Super Bowl Monday

A guided tour of America via televisual sport.

Think of it as cultural introspection. Football for fun and insight. 

Don’t be afraid.

A Tale of Two Harbaughs, Two QBs, & Two Linebackers

9:01 a.m. Monday. This is when you watch Super Bowl XLVII if you’re in China and you live two bus stops from Jimmy D’s place, where this wild-eyed NFL evangelist subscribes to Game Pass. (The game started at 7:30 our time, but we’re not crazy.) While Mad Jim puts the final touches on his breakfast burritos, we wait for the alleged gang to arrive. (Brackets like this, in this tangled story, usually mean that I got thinking more about this stuff once the Super Bowl had settled a bit in my mind. It has taken a few days. There’s a lot to think about. Note: this post gets long. Sit back. Relax.)

9:11 a.m. Bad Jim just burst my bubble. This telecast is likely pre-cut. There’ll be no pre-game, but then I’ve had enough in my ill-spent past of talking heads and pre-game hype, and Grantland’s Bill Barnwell and crew have given me all I need of pre-apocalyptic analysis. (If you promise to come back, I will link you to this great sports and pop culture site. But no pride-of-America national-anthem-as-sacrament? No over-indulgent commercials, no insert-hyphenated-adjective-here  half-time show?!) I wanted the whole experience. I wanted to see what the brightest, most creative minds in the Excited States of America have made to mould and incite our consumer purpose. Bring it to me, TV!!

9:15. Burritos chewing, game on. I’ve read much more – he’s been an introverted flashpoint for pigskin opinionating – about the Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco than I’ve seen, which basically amounts to their AFC championship beating of the New England Bradys, and this opening series. He throws beautiful balls, so fluid, so confidently commanding. Baltimore is off and throwing. It doesn’t look like the constipated, conservative, No Fun League Super Bowls that I got tired of in the 90s and early 2000s. (Our little-brother Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup championship was routinely a better game than the Hyper Bowl. But enough of Canuck chauvinism.) But it’s going to be all football, which I’m adjusting to. I guess I can watch the commercials later if I really want to. Nearly $4 million to buy 30 seconds, I’ve read. What a world.

(The Ravens are the former, hijacked Cleveland Browns franchise, the reason their jerseys loving paid tribute to “Art”, their deceased former owner, who is hated in Cleveland. Baltimoreans long reserved their hate for the owner of their dearly beloved former Colts, who had moved them to Indianapolis decades back. That’s moral relativism in a neat NFL package. At least they weren’t called the Baltimore Browns, which would have been nearly as dumb as an NBA franchise that moved from New Orleans to Mormon country in Utah, and yet is still called the Jazz. I like that name Ravens, a tribute to the ominous “nevermore” bird of Edgar Allen Poe, an earlier pride of Baltimore. A pro football franchise with a poetic allusion for a name, well, that’s alright by me.)

(Historical footnote: I long ago entered a suggestion for the new domed stadium in Toronto, where the Blue Jays still play. It’s the Skydome, of course, with a corporate tag in front of it. Unimaginative. I wanted The Xanadome. I’m sure you remember Coleridge’s famous 19th-century poem “Kubla Khan”, his opium dream of the legendary palace of the Mongol emperor: In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree… You don’t? Neither did the Skydome people. Weird.)

9:39. But hey presto! Ad One, for Audi! (I guess the NFL Pass folks hadn’t gotten this far on the editing process. Huzzah!) Prom boy gets the car keys from the world’s coolest and most cowboy-handsome dad, and encouragement to go date-less from his perfectly sympathetic mom. He drives that shining mobile shrine to his high school, parks in the “Principal Only” spot, strolls in, kisses the uber-blonde Prom Queen, and thereby invites the outrage of the King, the blonde, square-jawed quarterback, no doubt. Dateless prom boy drives home, with a smile and a black eye…and the Queen babe. “Bravery: it’s what defines us.” Drive an Audi, friends and neighbours. It is the ultimate act of courage. Women will give themselves to you. (But how did she know he had the Audi that night?) Yes, and the cutest M&Ms – “I would do anything for love…” (carry her shopping bags, etc.) “…but I won’t do that…” (be licked on the head, baked in the oven, etc.). And what better time to launch a new manifestation of the Cult of Beer! It’s Budweiser’s Crown Black, looks like maybe their version of Guinness, something darker (maybe higher alcohol content?): hey, it’s goth beer for the terminally cool and depressed, the dark hipsters, the nightclub vampires. (Anne Rice, what hast thou done?) Really rich young goths, though, what it would be if you imagine all the most popular kids all dying their hair black, wearing mauve lipstick, and buying their dark cloakings at the Gap instead of the Goodwill shop. And partying at the coolest university bar in Transylvania.)

