Friday, 6 February 2015

All-American Entertainment Revue Review Part I: Superbowl XLIX

I was drinking when I wrote this, so sue me if it goes astray…

For the uninitiated, The Superbowl is like The Cup Final for the NFL (National Football League). That’s American Football to you.  The Superbowl winners are usually considered to be the world champions of the sport, since (as the name suggests) almost no one anywhere else plays it.
(I know what you’re thinking, it’s like The World Series of Baseball – only US teams in it.  To be fair, though (I am usually fair, it’s my biggest weakness), it’s called The World Series because it was sponsored by a newspaper called The World.  So, far from American arrogance, it’s your ignorance that causes the confusion.  So there.)

Anyway, here we go for The Big Show…
Bowl of ‘chips’: Check.
Bowl of ‘candy’: Check.
Small cans of non-US beer: Check.
Replica shirt of an NFL team not involved in this game: Check.
So, I’m ready.  Come on, America, entertain me.

 “In celebration of this beautiful country, let’s welcome grammy award winner John Legend”
America The Brave is performed with all the understated humility the title suggests.
Then the woman from Frozen sings the national anthem, while big screens flash images of US armed forces abroad and fighter jets fly over, to rapturous cheers from the crowd of 8 million.  This might be a long night…
The US has no monopoly on nationalism, jingoism or embarrassingly mawkish displays of these, but the whole thing looks just a wee bit like ancient Rome; will it be imperial hubris or lead pipes that bring down this great empire?
Anyway, the game starts with all that unpleasantness behind us. 

American football is a bit like Chess mixed with Rugby.  Except there’s more pieces, and the pieces are big men that wear loads of padding to batter shit out of each other.
Channel 4’s helpful  approach is to cut back to a studio with one English bloke talking to two American dudes, who explain the game and tactics and the context of the season to the English bloke, and thereby to the Briddish audience.

[American] Football teams actually consist of three teams: Offence (for attack), Defence (for defence) and Special Teams (for kicking).  No, I don’t know why it’s called Football when there’s lots of throwing and less kicking.  The ball is in play for an average of ten minutes of the sixty on the clock.  The game takes three and a half hours.  Go figure.
As with all other US sports, there are millions of statistics, and technology means the grassroots game bears little resemblance to the professional version.
As with all other US sports, everything is calculated towards maximum excitement: play-offs, league finals, no ties.

It’s also a game so perfectly designed for advertising, snacking and drinking opportunities, it can only have been calculated that way.  All the American sports are like this: the audience whoop and graze their way through it.  It’s really enjoyable.  (And yet, I can’t stand cricket….)

However, what is surprising about American sports is the way they are run:  sport is the only area of American public life that embraces Socialism, actively eschewing dominance by one team.  All NFL teams have an overall wage cap, so that if they want to pay one player a huge salary, they have far less to pay the other players.  (So, actually not at all socialist, but it is a sort of fair play that would look very out of place in British sport.)
The draft system also evens the playing field: the teams with the worst record get the first pick of graduating college players the following season.

Most sportspeople in the US are college graduates, because most get scholarships to play for their college.  Because college sports are a Big Thing.  So professional athletes are educated, unlike British professional footballers, who, um…are endearingly inarticulate and speak English less well than their foreign teammates. 

I exchange messages with my brother who is at a Superbowl Party in NYC.  It’s a big event, apparently everyone in America is watching and eating and drinking, even in The Liberal (ie, Godless) Metropolis.  Our kid’s explaining some of the finer points to me, but most of his friends seem to be there for the beer/food/company.  Big Up The BK Crew. 

It’s nearly halftime.  In the USA, the stress tends to be on the first syllable of a phrase like halftime, defence, deflate, Chinese food.
America: one nation under a groove. Perhaps it’s a funk inflection – the hit is always on the 1, like on most funk records, as in ONE-two-three-four-ONE-two-three-four.  Although in “Chinese food“, the stress is on the second syllable, and is therefore either an exception that proves the rule, or a giant hole in my argument.

I was drinking when I wrote this; so shoot me if I go too fast.

