A Jaundiced View of a Game that Exemplies American Values




I began to hate American football when I was forced to attend weekly high school "pep rallies" in which cheer leaders worked their fellow students into a foot-stomping frenzy in the unsubstantiated belief that it would inspire the school's team to win that night's game. When, decades later, I learned that there is an incontrovertible link between football and brain damage, my hatred of the game escalated. Despite this loathing, Peggy and I watched this year's Super Bowl to see what all the hooplah was about. It was an enlightening experience. 

First, the football players ran onto the field between lines of Rah, Rah, Boom Bang cheerleaders. Next came the singing of America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner. The latter is America's National Anthem, and everyone is expected to stand with their hands over their hearts while listening to it. This is not the case with America the Beautiful, but most of the crowd didn't seem to know that. Then military jets flew overhead and World War II Medal of Honor winners were paraded onto the field for no apparent reason. 

I don't know if every Super Bowl goes to such extremes to tie football to patriotism, but I do know that the teams' owners were eager to reverse the impression that black football players (most professional football players are black) are unpatriotic, an impression that started in 2016 when some of them started "taking the knee" during the National Anthem in order to protest police mistreatment of black people. Trump fanned the flames with his usual mean spirited ineloquence when he said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field..." His epithet made him the first president to use language that couldn't be repeated on TV or radio, although, thanks to Trump, vulgarity during newscasts is now commonplace.



Companies that run ads during the Super Bowl go all out to make the $1.7 million a second cost worthwhile. Coke proved that its mixture of corn syrup and carbonated water is the choice of those who value individuality and diversity (not to mention obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes) by showing diverse people (all of them young, thin, and attractive) in a state of exaltation because, "There's a Coke for he, and she, and her, and me, and them. There's a different Coke for all of us." 

Dodge tried to boost truck sales by claiming that it's true to the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., in that its primary values are love and service (because America's highest court regards corporations as having the rights of human beings, it only follows that corporations can feel the gamut of human emotions). It did this--that is it attempted to do this--by playing an audio of King sermonizing alongside a video of inspirational images (a fireman rescuing a child, volunteers handing out food, etc.) interlaced with images of Dodge trucks. For those who still failed to understand that Dodge is the choice of people who buy a truck because they value love and good deeds over flashiness and horsepower, the commercial ended with the name of the company in white letters against a black background (it had kicked-off the commercial with the name of King against a black background). 

Because MLK was an outspoken opponent of both capitalism and materialism (he objected to Coretta spending money on curtains), no one can seriously envision him sitting behind the wheel of a two ton diesel (Americans just adore superfluous power), but Dodge relied on the fact that he was dead before its mostly white buyers were born, and the finer points of his message have been forgotten, not just by Dodge buyers but by King's children who have long shown themselves ready to rake in big bucks in exchange for his sermons. Not to be bested by Dodge, Jeep showed that its Wrangler can leave tread marks and erosion channels in pristine natural settings (Jeep admitted the destructive power of its product by boasting that the commercial was filmed in a manmade lake and waterfall that doesn't flow into any other body of water).



This year's Super Bowl was in Minneapolis, home of the deceased musician, Prince. The star attraction, Justin Timberlake, sang a duet (I know of no other way to put it) with a hologram of the dead performer. The fact that Prince called such performances "demonic" didn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Because Prince is associated with the color purple, viewers were lifted high above the stadium and treated to a view of a city blanketed by purple snow, a phenomenon that never occurred during my two winters in Minneapolis. 

During the game, my inner eye kept returning to the very real image of the brains of football players setting silently in jars in darkened labs (it being Sunday) waiting to be sliced and diced in the study of brain damage caused by that damnable game. The carnage continues with the blessing of parents and public schools despite the fact that studies have shown that boys in their teens exhibit football related learning disabilities. America gives football scholarships and other, under the table, benefits to poor (mostly black) youngsters who have no other way out of poverty; sends them to the pros; and is unmoved by the fact that they're bumbling and pain-wracked by age forty.

How do people find it within themselves to pay $3,000 (cost of a cheap seat at the Super Bowl) to witness a game that destroys lives? And why don't fans care that no kid with an IQ higher than 38 can come to age in America without being cynicalized by an onslaught of commercials that exploit our species' best people and its highest values to sell products that harm minds, bodies, and the environment? Super Bowl fans pretend that they're watching gifted athletes at the height of their prowess, but what they're actually seeing are wounded men who are propped up on a diet of narcotics and steroids so they can play through their injuries. 