9:42. Where’s the football? (You may soon ask the same question. There was a game, I saw it.) Apparently, a goat obsessed with Doritos has become a grim menace to his terrified suburban owner. I’m not clear on why he owns a goat, or has stockpiled snack chips as his survivalist hedge against global collapse. (But Doritos are awesome.) Oh, and I saw part of this one, hmm, maybe also on CBS, their on sport portal, cheating the Great Firewall of China by watching sports video with my travelling wife’s virtual private network: the “come back when you’ve got a team!” bully’s comeuppance. If you’ve got a Hyundai and a suburban Mom with blood in her eye, you can collect the most bad-ass collection of 10-year-old action heroes ever seen. And I’m not even sure what sells, other than gross-outs. (Something to do with domain names and Internet hosting.) Some blonde bimbette (I later learn she is Bar Rafaeli, a young hottie with a Q-rating so high that even I have heard of her) is seated next to the ultimate nerd caricature: fat, rosy cheeks, curly Jewish hair and glasses, fiddling with his electronica. Danica Patrick, the Anna Kournikova of auto racing, warns us what can happen “when sexy meets smart.” Apparently, that sharing of saliva was supposed to be a good thing. Yecchh.

Two of the best book-ending one of the most vulgar.

9:45. Oh-oh! Football’s back! What’s the score? Right, Baltimore up 7, Flacco to Anquan Boldin, ending an efficient first drive after San Francisco punted quickly in their opening possession. That was so easy. Now the 49ers are picking on Ray Lewis, the aging preacher-as-linebacker (and, maybe, murderer, but who wants to think about that?). He’s way too slow to cover Michael Crabtree. (Warning: I’ve come dressed in red and tan: partly because of an old jones for the Joe Montana Era of Forty-Niner dominance, and an even older one for John Brodie and the team that made those unlikely colours work; partly out of fascination with a coach (Jim Harbaugh) who could make a national pigskin power out of Real Student Athletes (I think) at Stanford; AND, partly, because I’m really sick of Ray Lewis. He has managed, in this most teamish of team sports, to make this game more about himthan has anybody since Terrell Owens, or even Joe Namath, all with God playing the

I am Lewis. Hear me roar.

role of Robin to his Batman.) Many shots of Lewis getting up off the ground. I approve. Oh! Overthrown ball after a great bit of maneuvering by Colin Kaepernick, the brooding young antelope-with-a-rifle-for-an-arm that the Niners gave the QB job partway through their schedule, changing boats in midstream with surprising success. 3 points instead. 7-3 for the Ray-vens.

9:52. Amy Pohler for Best Buy. This is a funny woman. I should find some Saturday Night Live episodes with her and Fey. She shouts with high-tech headphones on. She wants to know what the heck this “cloud” thingy is. (So do I. So do I.) “Will this [Kindle] read 50 Shades of Gray to me with a sexy voice?” Minimum wage, orientally handsome BB staffer: “No.” Pohler, leering: “Will you?” Laugh. (And I did know what Best Buy was selling, too. Bonus!) Then the movie promo, I should have guessed there would be some of these, for Oz the Mighty and Powerful. Got me! I’m all in for Oz, though I tend towards cynicism about Hollywood. (But wait: there’s a Dude that’s going to come and save Dorothy instead of her having  “always had the power to go home inside you”?? We’ve come a long way, baby, but sometimes I wonder where we’ve gotten to.)

10:01. It’s hard to understand why, other than the 24-hour sports news cycle and general North American fixations on all things NFL, that Flacco has been sliced and editorially diced so much. He looks like a QB to me! But the Niners come with heavy pressure. They’re starting to dominate up front.

