[Editor's Note: I'm enjoying some family time this weekend, so I thought I'd turn the reins over to my friend Cranky Bear, who has been chomping at the bit to get one of his missives published. As usual, I claim no responsibility for what follows.]
Hello y'all, Cranky Bear here with a glass of smooth Portugese table wine and a plate of pasta puttanesca to warm my belly on a cold February night. Tomorrow is our nation's most popular unofficial holiday, the Super Bowl. It is a holiday that represents much that is rotten and awful in American society, and I am here to deliver a sermon on this theme.
We live in a society debilitated by consumerism, marred by violence, stupefied by mass media, made flabby by gluttony, and politically stunted by mindless, jingoistic nationalism. The Super Bowl puts all of these things in a big, bombastic package. It all seems to have very little to do with its ostensible purpose, which is to decide the champion of the National Football League. There are masses of people who don't give a flying fuck about who's actually playing, and are waiting to see what commercials are airing. (Yes, we are so consumerist in our outlook that advertisements have become entertainment.) Others are just amped for a Sunday of eating seven layer bean dips and bacon-wrapped little smokies washed down with large quantities of beer.
Super Sunday itself only comes after two full weeks of unremitting hype. "Media week," the extra week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, is an inescapable torrent of inane story lines, stupid questions, and idiotic speculation. Even more so that presidential elections, the run-up to the Super Bowl exposes the complete utter fucking vapidity of national press. It is such a ridiculous spectacle that there is even media coverage of media week itself as its own phenomenon. It's America's uselessly shallow post-modernism at its most empty and soul-sucking.
As true sports fans know, the Super Bowl has long been a let-down when it comes to on-field excitement, especially after two weeks of media saturation. Growing up, it seemed that every year brought a new blow-out. Yes, there have been exceptions, like the 1991 Giants-Bills game that ended with Scott Norwood's wide right field goal try, or the Giants-Patriots in 2008 tilt that turned on David Tyree's famous "helmet catch." However, more typical is the Stan Humphries-led Chargers getting vivisected by Steve Young's 49ers 49-26 in 1995. Many of the games that look close on paper were actually snoozers. Other sports have a lot more excitement in their championships. Nothing in the Super Bowl has ever come close to matching Magic Johnson's last second mini-skyhook at the old Boston Garden in game four of the 1987 NBA finals or Kirk Gibson's home run to win game one of the 1988 World Series. I doubt anything ever will. In both of those games I felt giddily stunned, as if the world had fallen off of its axis. Nothing in the Super Bowl, not even the Tyree catch, has made me feel.
The Super Bowl is hardly worthy of a sport that is America's most popular, but that popularity increasingly perplexes me. The NFL is a carnival of technocratic violence, of men with impossibly large bodies smashing into each other again and again and again. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the physical and mental toll of the game destroys the lives of players and their families. The game has become so specialized and strategized that individual excellence is increasingly hard to find, apart from a small number of players who are endlessly touted in the mass media. And to a greater extent than other professional sports, NFL players like to spout off about how God enabled them to win the big game. There is perhaps no more prominent platform for the spewing of the narcissistic "by this sign you shall conquer" brand of idiot American religiosity.
Worst of all is the Super Bowl's (and NFL's) exploitation of jingoistic nationalism. The NFL was just as complicit in turning Pat Tillman from a doubting soldier killed by friendly fire into a larger than life he-man used to gin up support for our misbegotten adventure in Afghanistan. Once the real circumstances of his death emerged, the league was more than happy to play up its associations with the military while letting Tillman's name drop from the conversation. Each year seems to bring plenty of flag-waving and tributes to the military, complete with jet flyovers and bombastic renditions of the national anthem. At home the people stuffing their fat fucking faces full of buffalo wings can feel like they've taken a moment to "think about the troops" without doing a goddamned thing to contemplate the misery and death that our nation's wars have caused and still do.
It's only appropriate, I guess, that this year's display of empty-headed national pride will be taking place in the New Orleans Superdome, site of one of this country's greatest shames, the treatment of victims of Hurricane Katrina. I wonder if anyone will bother to think much about that, beyond some maudlin sentiments to wash down the guacamole and bean dip. How soon we forget such things, and fuck the Super Bowl for perpetuating our nation's moronic, soulless way of being.