Coke was touted as the beverage choice of young, healthy, athletic, liberal, and mostly white, heterosexuals (among the couples depicted, there were no gays), although its primary users are fat, diabetic, poorly educated, and impoverished. Jeep presented its Wrangler as a means to enjoy nature in remote places although, as every hiker knows, no one who drives ATVs into roadless areas can seriously say they love nature when the very act of driving in such places destroys nature. Rather they want to get far enough from civilized society that they can do whatever they damn well please, which means that, in place of wildflowers and fragile rock formations, they leave a sea of mud, shell casings, bullet holes, and, oh yeah, lots and lots of garbage. 

The Super Bowl is a pernicious lie built upon a foundation of greed and callousness. The thing that bothered me most about those long ago pep rallies was that they conveyed the idea that if I was unwilling to scream, stomp, and jump up and down to inspire "our boys" to beat "their boys," I lacked some ineffable quality called "school spirit." The experience was designed to assault dissenters with the club of peer pressure in order to make them feel like they were all alone, but if this were true, why were these non-educational events compulsory? 

The answer was that pep rallies had everything to do with educating kids, only in covert ways that no teacher or administrator would have admitted to. Namely, they were meant to instill in students the value of tribalism, of pitting our side against someone else's side. Such was the message of the Super Bowl. Why else would a football game include a superabundance of patriotic songs and images, songs and images that might have been reasonably expected to bring violence upon anyone who didn't go through the motions of acquiescence? 

I don't doubt but what football fans see themselves as being every bit as compassionate and integrous as the next person, and that the same is true of those who create the pandering commercials, but how can this be? An ancient manuscript called Apophthegmata Patrum gives the answer as follows, although what the writer probably intended as a literal analysis, I regard as metaphorical. 

"When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wheel; but if his eyes are uncovered, he will not go around in the circle of the mill wheel. So too the devil, if he manages to cover the eyes of a man, can humiliate him in every sin. But if that man's eyes are not closed, he can easily escape the devil."

No one can enjoy football without opening both eyes to the public spectacle of bodies clashing against bodies while closing them to the long and private misery of the game's causalities, yet the latter is no less a part of the game than the former.

14 comments:

kylie said...

I think this is the most kick ass post you have ever written!

Or maybe it's the most kick ass one because I am in total agreement. Your analysis is so complete, no part of the ritual escapes. Scathing but without bitterness. It's a masterpiece.

We don't have a single event here that is as big as Superbowl but we have a few different events that are equally ridiculous

Snowbrush said...

"I think this is the most kick ass post you have ever written!"

While you were reading, I was editing furiously because no matter how many hours I put into a post, I can always find ways to improve it.

"We don't have a single event here that is as big as Superbowl but we have a few different events that are equally ridiculous."

I wondered about this because whereas I'm sure America is a big part of the news in your nations, the only nations that are regularly in the news here are North Korea (because of their nukes) and the war torn countries of the Middle East (because we have troops in the area). Americans are woefully ignorant of the rest of the world. In fact, there's a bumper sticker here that says, "War. The Way Americans Learn Geography."

I mostly ignore football, but when I do think of it, I feel the same kind of anger and sadness that I feel when I think of the millions of people who support Trump and his Republican Party, i.e. how can you be so callous and gullible as to love that which is so horrifically hurtful in every aspect. I feel that I live in a diseased nation, and while I'm sure a lot of places are much worse, that's no excuse for America being what it is. When someone here criticizes America, the conservative talk radio crowd labels him or her "an American hater," as if all it takes to negate a criticism is to insult the critic. Yet it's true that I feel despair regarding the values that my nation holds because they're so obviously built upon lies and will result in nothing but misery. I'm just hoping America doesn't fall to pieces during my lifetime because it has too many problems to keep going indefinitely, and rather than these problems being solved, they are being made worse by the very people who are supposed to fix them (i.e. the Republican Party) and by the citizenry in general. If America doesn't fall into the pit for three more years, maybe people will come to power who are at least sane and well meaning, but what a mess they will inherit!

Emma Springfield said...

