Tuesday, February 12, 2008

With the 24-hour news cycle now creating fresh stories, rerunning them, then moving on to something new approximately every 90 minutes, we are keenly aware that our “Super Bowl coverage” is coming at you pathetically late in the game. By the time you read this, you will not only have forgotten about The Big Game, but you will have already grown weary of a half-dozen other huge stories that subsequently emerged, were hyped, then faded—at least two waves of Obama/Clinton momentum changes, Shaq being traded to Phoenix even though he currently requires a medical team the size a brigade just to move him to his morning bowl of Honey Nuts, Pat O’Brien entering rehab in a bit of karmic payback that should please all Americans, tornadoes in Tennessee, and surely a couple-three Britney breakdowns.

But this is just How We Roll. We hit our S.B. coverage old-schooly, with no ambition of staying up all night to beat some other chump to the punch. If you want immediate snark on the absurd number of Super Bowl ads featuring anthropomorphic squirrels and talking babies, go elsewhere.1 We, however, shall survey the larger scene, noting those trends particularly noisome and spurious, not to mention just plain old crappy. We do COMEDY, people, of the more classic variety. Comedy, as you may have heard, is not always pretty. And, we would add, it is not even always funny. Or timely.

And so we bring you 2008’s Disquieting Super Bowl Trends.

The Failure of Pre-Game Hype to Capture the Imagination of a Public Oversaturated with Every Other Kind of Hype
The Super Bowl, of course, has always been best at one and only one thing. Not football, of course, which—despite this year’s riveting defensive battle climaxing in three virtuoso touchdown drives—usually reminds us of four-day-old bean-and-cheese dip left out on the coffee table the whole time.2 We all know it’s the hype that makes S.B. Sunday the U.S.’s true national holiday.

How disappointing, then, to note that this year’s hype was as lackluster as the year’s Grammy-nominated pop-instrumental albums.3 Would the Pats run the table? Does “the boot” on N.E. QB Tom Brady, in fact, mean he won’t play? Is N.Y. QB Eli Manning, perhaps, part cocker spaniel? Is N.E. Head Coach Bill Belichick the nephew of actor Larry Hagman of Dallas and I Dream of Jeannie fame?4 Of course everyone thought the game would be a blowout, so there was a painful half-heartedness to almost all the pregame talk. The Giants would lose, Brady’s boot was a smokescreen, Belichick was a genius but still a dickwad cheater—it was all too obvious to belabor.

As a result, the hype was probably the lamest it’s ever been. The best story out there, of course, was fact that the Giants had very nearly beaten the Pats in the last week of the season and did so despite being a ragtag bunch of goofballs who best players had either retired (Tiki Barber, now pursuing a career as a lame TV patsy doing morning shows), been knocked out for the season (the tatted-up loudmouth lout tight end Jeremy Shockey), been playing injured and without practice all year (the awesomely named Plaxico Burress), or had his balls cut off by the New York media so many times in the last three years that people were starting to mistake him for Pee-wee Herman5 (Eli Manning, who we prefer to think of as the one of the lesser Baldwins—less than Alec, way more than Billy).

The bottom line is this: we could barely watch the pre-game banter, so devoid was it of bombast and nacho cheese super-flavor. Not unlike all the other crap on Fox these days,6 it seemed like a whole lot of foreplay and precious little horizontal tango. And since we really truly figured the game to be a waste of our time, we wondered why we’d tuned in at all. How amazing, then, that the game itself turned out to be the whole point. This reversal of expectation, a total reordering of all that we have come to believe and know about S.B. Sunday, was actually a good thing—but a good thing nevertheless deeply, soul-jarringly disquieting.

The Continued Decision to Play the Game Ridiculously Late in the Day Just So We’ll Be Forced to Watch a Damned Episode of House
Game time, as usual, was just short of 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time, meaning that the game itself would not end until after 10 p.m. We’ve gotten used to this over the years, and so complaining it about now may seem quaint in the extreme. We raise it today not just because it upsets us to have to try to put our kids to bed at the same moment that Bridgestone tires are being hawked by no less a cultural icon than Alice Cooper in conjunction with his polar opposite, Richard Simmons, but rather because we resent the way that the entire national programming event is al used as little more than a run up to an overrated hospital show.

Far as we can tell, House is the most surface-ridiculous show on TV. We sort of believe that every year some screwy terrorist is trying to explode the universe and some rogue C.I.A. operative whose dad was in M*A*S*H has to save us. We’re pretty sure there are horribly boring jobs in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the boss likes going to Hooters. And we know for a fact that Baltimore is a desperate pit of urban decay in which every form of bureaucracy victimizes idealists.7 But is there really a hospital in New Jersey where eight-year-old boys get pregnant or people walk in with leprosy? What makes it harder for us to swallow all this, frankly, is our knowledge that star Hugh Laurie is a really funny guy who used to do eccentric sketch comedy, who has written a novel parodying the thriller genre, and who is a fairly kick-ass musician. House is paying Laurie’s bills, of course, and who can begrudge the guy some cashola?