10:05. Oh, my. Another movie promo. The Rock. Such garbage, cars and explosions, T & A. (Are we all adolescent morons? Present company excepted, of course; Silent Aaron and Roy the Sage have joined the gang, and our average age is pushing 45.) Thought it must be Fasterization and Way More, Like, Furiouser but it turns out to be something called Memorial Day. Am I more depressed or more angry about the state of young men and of Western materialist vulgarity? You make the call! (Okay, breathe, buddy. Breathe. It’s only the Super Bowl. It’s only the Super Bowl.) The all-new Rav 4 from Toyota, with the cute chick from Big Bang (Kaley Cuoco) as wish-granting genie. Charming silliness. (When I later explained this and other ads to my 12-year-old son – who inexplicably betrayed his paternal heritage by not giving a whit about football and refusing to hang with the Old Boys – he asked, “But how is this supposed to persuade anybody to buy stuff? Did it convince you to buy it?” I briefly explained the it’s not persuasion, it’s just to give you a pleasantly and sub-consciously memorable impression of the product so that, in the snack aisle or on car-dealer row, you’ll say ‘Doritos, yeah!’ or ‘Toyota has the best, like, ratings, I think’ basis for advertising. “Hey, that’s true!” he said, thinking of the snack aisle. “But Doritos are great, though,” he sighed, wistfully thinking of snack aisles back in Canada.

10:01. LaMichael James (“oh, that’s the quick little Oregon dude, right?”) fumbles the ball back to the Ray-vens. I’m not looking good in crimson and tan. (Do you think this shirt it makes me look fat?)

10:11. Doritos again. (They must sell mountains of this junky crunch!) Cross-dressing football dudes? Dads in makeup and dresses, instead of playing touch football, because daughter and her dollies had a bag of That Irresistible Near-Food? Hmm, and girl-porn by Calvin Klein, all black-and-white-and-arty movements of a ripped male model. Weird choice, although women do watch the SB, and maybe men see themselves in the muscular dude and his superb taste in gotchies. (Or maybe it’s the NFL bravely opening itself to the gay male community, Niners defensive back Chris Culliver notwithstanding! He just wasn’t thinking, hadn’t been adequately PR-trained for the inevitable-during-Super-Week what if one of your teammates was gay, man? question.) says of itself: “All drive, no drama.” If you can’t get used to how stress-free it now is to buybuybuy the car of your dreams (credit crisis be damned!), then we’ll put you between a wolf cub and its snarling mother. That could happen! Jolts and justapositions: how to sell to modern America. Pretty lame, that one, but the wolves were beautiful.

10:19. Let Joe Throw! And they are. 14-3, now, with a smooth drive that finishes with a pass to his best friend, tight end Pitta. (Aawwww! “They have dinner together twice a week!” we are grateful to learn. And they’re not even gay, I want to add to announcer Jim Nantz’s game notes.) Gosh, he throws a gorgeous ball. Did I mention that?

10:20. Bud Light. Man, do I want to drink Bud! Then I can see Voodoo Stevie! (Wonder’s iconic song “Superstition” bops in the background. Yep, they’ve got Stevie now. They ran a couple of others – de-fortunating the “lucky chair” of a superstitious buddy, for example – and the Three Wise Men and I debated: is that really Stevie, cackling in his cryptic New Orleans voodoo lair? Finally, I think not. Something about the teeth.)

Voodoo Stevie and the Queen of Superstition.

(And after a montage of clips from shows I’ve mostly never seen and deeply sincere gratitude from famous people some of whom I actually sort of  recognize, it turns out that *I*, yeah, ME! (I DID IT!!), made CBS the number one network!!) (High fives around the room, but honesty compelled all of us to demur from this embarrassing thanks. Still, millions now know that they were all a part of this. Yes, we CAN.)  Hey, another Star Trek movie is coming. (Slight embarrassment: I was pumped again. Some of that first Abrams re-boot was ridiculous, but I had a good time, actually, in a real live Cineplex. How did Bones get to be Bones? What was Kirk like as a kid? FUN.) Into Darkness, it’s called. There’s saucy young Kirk, and lots of CGI explosions. Coming May 17. May 17?! The Rock is bigger than I realized: two SB ads! This one’s of a piece with several others: lots of money poured into a special-effects masterpiece of 30-second theatre, this time for milk, as the Action Man has to make sure there’s milk for his kids’ cereal bowls before he saves the world from a bizarre series of calamities. I did smile. (I’m a dairy man. I still drink milk as my preferred beverage and pour it on cereal most mornings, except that I’m wondering whether that’s healthy. And I think of Jerry Mander’s reminder that “advertising exists to purvey what people don’t need”, and the huge industry that’s dedicated to convincing us that milk is not only healthy but damn cool. Got Milk? Hmm.)

