Patriots nip pussycats

Broadcast | Language/Structure
Thoughts on an otherwise exciting football game. Had I not watched the halftime show, I would have skipped writing this and been happily asleep with the Patriots win. And a party mostly cleaned up.

I’m glad never wasted money on a Super Bowl ad, as I had prescribed in my Thursday essay (though we did fill them into one of our “Super Bowl Squares” which we couldn’t sell to any of our guests, along with other non-for-profit causes. The wildcard cause of “Send Bush to Mars” would have required a score ending in 5-5, along with a viable organization to actually work on that). The ads appear to have turned a corner into banality; even the franchises of Budweiser and Pepsi muted their prescence. This will certainly be the first game in a many years where no one will talk about the ads. The commercials completely upstaged by a separate non-game moment, the pasty shot at the end the halftime show; which was itself upstaged by one of the more exciting game finishes in recent history (nonwithstanding the last Patriots win).

The Patriots were nothing short of outstanding when the game is on the line (I say this as a new New Englander– still not yet a Red Sox fan, but someone for whom an allegience to the Jets was easy to let slide. Also, the Kraft family are big machers at my shul. If you pray together, you play together). There’s just a feeling when Tom Brady is in control with minutes to go, and he is just going to connect with his receivers, march down the field, and set up the touchdown. Or set up the the winning Vinatieri field goal.

But enough about pigskin, let’s consider the celeb skin. When it comes down to the culture wars, I worry about being on the side of the John Ashcrofts, who suggest that a bare breast is a threat to civil society. (According to the ABC News report Draping History; though Ashcroft’s role is disputed by, curiosly enough, an analysis at What we can agree on is that it separates us from the reptiles; whether a bare breased status disrupts the gravity of public announcements in the Great Hall at the Department of Justice, this is debateable.

On the other hand, the rash staging of Timberlake and Jackson is beyond sense. I don’t know what we are to read into the white boy tearing the clothes off of a black woman. The only thing for sure is that this is another case of the performers, asked by their record producers to walk-through yet another lip-synched staged performance, have decided to up-stage the whole show. The music is so unintelligible and forgettable (whether from the aforementioned, or from Kid Rock or P. Diddy); it is often sampled (the trade term for artists’ “borrowing”) from other pieces, no wonder why kids do not bother paying for the current hit songs. The artists do not bother pushing the envelope of musicality, but the donning, and disrobing, of fashion.

The equivalent upstaging of the spectacle of awards show is when artists drop their language or their decorum in the midst of the spotlight of rambling through an acceptance speech. When this b.s. happens, civility critics howl at the FCC, the TV executives pass the buck. It’s a far-fetched notion of mine that televised awards shows can these speeches altogether; after all, the television industry is one and the same with the entertainment industry. But now they’re dealing with the NFL, which still tries to promote that at its core it is a sport. The entertainment value of football derives from fair competition, and not showmanship. For its strict enforcement of on-field celebrating, the NFL has been often called the “no fun league”. (Fair competition does also depend on clear rules regarding the actual play of the game, and some recent trends in rulings from the “ground can’t cause a fumble”, “it’s not intentional grounding if the ball is thrown at the feet of am eligible receiver, even one facing the other way” seem to undermine the strictitude of the game). A game should stick to the game.

The NFL has already intimated that MTV may not be invited to produce another halftime show; the relationship with CBS will certainly sour as well. They may cut out the whole rock-and-roll stupidity of the season opening and of the inevitable half time show. The NFL can certainly afford to divorce itself from the entertainment-industrial complex for a time. I don’t have any better ideas if a halftime entertainment package is still needed; it would be a nice connection to the amateur game if the pros had an official band (as the Redskins do), and brought them to the show. I’d be happy with a 15-minute commercial for the United Way.

This may yet turn into a frivolous election issue. John Kerry gets a rhetorical boost with the New England team beating out its Carolina, but the Democrats are still find themselves cast as the Pussycats in the as compared to the self-inclusive Patriots. The pussycats are framed not just as wimps on foreign policy, but as underminers of civility as well. The culture wars, of course, have been won by the liberals. Though some of us liberals wonder whether we have progressed enough– how many more bare breasts do we need to see? I wouldn’t be surprised if the leading Democratic candidates turn this into their “Sistah Souljah” moment (whatever happened to her after Public Enemy? One Democratic candidate criticized her comments apparently endorsing black militancy– and when on to be elected President twice. Nonetheless, Clinton quoted her out of context, according to this article by Samuel G. Freedman).

If “the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” (allegedly said by Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Ellington), I would allegedly add that the battles of the Last Great War were won the football fields of Alabama, of Texas, of Iowa. Football is a warlike game which is built around a corporate division of labor, and making the other guy feel pain, within some limits. (Baseball devotee George Will says that it “combines the worst things of American life. It is violence interrupted by committee meetings.”) I just hope that football, in the body of the NFL, stops the slide into irreverence.

Postscripts (Feb 8): Alessandra Stanley, leading off the Times‘s “Week in Review” reflection, said “If there was anything more bizarre than the sudden baring of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show, it was the hyperbolic reaction that followed.” Well, I respond, when there is policy to talk about, what else should we, as democratic deliberators, do? Turn our attention back to criminal trials? ‘It happens, we discuss it.

my Dad, who has been a fan of professional football fan since there were just 12 teams, believes that the NFL has long passed the point of no decency. “Does advertising support the NFL, or does the NFL exist to support advertising?”
Maureen Dowd compared the curious statements of the Powell’s, father and son. “The younger Powell failed to appreciate the consequences of not curbing big media companies gobbling up rivals. Colin Powell failed to appreciate the consequences of not curbing Dick Cheney, Rummy and Wolfie as they gobbled up foreign policy.” Eileen McNamara of the Globe argued a similar point.
John Carroll, on Greater Boston‘s “Beat the Press” segment this week, suggested that this was one of the few times that “virtuecrats” sat down with their families to watch TV, and may have gotten a little taste of what’s on MTV these days.
I caught Andy Rooney on CBS radio this evening, wrapping up 60 Minutes. “Why isn’t the focus on the game anymore,” he whined. I should have guessed it.
Rabbi Hamilton agreed with most of the above sentiments, but he didn’t see it on TV at all (he was watching from the owner’s box).