But there was something about having another episode of House ceaselessly hyped throughout the length of what was, frankly, a spectacular sporting event that gave us a creeping sense of disquietude from the first quarter on. It seemed as if we were at the Led Zeppelin reunion concert, but between every song the promoters were telling us that we should be really psyched for the next band, the Jonas Brothers.8

Tom Petty as Half-Time Attraction as Last Gasp of an Ever-More-Obviously Exhausted and Desperate Baby Boom Generation
Every Super Bowl half-time show since 2004, of course, has been little more than a reaction to The Janet Jackson Nipple Incident. Never has a little nippage so decisively affected our great democracy. The powers that be retreated immediately to cuteness and craft (2005’s Paul McCartney half-time), then went with the more ribald but wrinkly Rolling Stones (2006), then over to the once-daring but now Vegas-ed up Prince (2007)—who, we note, at least pulled off that awesome guitar stiffy silhouette thing, and of course totally wailed Super Bowl XLII served up the least glitzy band available: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.9

Now, we’re not about to get into slagging Petty, whose songcraft and basic rock credentials are beyond even the cynicism of this column.10 But WOW did he seem out of place. “American Girl” and “Free Fallin’” sounded pretty good, but there was an odd desperation about the whole thing that made us wish that we were either 20 years older or 20 years younger. We watched the show with a group of 17-year-old girls11, and one of them claimed to know Petty’s songs because (and we quote), “I have an internship at the classic-rock station this semester, and they always play this really old stuff.”

T. Petty and Really Really Old-Looking Bandmates.

On the show, the producers had things choreographed such that a massive gang of screaming girls went tearing across the field to get closer to Petty and his crew of Really Really Old Looking Bandmates. The 17-year-olds we were sitting with actually laughed out loud at this point, yelping at the notion that the likes of them would be screaming to get closer to, well, the likes of us. We interpret the whole spectacle as yet another sign of Baby Boomer Desperation, the beginning of what should be a sad, decade-long attempt to cling to cultural relevance and sexual desirability by a generation that just cannot freaking believe that it is not cool any more, Dennis Hopper—that Judas—be damned.12 If you don’t find this creepy, then you’re just not paying attention.

Boston-variety sports fans, the most reviled in the world.

The Failure of Patriot-Hatred to Live Up to the Deep-Seated Pleasure of Red Sox–Hatred
And really, you must know by now that this whole column is just late-in-the-cycle wallpaper to give us elbow room to take one last swipe at those Damn Bostonians and their “Nation.” Certainly elsewhere we have groused about the Red Sox Nation and its endless kvelling and kvetching and general carrying-on about its poor, poor team, which kvelling and kvetching has apparently not ENDED since the Sawx finally won a flarging World Series (and then, fer crissake, two) but actually seems to have INTENSIFIED. Certainly in better frames of mind than that which our serotonin-modifying substances are currently giving us through their slow drip, we have noted that, in fact, a “nation” is something you must at least nominally BELONG to, like by being Arapaho or owning Kiss Alive13. Any chucklehead—an actual Boston term, BTW, according to our dear friends of the awesome but defunkt funk band by the same name (http://www.myspace.com/chuckleheadweb), tremendously underrated, holler, HEYYYY!—with $15 bucks for a damn B cap apparently belongs to this “nation,” blubbering about his sister’s roommate having an uncle from Newton or some such thing. Screw. All. Of. You. Go away. While Manny is being Manny, how ’bout you guys all start being Cubs fans?

And so we admit with a certain amount of disgust that hating these monstrously favored, robotically good Patriots just was not as much fun as our distaste for the BoSox. Maybe it’s the fact that we noticed fewer cute girls wearing pink or baby blues Pats Hats while also sporting You’ll Never Date Me spaghetti-strap tops. But whatever it is, we’ll confess, we’ll admit, we won’t deny, we’ll cop to a certain historical regret that the Patriots didn’t win it. They had certainly earned their streak. They seemed unstoppable.14 But in the end, Hollywood loves an underdog and it was that lil’ ol’ cocker spaniel Manning who got to jump up and down and celebrate. All of America wanted to bend over, scratch him behind the ear and give him a Milk-Bone.

And so we say to you: Good boy! Sit … Give us your paw. That’a boy. Now get out of here until it’s time for dinner.