10:26. QB Kap throws a pick, and looks rattled. Ed Reed with the interception for the Rayvens, tying a post-season record. What about all that baloney after the whistle? The macho posturing gets me. (Sports have always had some macho posturing, of course, comes with the territory, at least since I’ve been playing and coaching and watching. It’s nice to imagine jockdom without it, men of honour settling their athletic scores with dignity and mutual respect, but it ain’t likely.) Chicken-shit refereeing! Howdy the Idealist howls when the refs call off-setting, no-penalty penalties. Let ‘em play, come on, it’s the Super Bowl, rejoins Mad Jimmy aka Loquacious D. (He was probably right, but the after-whistle strutting, pushing, and braying looks like hockey, fergawdsake!) I don’t like that guys lose control like that with no consequence, as if sport was a mirror to life. (As if young boys are watching and might imitate it ’cause, shit, it’s whatcha DO, dumbass!)

10: 28. After the Rayvens stall on their post-pick drive, Harbaugh the Elder (yes, I’m sure you already knew the two coaches were brothers) calls for a fake field-goal! I love it. The NFL used to be so boring, but it’s getting some CFL mojo now! It didn’t work, mind you, but a good gamble, say I. 49ers are pinned deep in their end of the battlefield. (Too close to their women and children.)

10:35. Funny Volkswagen bit with a corn-fed, neck-tied (“weren’t you born in Minnesota?”) white corporate drone with a broad Jamaican accent and an easy-going island “turn that frown upside-down” ethos in a high-stress, economically stressed-and-distressed office. Now, that was good. (There’ll be racism charges, and it was a bold contrast.) Startled us into laughter. We love the VW Beetle, there is no doubt. Love it (still and) again!

10:38. Hemmed deep after Baltimore’s fake field goal, Kaepernick looks like a rookie. Nearly threw an interception for an easy TD. (“Pick 6” is the contemporary shorthand for this. I like it.) He’s second-guessing himself, and they’d be better to try and let him run for awhile. (“He’s got legs, and he knows how to use them.” That’s ZZ Top, for you youngsters.) Trying to just get to halftime now without further damage. Will we see Alex Smith, the guy whose job he took? (“Not a CHANCE!” snorted Burrito Jimmy. He was probably right again, but then he also thinks the Redskins were right to keep playing an obviously handicapped NFL Rookie of the Year, Robert Griffin III, earlier in the playoffs. “Gotta ride the horse that got you there,” say the coaches and the wannabes, the at-homes, which makes some sense except when your horse is lame and you have a town to save from Bad Guys and flash floods.)

