Storm clouds gathered above the arena pouring rain upon its muddied surface. Suddenly there was a spontaneous crackling of lightning and a sudden explosion of pyrotechnic light. As the smoke dissipated, an ancient symbol emerged out of the ground along with a strange man playing a guitar. This was no mere man, this man was a prince, and as he played his strange guitar the symbol turned purple and so did the rain. It was fitting then that the song was “Purple Rain,” that the prince was in fact the artist once again referred to as Prince, and the arena was none other than Dolphin Stadium in Miami as the halftime show for Super Bowl XLI was well underway.
No other cultural event in the Western world melds a violent sport, corporate sponsorship, musical concerts, and random celebrities in such a spectacular and decadent display of American culture simultaneously at both its best and worst. Only at the Superbowl do beer commercials contain more footage of talking frogs or farting horses than the lager itself. Only here can we see Janet Jackson bare her left nipple in front of everyone. Only here does Jessica Simpson feel liberated enough to insult her own intelligence (oh wait…). And it is only here that former Presidents meet, giant American flags are unfurled, and aircraft fly over in formation proclaiming that the season is over and the mission will soon be accomplished (oh wait…). Yes, once again my fellow Americans, the Super Bowl has come and gone.
By the time you read this the whole world will know that the Indianapolis Colts under the leadership of Peyton Manning (R-IN) has won. But really, it doesn’t make a difference who wins; the Super Bowl is about a lot of things, the least of which is the game itself. Instead the Super Bowl embodies a greater idea, that corporate America can somehow create an artificial celebration, indeed an artificial holiday, and have it unite a people. It is no wonder that the commercials are often more fondly remembered than the plays. This year the ads ranged from the typical, including talking animals that fart, to the surreal. In one, a car factory robot kills itself after GM lays it off, only to wake up and realize it was all a dream. (The real life humans the robot replaced, of course, will never wake up after their dreams became nightmares.) As I sat there mystified by this cornucopia of America, I had a new realization.
I remembered we were a nation at war. That what we needed in this time of trouble was a celebration like this, as artificial and soulless as it might be, to bring us all together. I remembered we had an awesome god in the blue states and gay friends in the red states. I remembered the great words of John Belushi when he asked, “Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” No, we didn’t, and we wouldn’t give up now. I remembered that Martin Luther King had a dream that one day blacks would coach the two Super Bowl teams to victory, and that he dreamt the media and corporate America would mark it as a sign of progress even though black neighborhoods from the South Side to the Ninth Ward were in shambles. I remembered that Christ, invoked by both the Colts owner and the coach during their acceptance speeches, truly did unite both coaches and all the players, who, after pounding each other to the ground, embraced each other and their Savior. But then I remembered that even though Peyton got his ring and those storm clouds cleared, allowing Prince to ride his majestic stage back to obscurity, there were still no great leaps for mankind. This was not a great moment in history, and it was still only a game.