1 And there are fine places to go for this coverage. We continue to admire the spanking-fine ad coverage at Slate. It cheers us to no end to tell you that Seth Stevenson was on this year's “Big Game Beat” though his various fill-ins at “The Ad Report Card” have been no slouches. It remains a bafflement why we were not given this gig, but then again maybe we'd rather spend the hours immediately after the Super Bowl watching our Argentine maids clean up the mess made by our guests' mêlée inspired the by the Krugerrand-filled Tom Brady piñata we trotted out at half-time at the Disquieting Modern Trends Super Bowl Party. We will set aside for now our extreme annoyance at yet another person talking about a Boston sports team as "my beloved Patriots"--Seth, when did you and your 60 million other fair-weather Pats/BoSox/Celtics fans actually purchase these franchises? For last time (other than elsewhere in this column), let us just say OY with all these Boston fans. May your teams crumble back into a renewed era of Bill Buckner-ism in which the rest of the country slips between Gisele Bündchen's legs.

2 At this year's party, by the way, we eschewed the usual guacamole, et al, in favor of plenty-plenty Italian food. Not a single freakin' corn chip on the premises this year. Since when did Mexican food get so fully integrated with America's most violent sport? We cannot think of a single Mexican in the N.F.L., whereas names like Vince Lombardi, Dan Marino, Vinnie Testaverde, and even (are we nuts on this one?) Joe Montana pretty well reek of ricotta cheese. Next year we may just precede the game with a Martin Scorsese film festival. Which is the better Scorsese film--Goodfellas (New York) or The Departed (Boston)? Not even close, Tom Brady.

3 Shooting fish in a barrel, are we? We are just enjoying noting that this category exists at all. The nominated pop-instrumental albums for 2007 (note: The Grammys will be broadcast a fews hours from our drafting this column, thus the winner of this momentous award is as yet unknown to us) are: Italia by pretty boy trumpeter Chris Botti; At the Movies by pretty boy saxophonist Dave Koz; Roundtrip by faux-soul saxophonist Kirk Whalum; Good to Go-Go by decades-out-of-style fusion group Spyro Gyra; and--and this is the kicker--The Mix-Up by … The Beastie Boys. Does this mean that the Beasties, once the purveyors of hide-your- daughters-from-these-Jews hip-hop who famously had a stage show with barely clothed women dancing in cages and a giant motorized inflatable penis that pretty much embodied, circa 1985 or so, the entire culture's fear of This New So-Called Music, are now considered the equivalent of smooooove jazz? Wow, have we come a long way.

4 No doubt every feminist scholar and every graduate student who ever wrote his dissertation on 60s sitcoms has done a thorough analysis of how having a scantily clad super-vixen in a bottle in your room ready to serve your every momentary desire is a Grade-A perfect embodiment of mid-20th century U.S. patriarchy and/or a classic U.S. male freak-out reaction to the burgeoning feminist movement of the day. (Jeannie aired between 1964 and 1970 and was NBC's response to ABC's Bewitched, except that the ABC show lasted until 1972 and allowed its female star to maintain her basic dignity.) We are less interested in the obvious fact that guys in 1965 surely saw Jeannie as a Playboy fantasy and more intrigued by the fact that Jeannie's "master" was an astronaut--a group that in the 1960s actually constituted a bunch of nutsoid former fighter pilots who would have known exactly how to, er, enjoy this scenario--but in the show he acted like a nervous boob who did not know how to deal with women. The degree to which one of us painfully IDed with this during series reruns in the mid-70s is best discussed privately elsewhere.4a

4a The degree to which the other of us identified with Barbara Eden’s navel--which, in holy tryptich with Ginger’s fulsome hips and Agent 99’s pert go-go bosom, comprised the mystical triune god of unattainable yet ineffable nobility--should probably also be discussed privately elsewhere, but, oh well, there it goes.

5 Speaking of Pee-wee Herman, we'd just like to go on record as missing the guy. Pee-wee's Playhouse was the coolest thing to happen to kids’ television after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood5a We aren't here to start lecturing anyone about the irony that Paul Reubens's 1991 arrest for whacking off in a porn theater occurred just a few years before blowjobs became blasé in the Oval Office, but we do think that Pee-wee deserved better than he got. The IMDb tells us that the Playhouse is currently in production for the big screen, by the way , so perhaps Pee-wee will yet get the last creepy adenoidal laugh.