10:42. Coke commercial. (All’s fair in commerce: Pepsi had the half-time show.) Looks like Lawrence of Arabia against The Good, the Bad and the Ugly versus Mad Max versus Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in the Race to the Sacred Desert Icon of Blissful Refreshment™. (Okay, not Priscilla, exactly. These were showgirls. And the gentleman on the camel was soon up to his arse in sand. NOTE: I read later that Coke apologized for depicting Arabs as losers even in the desert. (!)) Coke serves up something with unlikelihood, slapstick and CGI (the Holy Trinity of this year’s SB ads), a counterpoint to the earlier bit that was a 70s-lookback, teach-the-world-to-sing-in-perfect-harmony, peace and love and friendship through shared carbonation. (It was the one with security-camera captures of people doing kind and selfless things, jarring when we’re used to America’s Most Wanted sorts of images. Of course, some complained later about Coke advocating the Big Brother State. It moved me anyway, despite my cynicism. I’m with the old Elvin Costello song: “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” I’m such a sucker for a world with kindness and harmony that I can even rationalize its use to sell sugary drinks. (Which I still like with a pizza or fries.) It’s all good! Coke knows what we want, and this is a Good Thing to Want! Go, Coca-Cola Corporation! Bring us together!) I’m not so big on Live Mas (but, look! The U.S.A. is embracing bilingualism, and fast food is leading the way!), according to which slogan, in this case, Taco Bell will bring irresponsibility, stupidity and dissipation – that is to say, YOUTH!! – to old folks from a seniors residence. (Contrast, juxtaposition, again, it’s the source of all humour, finally, but this was grossly insulting. I don’t think it’s just my steady advance toward old age that gets me pissed off about caricatures of helpless, useless, passive old farts whose only salvation is the jolt of youth that Taco Bell brings, which incites outbreaks of tattooing, dangerous driving, necking (if you can believe it! Codgers kissing! And all thanks to the burrito supreme!) and various other forms of public indignity. Humph. I hated that one.)

10:45. San Francisco – yup, there’s still a game! – is lucky to be down only 14-3. (I’m not the huge football fan I was as a boy and as a younger man, but I still jock-snobbishly consider myself a Man Who Understands The Game, in a different category from the band-wagon jumpers (one of the worst insults, by the way, in the jocktocracy) who watch football once a year, mainly for the commercials. Heck, I’ve seen four games this year!) WHOA! Culliver, the 49ers young defensive back and anti-gay activist, just got exposed on a double move, what we used to call the “out and up” playing tackle football at The Square. And speaking of double moves, why would Culliver compound his first mistake by jumping over the fallen receiver instead of making sure he was downed? Jacoby Jones jumps up, and makes some good ol’ jukey-jive moves in the open field — just like at The Square, playing 3 on 3 all-pass, back in days of yore! — and scores in style. 21-3 Rayvens.

10:47. “It’s a phoenix with 4 wheels…” It’s the all-new Lincoln. (Was it dead? Hmm. I don’t keep up with cars. Thought they’d blown their mythology, but maybe the Lincoln did go down for awhile.) And goshdarnit, but I think I missed some commercials! These guys insist on talking about football. And American politics. And photography. And their wives. And crappy plumbing.

10:49. Desperate times now for the Niners, and maybe that’s what’s getting young Kaepernick off his nerves. Looking good this drive. They have to get it close before the half. Goodness, what a gun this kid has! What a throw to Walker. Still time.

10:54.Ouch. BIG rookie mistake there! Gotta get rid of the ball there, young fella! He couldn’t decide whether to run or pass and did neither. Throw it away, stop the clock! They settle for a FG. 21-6.

Think you can tackle this?

10:56. And NOW, what we’ve all been waiting for! Beyonce!! (Not this cat, though as Yankee Jimmy D complains, “you’re just getting ready to hate on my country!” Not true. Excess is everywhere, and I am curious to see what the Americans can do. They do excess better than anybody. Canadians try to ape them – so do the Chinese – but we can’t quite pull it off like they do.) Yes, it’s the Pepsi Halftime Show, and from the promos I’ve seen by coming to Jimmy’s for some playoff games, I can’t help but think: gosh, if only Ms. Knowles could add a little sex to her performance, we wouldn’t be so distracted by her talent!

11:00. James Brown and all the talking heads who used to be IN the game are now taking turns making (Twitter-sized, but Nonetheless Weighty) comments about what they have Witnessed. (We Are All Witnesses, as LeBron James’s preferred shoemaker used to remind us.) They can’t play anymore, so they talk with great credibility and occasional insight, and to our credit, we’re not really listening. Wise Roy wants to know why I’m tapping on a laptop again, and what my website’s about. I give the short answer. (I can sometimes give the short answer. Just not now.) “So, it’s a metaphysical potpourri of empirically validated eclecticism?” he asks. “BINGO!”

