One thing that always strikes me about watching the Super Bowl with a group of people is how little they care about football. In fact, most of the time you watch the Super Bowl, there’s at least one person who constantly has to have someone explain the rules. Ninety million people watch the Super Bowl in the U.S., and the game is broadcast in over 100 countries. It’s inconceivable that many people in Burundi saddled up in front of the TV at 4 a.m. wondering if Peyton Manning would finally come through in the clutch or if Tank Johnson could go three hours without committing another felony.
Perhaps the most frustrating quote regarding the Super Bowl is, “I watch because of the ads.” There are few better examples of the commodification and fetishization of entertainment. Most of the Super Bowl ads will be shown ad infinitum for the next year, and people will be so sick of them by March that they’ll hit the mute button like Rex Grossman’s passes hit the Colts’ safeties. As for the actual game, remember that by living in Chicago, you’re experiencing an extremely skewed perspective of America’s interest in the game. Most of the 90 million viewers could care less about the results, and seriously, does anyone actually live in Indianapolis?
In fact, just about every part of the Super Bowl that doesn’t occur on field during the game is devoted to these interlopers. I don’t think anyone can argue that Prince put people in the mood for football while dressed as Lucille Ball; the only way he could do so was if “1999” reminded fans of Super Bowl XXXIV, which was actually a good game. What, then, is it about the Super Bowl that attracts even those who don’t know which teams are playing to tune in en masse?
It’s no secret that the University of Chicago is far below the mean in terms of sports obsession; I’ll never forget my first year, when a group of four people watching a crucial ALDS game between the Yankees and Twins were kicked off the television by a group of 30 who wanted to watch the Vice Presidential debate. Yet there’s another phenomenon at work here: It seems that the Ironic Generation has struck once again.
I live in Hitchcock, which is notorious for its obsessive, vaguely creepy nerd culture. I love it, but what has always bothered me is that while I struggle to get three people to watch a good movie, dozens of people eagerly await the weekly Bad Movie Night, a Hitchcock tradition. It’s astounding: it’s more popular to watch a work that fails and is a source for mockery than one that actually makes a difference. How else would Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo be a commercial success?
I first noticed the irony in regard to sports my first year, when the most hilarious item of Scav Hunt was performing the Super Bowl Shuffle in honor of its 20th anniversary. It’s an easily maligned song, but it’s one not out of line with the sports culture of 1985. The same sense of detached amusement occurs in Hitchcock when people play songs by Megadeth in Guitar Hero. I’m sure the existence of heavy metal is a purely ironic phenomenon.
Watching the Super Bowl, then, is treated with amusement that the stereotypical white American frat boy actually gives a crap about it. Why else would people who don’t follow football watch the Super Bowl? Even if they don’t explicitly state irony as their reason for watching, the irony is inherent in the mere fact that they are viewing an event to which they feel no connection. At that point one has to wonder: How real is the Super Bowl? Not the game, the idea. If millions of people watch it with no real feelings, the Super Bowl becomes a simulacrum of a meaningful cultural event. Other than sexy Rexy, I’m sure anyone involved in the Super Bowl would feel uncomfortable knowing that most viewers don’t actually care. If this is the most popular event in America, what does that say about our connection with reality?