5a We will brook no shit about Fred Rogers in this column. Cat was incredible--taking kids into factories to see how cellos are made, then having Yo-Yo Ma come on and play one. And those funky puppets like King Friday and Anna Platypus? We're tempted to devote an entire column to Handy Man Negri at some point, though we'd have nothing to whine about. Fred Rogers is better than all of us put together, kids. Did you know that the last episode aired on August 31, 2001? Just a little something to get you conspiracy theorists thinking …

6 We won't exhaustively categorize all of Fox's sins here, and we won't say a word about the vanilla juggernaut that is American Idol, what with its interminable audition shows all of which will again produce a serious of competition shows that will soon put anesthesiologists entirely out of business, resulting in another winner who does not now, never has in the past, and never will in the future rock. (Not that we did not enjoy it in its day, but it is over now, man--as over as Eva Longoria Parker. Put a fork in her, she is DONE.) But we must say that the network's new "hit", Moment of Truth will surely prove to be the nadir of reality television and the very thing that finally brings the writers' strike to a halt. It's not that it is both embarrassing and hopelessly tedious, but rather that it takes a premise that SHOULD be genuinely mortifying and reveals that premise to be prepackaged and false from the very start. The terrible truths that the show claims to reveal have already been vetted and packaged before the show goes on the air. We won't bore you here with the details, but we predict that Americans--yeah, even the 300 million of us who did not get hip to George W. Bush over the course of four years--will quickly dump this show and vote for change or hope or whatever else it is that this election season is supposed to be about. We also note that the host of Moment of Truth is named Mark Wahlberg but is not Marky-Mark himself but some kind of third-generation game-show hack who is about to become a hilarious reference in some soon-to-be produced VH1 special "looking back" on the year 2008. January 2009 cannot come soon enough.

Mark Wahlberg the Lesser.

7 Are you watching The Wire yet? No more excuses. Reading the spoilers by the wankers over at Slate so you can keep up with the smart guys at the office doesn’t count. Be good police and saddle up.

8 We have just learned that the Jonas Brothers actually grew up in the New Jersey hometown of one of us. This does not, however, give us any further insight into their popularity or the popularity of their concert-mate Miley Cyrus. We can only assume that the collective might of the Disney Corporation has finally seized total mind control of those between the ages of 8 and 13 across the land, and we think they probably have a line on that “Webkinz” thing too to get the feeder demographic. This, however, does not explain the equally baffling popularity of faux-opera singer Josh Groban, whose speaker-blowing earnestness and tonal ugliness makes him the 21st century equivalent of Neil Diamond, but without the songwriting chops. But we digress.

From left: Jonas, Jonas, and Jonas.

9 We feel compelled to note that possibly the only less glitzy band than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that has ever existed is the Pretenders, who we understand no longer record en si since they lost like two guitarists to overdoses. We base this on the fact that we think their drummer is hilarious, having read once an interview he gave in the 80s in which he noted that he was now sponsored by a new brand of drums--Sonor--“which is made in Germany, so every time I play them I feel like I’m invading Poland.” We wept--wept--like children with glee at such wit. Plus Crissie Hynde could wear you like a nine-button glove. She is BAD ASS. Perhaps the only badder-ass woman in pop music at present is Erykah Badu. She gets her own column. Yes, next month: our exegesis on the brilliance of Worldwide Underground. Don’t be late--and for God’s sake do the reading this time.

10 O.K., actually we are going to take a quick nip of slag-juice. Petty sounds a little too much like Dylan, right? It's not just us who finds this unnerving is it? There's no way you can sound like that by accident, right? And, as a straight-up Rock Band, aren't the Heartbreakers sort of the poor man's E Street Band? We promise to retract this critique if Springsteen ever plays the Super Bowl half-time show. But we do not think this will ever happen. This may be the only thing that Bruce has in common with is his fellow Jersey rockers, the Jonas Brothers.

11 No jokes here about what we would be doing watching The Big Game with chaste ladies of such vintage, please. Some things are off-limits even at D.M.T. Headquarters. Not that we'd blame you for not believing us.

12 The Grammys have just ended, and we'd like to draw a crucial distinction here. The Grammys, of course, suck and always have, with the older generation giving the Big Awards to artists wildly out of date. And no doubt this year's Album of the Year award will be interpreted in that vein, as happenin' cats like Kanye West were once again robbed of the big prize. But this year the award went to Herbie Hancock for a pretty daring jazz record. Admittedly, this was a Joni Mitchell tribute record, so we acknowledge that the Boomers probably thought they were giving the victory to one of their icons. Most of The Joni Letters, however, is made of crazy OUT saxophone solos by Wayne Shorter. This was actually a bold and radical move, even if no one knows it other than Herbie Hancock himself. And now, thanks to us, you.

Mr. Hancock and his Grammy.

13 Note that we have NO BEEF WHATSOEVER with the Kiss Army. We think they are everything right about this country--if they were any righter, they would be sending 10% of every VH1 Classic 9 DVD box-set sale to Motörhead (umlaut-umlaut), who, from what we can fathom, basically have forgotten more about rocking than Kiss will ever pretend to know. But still, Kiss über alles.

14 Not as unstoppable as our TAR HEELS who SPANKED Clemson in double OT though, with their first lead in the game not even until regulation was over. Those boys got heart.

More Less Traditional Mafia Hit Men Benny Basic Cable, Airbags Malloy, Barry A'Tricks, Serotonin-Sucking Sal, and Angelo The Milkman.
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