The Superbowl Half-time show is The Biggest Show On Earth™, and the Announcers trumpet this line as if it mitigates the gaudy horror of the spectacle itself.  There’s been some degree of controversy over these performances in past years.  Controversy is a technical term, which means Things Professional Pundits Are Professionally Outraged About.  It’s about the same as a Daily Mail controversy, where somebody who meant no harm does something innocuous and someone completely unaffected in any material way pretends to have hurt feelings about it – and then presents all this as the natural reaction of sane people, with loaded phrases like “Pop star faces outrage” and “Many were upset by…”.  Given the prominence of Christian conservatives in the US, there is no shortage of amateur outrage to back up the professionals.
So, for example, one year, there was a woman’s breast accidentally on display, which was obviously an outrage, as it wasn’t even being used to sell beer.  AND the woman in question wasn’t white and 19 years old.  So, that was the worst thing that could possibly happen (it happened during a war).  Another year, somebody didn’t play live but acted like they did.  And another year, the Black Eyed Peas played, which was an affront to humans everywhere and would never be tolerated by a civilised society.  So that was the most offensive.
This year’s halftime show features Katy Perry rocking up on a 40-foot metal tiger.  So, you know, in keeping with the modest subtlety of the occasion.  Suddenly the kitsch explosion angle is flaunted, again, as if it were on purpose.  The thought that somebody – lots of people, in fact – has/have planned all this makes it seem all the more demented.
Then she’s on stage with Lenny Kravitz, because, um…well, maybe they’ve got the same agent or something.  Then she’s dancing with people in dolphin costumes, and I think: The Flaming Lips could do this well, skipping joyously around the line between camp spectacle and endearingly unpretentious entertainment.
But I’m missing the point: this is the Superbowl, so KP has bounded over that line.  On a fucking big tiger.
Then Missy Elliot rocks up.  It’s all very big and bright and spectacular.  I’ve never been to Vegas, but I imagine it looks like this (but with more money spent on gambling and less on production values).
Throughout this extravaganza, there’s a Pepsi logo on the screen.  If they’ve paid for all this, I think it might be a joke at their expense.  Of which I would, personally, wholeheartedly approve.  Top satire.  Well done, Katy Perry.
Then KP’s on a big hang-gliding thing.  It’s a lot of effort to mask the fact that she’s not a good singer and doesn’t have any good songs, bless her pasty Midwestern looks.  Apparently both she and Kravitz kissed girl, and liked it.  Well, woop-de-fucking-do.
Well, quite.
The halftime adverts are also a Big Event.  They cost the GDP of a mid-sized European country, and this year’s feature Kim Kardashian doing whatever it is Kim Kardashian does.  I sincerely hope the US is the only country where TV advertising can be this big an event.  The same goes for Kim Kardashian.
Throughout the night, there’s an ad break every 90 seconds.  This is an American amount of ‘commercials’, but we don’t suffer the same as the ones as the US audience, of course.  I’ve seen US TV ads.  They’re calculated to attack the psychology of the target audience, to induce panic and inadequacy, whilst masquerading as meaningless nonsense.  It’s either very clever or very stupid, or maybe even both.  Either way, it’s impossible to watch without feeling nauseous.  In other words, just like our adverts, but even worse.

Announcer 1: “Just when I think I’ve seen it all in the NFL”
Announcer 2: -“You haven’t.”
This thing has everything: excessive consumption, athletes, patriotism, violence, cheerleaders, fanfare, fireworks, pop stars, religiosity…top sporting entertainment.  Stay classy, America.

Oh, by the way, the New England Patriots won it 28-24.  The other team was called Hawks, or something.

Glossary of US terms

US                                                                                                       UK
Chips                                                                                                  Crisps
Candy                                                                                                 Sweets
Check                                                                                                 Tick
Announcers                                                                                        Commentators
Go figure                                                                                            ?
Briddish                                                                                              British
Sports [collective]                                                                              Sport [collective]
College                                                                                               University
Tie                                                                                                      Draw
Commercials                                                                                      Adverts
Halftime                                                                                             Half Time
Grammy Award-Winning Singing Sensation                                    Minor Irritant
Bowl                                                                                                   Cup
Controversy                                                                                        Bullshit
Franchise                                                                                            Club
Regular                                                                                               Normal

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