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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Disquieting Modern Trends: Post–Super Bowl 2008 Edition

Will Layman & Chris Osmond

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.

The most reviled sports fans 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 (, 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.