a million people in Times Square on December 31, but on February 6, 130 million people will be at Super Bowl parties.

For many viewers, the ads are the best part. This year, ads cost $2,500,000 per 30-second spot, making them by far the highest-paid players on the screen.

Scrooges and humorless left-wingers enjoy the Super Bowl extravaganza in a self-righteous sort of way. They sniff that all the money spent on the half-time production could be better used to rebuild Haiti or feed the starving Somalians, oblivious to the fact that in America, we can indulge in a vulgar display of musical, marching, pyrotechnical exuberance costing millions of dollars, and it will represent only a fraction of the money we, as a people, have donated to disaster relief.

For the rest of the world, the game is soccer. But the World Cup doesn’t compare to the Super Bowl. For one thing, the image of major soccer competitions is one of collapsing grandstands and patrons being trampled to death. Whereas the image of the Super Beer…ooops, Freudian slip. The image of the Super Bowl is hot wings, pizza, Clydesdales in the snow, end zone celebrations, insane young men covered in body paint and nymphets in costumes made out of discarded gum wrappers. What’s not to like?

Although the charm of the Super Bowl for me is that every aspect of the event is over-the-top, there are people who miss the joke. For instance, Janet Jackson’s famous wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 halftime caused a huge uproar. People who accept the barely-sanitized girlie show put on by the cheerleaders were shocked – shocked – to find that sexual titillation was an official part of the Super Bowl festivities.

These same people may also be surprised to learn that Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest betting days of the year. When I was on the Virginia Racing Commission, I once presided over a public hearing about whether to approve the construction of a racetrack in a certain county. One of the opponents said, “I have nothing against horse racing. I like horse racing. But why do you have to have gambling? Look how big pro football is and they don’t have gambling.”

There was a long second of stunned silence before the entire hearing room was convulsed with laughter.
Nothing says “excess” like the Super Bowl. We’re talking about an event where billions of dollars change hands, hours of airtime and gallons of ink are devoted to it, and many of the related activities are in questionable taste.

This is the essence of Who We Are: People who apply all-American overkill to a nationwide party held on the flimsy pretext of watching a game.

Is this a great country or what?

          ---  Robin Traywick Williams is the author of  Bush Hogs and Other Swine and  Chivalry, Thy Name is Bubba.  She lives in Crozier, where she spends her time writing about the ridiculous aspects of everyday life.

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