My goodness you are full of generalities today. I personally do not enjoy football. However I understand the spirit of competition and the sense of pride at winning the competition. And aren't we all tribal to one degree or another? As far as the commercials I find many of them assinine. At the same time I drive Jeep. I do not leave skid marks nor do I destroy a natural beauty in order to get my jollies. Many people who drink Coke are not fat slobes who have to adjust their insulin levels with medication. I have seen commercials that gave me no clue as to what they were trying to sell. Perhaps that would be more to your taste. Maybe instead of football another competitive sport is more to your liking?

PhilipH said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your essay. Sport, generally, does nothing for me ... other than to make me feel SICK at the obscenely high pay that these players get. It's totally obscene.

I'm not envious or jealous of their high wages. It's simply that for a person to be paid more, in a week, than our Prime Minister gets in a year is downright ridiculous.

Most of these 'sportsmen' would probably still play football, for example, even if they were paid nothing! It's a fucking GAME, that's all. It's all about money, not sport. And money, and the love of money, is defo the root of all evil.

Snowbrush said...

"My goodness you are full of generalities today."

Oh, Emma, I've angered you, and I'm sincerely sorry for that because I place a high value upon knowing you. At the same time, I meant everything I said in this post, so although I regret that it represents a possible rift between us, I can hardly retract what I wrote. Now, I have a few thoughts. Most importantly, I base my criticisms upon demographic studies when it is possible to do so, and this was easy in regard to the one specific criticism you offered, which was of what I wrote regarding Coke.

"Many people who drink Coke are not fat slobs who have to adjust their insulin levels with medication."

Of course not, but this doesn't negate my argument that Coke is harmful anymore than it negates the argument that smoking is harmful by saying (as many people used to say when the harmful effects of smoking were first being publicized), "My Grandpa smoked four packs a day for 75 years, and he lived to be 94." The fact is that there is a correlation between which products we use and which groups we're in, and the group pictured in the Coke commercial isn't the group that's likely to use Coke (young people who value their health are more likely to drink bottled water which, of course, has its own problems), but it is the group that Coke wants its users to think drinks Coke, because if the people in the commercial reflected an accurate demographic representation of those who drink Coke, fewer people would be enticed to buy Coke. For instance, Coke users are more like to be closer to 60 than to 20, but it's not in Coke's interest to show older people because society contains a great deal of age-related prejudice, even among the aged.

cont.

Snowbrush said...

"I have seen commercials that gave me no clue as to what they were trying to sell. Perhaps that would be more to your taste."

Some of that went on during the Super Bowl during which the touchy feeling commercials were designed so that the name of the advertiser was given at the end as if it were an afterthought. This had nothing to do with modesty on the part of the advertiser, but with the fact that to present the advertiser's identity in an in-your-face way during an purportedly inspirational commercial would make it too obvious to the viewer that the goal of the commercial wasn't really to inspire people to obey lofty impulses but to get them to spend money on the advertiser's product, with the result being that the viewer would feel patronized and offended.

As to what would be more to my taste, I WOULD favor the elimination of blatant lies from commercials. Were there blatant lies in the Coke commercial? Well, there was the claim that "there's a different Coke for all of us," but since no one is really so naive as to think that there are billions of kinds of Coke (Coke does make 3,500 beverages, but most are far from being what people think of when they think of Coke), it wasn't a factual claim but an appeal to emotion. It seems to me that the way that advertisers try to appeal to the market suggests that they have a low opinion of people's intelligence. Perhaps on this, we can agree.

"Maybe instead of football another competitive sport is more to your liking?"

I have a problem with sports that are likely to cause serious bodily harm because the cost that is paid by the participants outweighs the value of the product that is produced. By way of analogy, I love Westerns, yet I make an effort to avoid the older Westerns in which horses were tripped with cables because the cost to the horses outweighs the enjoyment of the audience. Perhaps the ancient gladiatorial contests are the best example of the cost of a sport to its human participants being out of proportion to the enjoyment of the audience. Dog dog fighting is a "sport" that falls in the same category today although its participants are canine rather than human. I see football as embracing this same kind of a mentality, a mentality that says, "My enjoyment is more important than your lifelong pain and brain damage," so, no, I don't think that the enjoyment of football reflects well upon the fans of football.

