HOW SUPER IS THE SUPER BOWL?
Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas was asked before the 1972 Super Bowl how it felt to be suiting up for "his greatest game ever." Thomas, a contrarian, replied, "If this is the greatest game ever, how come they are playing it again next year?"
Such is the artlessness of the Super Bowl, an event about as far from the fine arts as can be imagined. Yet perhaps the rules of art can serve as an analyst of apparent superness. The first thing to understand about the Super Bowl is that most of the players spend most of their time standing around on the field, during the commercials, waiting for them to end.
If you are actually there, this lends a jarring performance aspect to the game, worthy of Merce Cunningham, where violent action is constantly interrupted by standing around. Secondly, there is the sound element (and I don't mean Madonna). What Sports Illustrated scribe Frank Deford once described as "the clashing of two Mongol hordes" results in repeated audible crashes of helmets on bodies more appropriate to a construction site, in a Cagean rhythm of violent aurality.
Then, there is the direction. Remember the film The Truman Show, in which Ed Harris directs Jim Carrey, unbeknownst to the latter, through a series of encounters and setups which only appear real? Such is modern football: the game is not the action on the field but a detailed piece of choreography, controlled by coordinators up in the stands, relaying to coaches on the field what their God's eye view of 22 gladiators, who have no autonomy whatsoever, are going to be doing next. This is why the so-called "West Coast Offense" is generally preferred, short high-percentage passes that advance the ball in small increments, which are the most controllable within the entire scope of play.
Now, all of the above conditions are typical of all modern NFL games, but what makes the Super Bowl "super" is the addition of spectacle, and in the glittering digitally antiseptic hellhole that America has become, that means, as Clement Greenberg observed 70 years ago, that kitsch fills up the vacuum of our country's general cultural ignorance.
Thus, we have the fans mimicking the players by wearing their colors and getting rowdy; the Super Bowl commercials mimicking the action on the field by propelling Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick and other "stars" through a series of urban stunts (and dumping Elton John into a basement dungeon), and an attenuated, ghoulish looking Madonna mimicking the commercials in a bit of Egyptian kitsch action, live on the field.
Watching this on an iPhone in Tahrir Square, a real Egyptian might conflate Madonna's ugly costumed dancers and the helmeted players as one piece of narrative continuity, and this Egyptian protestor would not be wrong. Which brings us to Mitt Romney: everything about Mitt Romney, his manufacture, his antiseptic robotism and his use of words as conveyances of shallow meaninglessness is the Super Bowl encapsulated in one alleged person and then injected into our heads.
Resistance is futile. Has anyone remarked that the natural gift of our current warm New York winter would have enabled the easy continuation of Occupy Wall Street, absent last December's interruption of Ray Kelly's NYPD thugs? What was the score of that game by the way? And will they play it again?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).