OP-EDS

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February 8, 2008

From Carville to Clayton, media anything but super

Very rarely do we get two “super” days, back-to-back. America has only a handful of days in a given year when everyone will be talking about the same thing, whether they want to or not. These are usually Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Oscar night, and, as we experienced earlier this week, elections and the Super Bowl. Yet, with “Super Sunday” and “Super Tuesday,” in a three-day span, I was more super dazed than anything. The more I watched coverage of the Super Bowl and the Super Tuesday primaries, the more difficult it became to tell the two apart.

One of Lewis Black’s best jokes involves madly flipping between channels, all of which are covering Bill Clinton’s impeachment, until he thinks of the zen maxim: “If it wasn’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.” I thought of that line constantly in recent weeks, as I switched between ESPN and CNN based on whichever frustrated me less at the time. Both networks featured talking heads, giving banal analysis of stories going into Sunday/Tuesday and “experts” weighing in on the latest meaningless phenomenon.

While it’s infinitely fun to analogize sports pundits to political pundits (Chris Berman as Bill Bennett? John Clayton as Paul Begala?), the more obvious comparison is the one on the field and in the voting booth. Both Super Sunday and Super Tuesday featured an exceedingly arrogant frontrunner drunk on a sense of inevitability versus an inspiring underdog who actually took the event seriously. Of course, while Super Sunday produced one of the greatest football games ever, Super Tuesday was dry and uninspiring, offering little to no closure. Sports once again proved more compelling than real life.

Perhaps more annoying than the actual events—or the way they were covered—was the crossover between the two. On the sports side, Fox resorted to a ridiculous Declaration of Independence reading by NFL players and coaches as a means of somehow inspiring us to vote (oops, too late if you didn’t register). On the other side, Mike Huckabee compared himself to the New York Giants two days after they won. It was bad enough that politicians treated their affiliations for the Super Bowl as a carefully thought-out campaign tactic, but the worst result may have been averted by Sunday’s upset. If the Patriots had won, they would have scheduled their parade on Tuesday, bringing get-out-the-vote volunteers and crazed fans together in possibly a volatile environment.

The parallels between the two violated what should be a core principle in our lives: Sports are an enjoyable diversion that serve to take our minds off real-world concerns. The fact that the two events were so similar is not surprising, considering that the Super Bowl raised almost as much revenue as the candidates themselves and that a significant chunk of young people in our country are more likely to have heard of Osi Umenyiora than James Carville (who’s been suspended until the primaries are over, making him the Stephen A. Smith of CNN). But instead of treating these two events with equal but separate passion, we try to combine them. As a result, the crowd holding up Obama and Hillary signs outside the Kodak Theater in Hollywood (a fitting location for the transformation of politics into entertainment) was indistinguishable from the crowd holding up Giants and Patriots signs outside University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

For most of the week, I found myself turning to ESPN until Skip Bayless started to yell about SpyGate. I’d then turn to CNN until they talked about merchandising campaigns for the candidates. I’d go back and forth and back and forth, until finally a hockey game came on and I could change the channel. That’s right: I’d rather watch minor league hockey skills competitions than the two most significant events of the young year. If it weren’t for hockey, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.