February 11, 2004

Stupid Bowl Propaganda

More than any institution, the Super Bowl represents everything all-American wrapped up into one night of spectacle: television, politics, capitalism and football. After watching this one, I see that we’re in for another messed-up year. Yeah!

Super Bowl XXXVIII pitted Teurlings against Carencro—I mean, New England versus Carolina. Call me political, but the night reeked of all things right-wing. The game was in an arena named Reliant Stadium! In Houston! With a pre-game performance by Toby Keith! And a television interview with George W. Bush! Even anthem-goddess Beyonce has Republican skeletons, having sung with Destiny’s Child at Bush’s inauguration.

The media’s playbook also veered sharply to the right. True to form, CBS edited out every aspect that might make the event unpleasant. This sanitized what should always be a gritty experience. Witness the streaker on midfield at the second-half kickoff. Oh wait, you couldn’t; the prudish network showed some Patriot’s face instead. I’m not saying I want to see some ugly guy running in the buff, but they could have at least acknowledged it. But evidently, only the violence of football is appropriate for delicate American eyes. Bodies are bad, unless they’re a planned part of the halftime show (or in ads for erection-enhancing drugs). And still they couldn’t avoid Janet Jackson’s breast. Think of the children!

Speaking of Janet and the halftime show, Tito’s sister managed some swipes against bigotry and ignorance. But don’t fret: good ol’ boy Kid Rock was there to balance things, ripping off the American flag he was wearing and throwing it into the crowd while singing “Cowboy.” If that performance doesn’t embody the state of leadership in 2004, then nothing does.

Perhaps most importantly, the game was packed with advertising and propaganda that would make us all feel wonderful about America and Pepsi. Viewers increasingly watch the Super Bowl for the commercials rather than the game. This seems based more on tradition than, say, the actual presence of good commercials. Last year’s Bowl warned us, in between beer commercials, that marijuana alters judgment and causes pregnancy. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to see what pearls of wisdom we were going to get this year.

My favorite commercial aired courtesy of moveon.org. In it, several children sit onstage in a school auditorium, with each one approaching the lectern and offering a statement on what they are going to do as president. Much to the mortification of their parents in the audience, they say things such as, “I’m going to leave no child behind. Unless they can’t afford it!” and, “I’m going to alienate the whole world. And I won’t care!” The spot closes with the stark question, “What are we teaching our children?” It was a powerful statement.

Except that CBS refused to air it, saying that their policy prevents the airing of “advocacy ads.” So I suppose that blatant anti-file-sharing propaganda is not considered advocacy. Wait, that was a Pepsi commercial. Never mind. Networks will let you do anything with a corporate logo attached.

The best thing come out of this is all of the Muhammad Ali spots. Ali always has, and will continue to be, a voice of hope in tough times. At the height of his career, he risked it all to stand up for his anti-war beliefs. Today he soldiers on with a message of hope despite crippling physical illness. The “get out and vote” halftime message from a grab bag of celebrities was worthy as well. While Conservative Nation continues to fret over file sharing and that evil naked breast, those two messages are worth repeating.

Almost forgot. The Patriots won.

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