On balance, I enjoyed the Super Bowl. You know, the football game from a couple days ago, the one with the commercials and that Tom Jones-looking guy (above) singing Who songs at halftime. I enjoyed it because I like NFL football games more than I am frankly comfortable with, and because the game itself was pretty interesting, and because the Saints won. I’m obviously aware that the last fact doesn’t in any way end or mend any of the myriad problems of still-suffering New Orleans itself, or do anything to justify the facile day-late/dollar-short super-sentimentalism of the sport-pundits who pretended that it could. And neither does a satisfying football game offer me much comfort in re: our broader discourse or commodified pleasures or the vexations of being a fan or whatever the hell it is that I’ve been on about the last couple weeks. Of course.
But there are times when it is nice to simply watch oneself some sports. Despite the Super Bowl’s primary purpose as a branding opportunity and a showcase for bleeding-edge misogyno-masochistic advertising innovations and all the issues I have with being addressed as if I am an aggrieved and learning-disabled sentient penis by advertisers — despite all that — I do enjoy a well-played football game. The last three Super Bowls have delivered on that (and of course on all the other stuff), and so I have generally enjoyed them.
And yet of course there’s obviously something pretty rotten about the whole thing. I linked in Sunday’s Daily Fix to Hunter Thompson’s 1973 “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl” piece for Rolling Stone, and while I don’t necessarily like Thompson any more now than I ever have (not really that much) the piece is at least pretty funny and interesting in a time-capsule sense. What was fucked about the first post-Watergate Super Bowl — or what we might imagine as that, working off the druggy, malevolent, disaffected-unto-violence vibe of Thompson’s piece — just seems so much more interesting than the manufactured consent and dumb pomp and casual bile and rampant pissy childishness that defines the Super Bowl cultural experience circa now. I mean, this is what the game is, and as long as there are teams I’m at least vaguely interested in playing in the game, it’s what I’m going to watch on that given Sunday. But there remains the sense, despite the fact that I actually do enjoy watching NFL games despite all the above, that this just kind of isn’t for me.
All of which is to say that while I’m not simpatico with the perspective of Seth Colter Walls’ boycott-the-Super-Bowl diatribe at The Awl, I get what it is about the whole experience that bothers him so much. “Right now our TV bipartisanship is a lot like our political bipartisanship,” Walls writes. “It all takes place on the conservatives’ turf. It’s never a massive ‘come together’ television event when the National Book Awards are announced.” He continues:
If you only watch the Super Bowl because everyone else watches it and you feel like you ought to watch it, too, allow me to suggest that, next year, you give it a rest. If your interests have to do with anything other than sports or celebrities, at least know that the same courtesy of mass-interestedness will never be extended in your direction during peak moments of excitement related to whatever it is you care most about.
Meantime, there’s no need to inflate the numbers of Super Bowl watchers“and no urgency to make its ad time all the more lucrative for the proponents of cheap chauvinism to trade in on“unless you really want to be there. Personally, while I’m quite content to pay higher taxes in New York so that the rural dudes I grew up with can have some sort of subsidized health care available to them while they are increasingly out of work, I confess I’m somewhat weary of simultaneously having to listen to cultural products aimed at my male cohort proffer the casual suggestion that I simply must be a sissified queer for paying attention to a girl instead of that game where a bunch of dudes play grab-ass. Just saying.
Because of this, I’ll only ever watch football if I’m in the company of a friend whose excitement can have a cheering effect on me. And so it happens I didn’t watch the Super Bowl yesterday. Not because I’m more interested in “proving a point” than I am in having fun, but because even more than I don’t care about football, I don’t care about supporting the ludicrously out of date notion that this country hangs together in any manner save for geographically.