Nothing is as American as the NFL Super Bowl, the annual orgy of testosterone, militant consumerism, and flashing lights and sound. I dare you to find me something more patently representative of the United States in all of its swollen hubris and ritualistic devotion to capital. The World Series? Takes too long. America likes it to be over in the time it takes to polish off a bag of Tostitos and some artichoke dip. The White House? Are you kidding? The White House has history and (now that the Obama family lives there) class. The Super Bowl has history, but I defy you to tell me who won the Super Bowl four years ago. You have ten seconds. Go.
I watched the Super Bowl this year because I love a good football game, and occasionally the Super Bowl is a good football game. The Pittsburgh Steelers (the only sports team I know of to incorporate Allied Steel into their logo), one of the winningest franchises in football history, faced off against the Phoenix Cardinals, who just happen to be one of the least winning franchises in the NFL, and are probably in Phoenix for the same reason that the Suns areâ€¦Iâ€™m not sure what the reason is, actually. Is Phoenix really that major of a city? Anyway, this is a team thatâ€™s been so dismal that they changed their name to the Arizona Cardinals to take some of the shame away from the residents of Phoenix. Itâ€™s like a bed of nails: if you spread it around it hurts less.
The Cardinals should have beaten the Steelers. They had the momentum, they had the talent, and they had probably more people rooting for them than the Steelers. Arizonaâ€™s Cinderella-story rise to glory this year is proof that the underdog can do wonders with the right mix of grit and raw talent: Larry Fitzgerald is some sort of superhuman gymnast, and Kurt Warnerâ€™s knees are probably the consistency of bad chop steak. The Steelers are (with the exception of fairly recent history) consistently dominant, from the Iron Curtain defense of the 1970s up to current quarterback Ben Roethlisbergerâ€™s heroic scrambling â€“ itâ€™s as if the man were made of mercury slathered in KY Jelly.
The Cardinals did not beat the Steelers. They choked on a big fat one in the fourth quarter. They had the game won after a beautiful interception, fighting some unfavorable calls by the refs (who called the game about 60-40 in the Steelersâ€™ favor, by my count), but they couldnâ€™t hold on. Warner threw an interception late in the game, opening the game wide open to two Steelers scoring drives. There was magic in the game.
The Boss, (Bruce Springsteen) after over a decade of turning it down, finally played the Super Bowl Halftime Show. He did not play â€œBorn in the U.S.A.â€ which might have actually permanently etched an American flag into the neural pathways of spectators and at-home viewers, but the E-Street Band did a rousing version of â€œBorn to Runâ€ and a weird, campy joke about going into overtime at the end of the set. Springsteen is an odd choice, given his critical stance on several of Americaâ€™s societal norms, except that criticizing America is an American societal norm. Also, heâ€™s about as popular as an artist can get without becoming a burnout superstar. He is the Pittsburgh Steelers of rock and roll: die-hard fans and no-nonsense style of play. And the refs tend to give him the questionable calls. Witness: the third album in a row for which he has received five stars in Rolling Stone. Three â€“ three? â€“ â€œclassicâ€ albums in a row? Iâ€™ll allow that itâ€™s possible, just as itâ€™s possible that Roethlisberger got into the end zone in the Steelersâ€™ â€œvictoryâ€ over the Seattle Seahawks three years ago, but very few artists produce that much classic material after about their fifth album. I havenâ€™t heard any of them, so Iâ€™m speaking out of turn, but thatâ€™s my right. As an American.
The commercials; the ubiquitous American insanity of million-dollar advertisements. If the combined revenue for one Super Bowlâ€™s-worth of advertisement were spent on fighting famine and hunger worldwide, no one would be hungry. Instead, everyone knows who the Geico Caveman is. When the G.I. Joe trailer flashed across the screen, I thought the room full of young- to middle-aged men I was in with was going to collectively shit its pants. The world is a strange place, people, and I want to know about the filmic â€œRise of COBRAâ€ as much as the next red-blooded American male â€“ who will play COBRA Commander? Destro? Will Storm Shadow ever become who he must become? â€“ but itâ€™s kind of ridiculous, the amount of money and time that goes into letting people know about some make-believe shit. Like cheap car insurance. No car insurance is cheap, some is simply relatively cheaper. Chester Cheetah is a falconer, for real. Strange place.
Overall, the Super Bowl leaves an empty, hollow feeling, whether your team wins or not. It creates within us, within our very souls, a Super Bowl of want that can only be filled with beer, nachos, and consumer goods. America, the Beautiful. Pride. Valor. Faith. Hill. It makes me want to cry with joy and laugh a bitter, rueful laugh.