E. Rosewater said...

football is a wonderful game if you watch it the right way. i only watch night games with beautiful lush green grass and it must be teams with good looking plain uniforms like the raiders, giants, bears, lions and cowboys. record the game and play it back with the sound on mute, then put on some nice relaxing music and enjoy the show. the score is irrelevant, just enjoy the artistry. i'm still watching games that i've already seen several times. the high def video with close ups of the players concentration and slow motion high def replays of receivers diving for passes can be poetry in motion and by recording it, you can skip through the commercials. i had zero interest in the super bowl and can't remember the last time i watched it.


it's a beautiful world out there but negativity won't pull you through. baseball is just around the corner!

Marion said...

Men seem to need blood & violence, hence war & football.

Women bleed and give birth, therefore we get our fill of it.

Go Saints!!!! ;-) xo

Snowbrush said...

I left our Philip's comment, so I'll need to re-paste this.

"Sport, generally, does nothing for me ... other than to make me feel SICK at the obscenely high pay that these players get."

I agree. For reasons not remembered, when I was young, I read Jim Backus' autobiography in which he wrote of the help that his riches afforded him when he was diagnosed with Parkinsons. What had Backus done to be able to afford all this? He had played a buffoon on Gilligan's Island. I then thought of my father's health problems that he couldn't afford help with although he had performed the essential work of carpentry all his adult life. It was then that the unfairness, and even the asininity, of the capitalist system began to settle upon me.

"I record the game and play it back with the sound on mute, then put on some nice relaxing music and enjoy the show. the score is irrelevant, just enjoy the artistry."

Do you watch other things this way? I can think of two things that might enhance the experience. The first and most obvious is marijuana and the second would be if you could watch the game in slow motion, which I don't suppose you can.

"Men seem to need blood & violence, hence war & football. Women bleed and give birth, therefore we get our fill of it."

If the mere site of blood reduces the desire for violence, then females who neither have periods nor give birth because they had hysterectomies when they were young must be homicidal whereas male phlebotomists and blood bank workers must be among the most peaceful people on earth.

Strayer said...

You hit every nail on the head, Snow! I LOVE this post and also found it so ironic I couldn't stop laughing. The contradictions of life in America.

Tom Sightings said...

Excellent analysis. Just to add a couple of points. No way is Trump the first president to use language that couldn't be repeated on TV or radio. Kennedy, Nixon ... they all did, except perhaps Carter. Also, it's no secret how people find the $3000 and up for tickets -- they put in on expense account, paid for by the businesses making money off the game (and subsidized by the American taxpayer). And to Marion's point ... I wonder what you and she would say about the Olympics. I was surprised to see women's hockey. If there's one sport more violent than football it's hockey ... and I thought women were smarter than that!

Snowbrush said...

"I LOVE this post and also found it so ironic I couldn't stop laughing."

I know that you meant ironic laughter, but I can't even do that. On the one hand, I can't help but renounce much of what passes as American Values, but on the other, I suffer from the resultant alienation. This was a very painful post for me to write, and now that America has had yet another school shooting, I'm wondering if I want to take on that painful subject.

"No way is Trump the first president to use language that couldn't be repeated on TV or radio. Kennedy, Nixon ... they all did, except perhaps Carter.

Perhaps I expressed myself badly. LBJ was, I believe, the most notorious example of a prolifically profane president, but neither he nor any of our other former presidents used such language during a speech that was relayed on TV and radio. Yet who remains Trump's most ardent supporters? Christians! The great white Christian hope brags, lies, cheats, curses, threatens, denigrates, assaults women, stiffs his creditors, uses the presidency to promote his financial interests, acts like a spoiled brat, etc. yet the very people who renounce all of these values in the name of God adore him. Trump has been a real boon to us secularists in that he has "inspired" his supporters to give overwhelmingly evidence to the nation and the world that their religion is as morally bankrupt as we have always claimed it to be.

possum said...

WONDERFUL!
I copied your blog to send to my reader's list. They have all heard my rantings about football, but my words were nothing compared to yours. Excellent, Snowy!
And that last comment about tRump and so-called Christians, perfectly on target. It is something I just cannot understand.

Emma Springfield said...

I'm afraid you misunderstood my comments. I was not in the least angered. I thought I was using a somewhat amused tone when I wrote it. As you are doing however I am standing by my statements.