11:03. Okay, here she comes. And here they come: cool and beautiful and profoundly caffeinated young people. Must be Pepsi! Who’s that voice? “Each week is a new challenge.” (Wasn’t there a voice of doom at the beginning? Couldn’t find any reference to this. Maybe I was hallucinating. I blame Jimmy’s burritos.) Fire! Bright lights and a huge darkened stage. Young people running and hoping they’ll be humping; yeah, it’s the mosh pit kids, making it look like Beyonce’s not fifty yards away from the stands, a rumour to those actually there to watch the game. (But they could watch it on the big screen, just like us. Everything is television.) Focus on Beyonce’s bottom. Silhouette. Maybe it’s her groin. Hard to tell in silhouette. Okay, it’s frontal. Wow, what hips! And dry ice never dies. (It just got appropriated by hip-hop when rock’n’roll died.) The come-hither looks begin. (And ain’t I quaint? “Come-hither.” So early-20th century! The come f— me look, if you’ll pardon my frankness.) Trashy. Yeah, if only she could tart it up a bit. (Maybe I’ve been away, but god! I remember suggestiveness. I miss suggestiveness. I remember when men didn’t need to get slapped between the eyes with sweaty lingerie to notice “the fairer sex”. Yeah, and I suppose my great-grandfather had an eye for a well-turned ankle.) Electric guitar, incontinent at both ends, spewing sparks. What planet is the player from? I assume it must be male, since he’s monster ugly and there’s no room for ugly women here. The “bass player” trollop surely isn’t playing that thing, though she’s certainly playing hard. (I did recognize one of songs in the show, because it’s on the playlist at my nearest McDonald’s. I have no idea what these songs are about. I’m a lyrics guy, but I don’t remember a word and I’m sure I’m not supposed to. Old man, what do you MEAN what are the songs ABOUT? It’s about that VOICE. That cleavage. Those hips. That grind. That move right there, oh I love that one. That tossing hair. Those barely covered knockers!) Next song: tap shoes! It’s Riverdance as performed by high-end hookers! Wow, so salacious, so vulgar. She’s nigh on fingering herself in that little hands not-quite-on-the-hip, pointing you-know-where-if-you-know-whaddeyemean… (Wow. Not much mystery here! Sheesh. High-class porn, watched by millions. Not even a need for a “wardrobe malfunction”, but it’s all okay because no nipple was exposed. No “nudity”. American morality is a funny thing when looked at from Canada, frickin’ bizarre from China.)

There she is.

Destiny’s Child makes a guest shot? Is that who those two rocket-launched women with Beyonce are? (Yes, it was the Divine Ms. Knowles’s former trio.) Okay, goodbye DC girls. (Apparently, sales of Beyonce and Destiny’s Child songs/albums had huge bumps in the hours following. I gotta get me some exposure at the Super Bowl. That’s it!) How much does this show cost? The leather alone…And, of course, she finishes with “God bless you!” Indeed, God does love nothing more than thrusting pudenda.  And that’s the half-time show. Incredible virtuosity of performance. But, the phrase “prostitution of the arts” comes to mind. (Commenting on the immorality of a prosperous Western world – in the 1930sShoghi Effendi Rabbani lamented how beauty and creativity were being prostituted because material gain was the chief criterion for judging or for employing them. I’m sure he didn’t mean that the artists looked like unusually expensive streetwalkers. It was me who said that.)

11:20. As the second half is about to begin, we are reminded that The NFL Loves Fitness, as a charmingly nervous young boy comes on to the sacred NFL field to deliver the 2nd half kickoff ball. (The rites of religion do tend to get more and more elaborate. They have to, I guess, when they earnestly promote player safety while turning a blind eye to PEDs that make the players more dangerous and lengthen the season, or piously preach fitness while many players are clinically obese.) Maybe he was still in recovery from the half-time show, but Wise Roy hadn’t said much until this crack: “Where is Herr Himmler?” NICE ONE! (I was thinking more of the Hefner-ization of American life, but Roy went back a little deeper, to Nazi Germany’s propaganda chief, Heinrich Himmler, as we explained to the younger lads. And cripes, come to think of it, we didn’t even see the “Star Spangled Banner”, the now-obligatory fighter fly-past – hmm, except we were in a domed stadium, so maybe not – and what was no doubt a pre-game celebration of American military hardware and heroes. And policy. The NFL is a proud sponsor of American expansionism.)


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