Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why the Super Bowl Sucks

A few days from now, millions and millions of people will gather in front of their television set to watch a sporting contest that the vast majority of them have no stake in whatsoever. Some of them will have gambled on the game, some of them will be New Orleans Saints or Indianapolis Colts fans, but some of them can't tell a flea-flicker from a hail mary. For some people, this will be the only football game they watch all year. Snacks will be served, and excessive beer consumption will be tolerated at most gatherings, or even encouraged.

The Super Bowl is by far the most popular single-day sporting event in the United States, and it's become so ubiquitous it resembles a national holiday, with traditions of its own: the “Sexy” commercial, the Halftime Show with the Aging Rock Band, the Puppy Bowl, the Lingerie Bowl, and the inevitable Explaining the Game to the People who Don't Understand What is Happening.

It's hard to figure out how the Super Bowl became the consummerist orgy it is today. It has nothing to do with the quality of the football game itself, since historically, Super Bowls have been blowouts. Super Bowl viewership doesn't seem to correlate to high-profile match-ups (like the Patriots-Giants two years ago), since last year's contest wasn't exactly a dream matchup yet drew massive ratings. (it was Cardinals-Steelers, in a game you probably don't remember). The simplest explanation is that the Super Bowl became so popular by being popular.

Huh? Consider the commercials: once upon a time, companies bought ad time during the Super Bowl because millions of people watched the Super Bowl. Then they spent a lot of money making the commercials because it cost so much to get them on the air anyway, you might as well try to make a memorable one. Now there are people who watch because of the commercials (which seems less and less sane the more you think about it), which of course will improve the ratings, which will encourage more and more expensive commercials, and so on until we're living in an Idiocracy-esque world where there will be no football because no one is smart enough to understand the rules.

Then there's the phenomenon of the Halftime Show, which used to consist of a college marching band or two but gradually grew into a twisted version of a variety show—by 1993, things had gotten so out of hand that Michael Jackson performed with 3,500 children, which apparently didn't worry anyone at the time. The Halftime Show is a big event only because it is a big event—it has nothing at all to do with football. This year's performers, The Who, are English, so they probably don't even know what shape the ball is supposed to be.

The Super Bowl, as it exists today, is qualitatively different than the World Series or the NBA Finals or Wimbledon. Its purpose isn't to decide the champion of a sport, but to be such a big deal that every single US citizen will have no choice but to watch—hence the unnecessary halftime performance by a famous band, the two weeks of mind-numbing buildup, and all the other detritus that has nothing to do with football.

In truth, nothing about the Super Bowl has to do with football, except for that fraction of the broadcast when the game is actually going on. It's a bit like Christmas, which started out as a celebration of Jesus Christ's birth but is now a reason to buy things, spend time with our families, and watch animatronic movies about reindeer. And except for a few Christians who talk about the “War on Christmas” and would rather go to church than the movies, everybody is fine with that.

Well, I'm one of those people who, for whatever reason, sort of actually care about the football game. I'm not the only one. Do you think the Saints fans are going to enjoy having their lone title game interrupted for half an hour so the remaining half of The Who can work their geriatic way through “Won't Get Fooled Again?” Are the football nuts anticipating maybe the greatest Super Bowl quarterback match-up of all time going to get excited to watch the E-Trade baby vomit on itself?

What we need is to separate the Super Bowl from football. It will happen sooner or later anyway—by the time Super Bowl 100 rolls around (roman numerals will have been dispensed with because only a few intellectuals will understand them), we'll be telling our tube-grown grandchildren that the Super Bowl used to commemorate a football game, and that football was a sport that got banned for causing brain damage to all of the participants.

Let's fast-track that process. I don't look forward to the constant commercial breaks getting in the way of my football, and I bet there are people who don't look forward to the football breaks getting in the way of their commercials. I want to watch the NFL championship, I really do. I'm just not sure I want to watch the Super Bowl.

1 comment:

  1. Great write-up. The commercialization of this...thing...and American football in general is something both hilarious and sad. 3 hours of commercials punctuated with about 15 minutes of football.