I know, another provocative title. I thought it was funny, and that was my first impulse, to see if I might get a snicker out of some of my football fanatic friends and die-hard Super Bowl watcher acquaintances. But I realize now it’s more than just a gag. I really do have a case to make against The Super Bowl. But here are some confessions, to start with:
I don’t know who’s competing this Sunday.
I don’t know which roman numeral identifies this year’s big game.
I haven’t watched a Super Bowl since 1993, and on that day, some friends of mine were helping me move into my first home, had unpacked the little 13” Sony, plugged it in, and wired up an antennae for reception. A couple of my friends watched the game in the basement while I only glanced at the proceedings on a few occasions as I walked by the television with a box of stuff that needed unpacking.
Before 1993, I think I can honestly say that I don’t remember the last time I watched a Super Bowl competition. It has been since junior high, perhaps, when I still had some inkling of an interest toward competitive athletics. It was before I discovered playing rock and roll and theatre and reading, before those three endeavors would pretty much take me away from organized sports, in the same way they took me away from organized religion, forever.
Listen, because some of my friends, people for whom I have the utmost love and respect, are football fans, and because I understand that it does in fact take some skill, not to mention brute strength and force, to play the game of football well, I can’t say anything really terrible about the sport itself or the people who enjoy it. All I can do is make the case against this particular event from my own perspective. This is why I don’t watch the Super Bowl.
The money disgusts me. These guys are making tens of thousands or millions of dollars to move a ball from one end of the field to the other while the guys on the other team are making tens of thousands or millions of dollars by trying to prevent that ball from moving from one end of the field to the other. The guys on the other team do this by “tackling” whichever opponent has the damn ball. They, in turn, try to take possession of said ball so that they can attempt to do the same thing, to move a ball from one end of the field to the other. And while the money these guys make for moving a ball around a field is obscene, this incredibly insensitive reduction of the game into an apparently meaningless objective, nevertheless represents the way I feel about the game itself, about it’s potential interest or value as spectacle or entertainment.
So it bores me. I know, I know, occasionally, perhaps once or twice in a game, there might be a play of breathtaking beauty, skill, exceptional luck, or devastation. But what about the rest of the game? And what do people do during the wait? What do they talk about? Can they have serious talk or any conversation at all about other things while they’re watching? If they get distracted they might miss something, right? So I have this idea that people sit together in groups, sometimes in large groups, or as families, glued to the tube in silence for the potential of some high drama. I know I’m wrong about this—but it’s what I imagine and partly why I don’t watch.
Let’s go back to the money. The money advertisers spend disgusts me. It’s close to three million dollars, I understand, for a 30 second spot. These advertisers, I assume, believe that it must be worth it, so I shudder to think about the millions of people watching who might be doing something better with their time, being subjected to, and looking forward to being subjected to, this massive shock and awe style of commercialism. And I shudder again to think about the amount of money people spend as a result of the effectiveness of these 30-second entertainments inside the entertainment.
I find it sadly ironic. While part of what people do in watching football, or any televised sporting event, is to hold a kind of celebration of athleticism, most people celebrate this kind of activity by being totally inactive. Often, they do this while consuming mass quantities of chips and beer. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against chips and beer—if it weren’t for the football. And chips and beer, I suppose, are the proverbial tip of the iceberg in terms of calorie consumption on Super Bowl Sunday. People get fat watching other people exercise. Even though it’s kind of funny, it makes me sad.
And I think the big business of competitive athletics represents a microcosm of what is essentially wrong with our culture—we worship at the altar of competition. If we spent more time and money thinking about how to collaborate and help each other rather than beating down the other guy and winning, winning, winning, we might get somewhere; we might survive as a species. Our obsession with organized sports, our team loyalty, our hero worship, our hopes and prayers for the demise of the other guy—this kind of practice is worrisome to me and it pervades our society at every level. I know you’re calling me a dummy. Let’s have a football game where collaboration and cooperation between the competitors is the operative goal. That’s just stupid, Michael Jarmer.
You’re right. I don’t understand the game very well or at all. I’m not appreciative of the nuances of the sport. I’m overlooking the communal aspect, the social aspect, the aesthetics of the biggest football game of the year, the very real nostalgic buzz of watching the game you can no longer play because you’re too old or nowhere near skilled or lucky enough. That’s okay. I’m football illiterate and proud. Instead, I’ll read a book, watch season one of The Muppet Show with my son, or play in the yard if it’s sunny, or take a long drive along empty highways with the family. Something like that. Happy Super Bowl Sunday, anyway.