Our First Reading is from the Book of Exodus:
Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron [who] made it into a molten calf; . . . Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
Now, those who know me know I’m not so much a bible-thumping, keep holy the Lords day, have no craven idols, kind of guy. I self identify as agnostic, with atheist and Buddhist proclivities. I attend a Unitarian Universalist church for Christ sake. But when I think about what the Super Bowl has become for us I think about the passage from Exodus and the Golden Calf.
I like football. I’m not one of those guys who watches football all weekend long. I don’t play office pools nor participate in any fantasy leagues. I’m more of a baseball guy, really, and I just don’t have the time to devote to watching sports like I used to. But I still like to watch the Super Bowl and have friends over to watch with me (which we ARE doing!). And as much as I hate to admit it, I will probably get into some debate over which commercial is better, the new $10 Million VW ad, or the GEICO ad. And was Beyonce lip-syncing or not?
Let’s be honest: football is a violent sport. Surely there is the pure athleticism that is something to admire. The human physical potential manifest as big, fast, strong, men leaping and catching and running is a wonder to behold. But the element of danger when two of those big, fast, men crash into each other is undeniably part of the thrill. It is a bloody, dangerous affair.
But I’m not writing this because football is dangerous and that so many former NFLers wind up crippled or with severe brain trauma. That is for another blog post. I’m writing this because of the spectacle American Football has become. The NFL in general and the Super Bowl in particular has grown into a freakish caricature of our American over-consumptive tendencies.
We know the statistics almost by heart:
- $3.5 Million+ for a 30 second commercial
- 110 Million viewers
- 1.2 Billion (with a ‘B’) chicken wings will be consumed
- $10 Billion globally bet on the game
These are big numbers; almost biblical. I'll leave it to someone else to calculate how many teachers salaries this would cover, or pre-natal care for it would pay for. The fact is, this over-the-top entertainment event creates the profit it does because we are willing to pay for it. It's a simple matter of the marketplace collectively paying for what it thinks the event is worth. It is free-market capitalism at its best. And so what? So what if so many of us spend all that money or eat all that food? Is anything really hurt by all this consumption?
Consider this: In many ways the Super Bowl has developed a life of its own. It's not just the championship game for a particular sport, like the World Series or even the NCAA Basketball Championship. The Super Bowl is a spectacle spectacular. The lead up to the game. The interviews. The commercials. The half-time show. The parties and eating and drinking. The sanctioned and friendly betting. No other singular event brings it all together for the whole nation like the Super Bowl.
In our national debates on the economy and deficits, fiscal cliffs, and sequestrations, we can't seem to come to anything resembling a compromise or forward direction. Many Americans are unemployed or underemployed, yet we gladly, eagerly even, come together and participate as economic consumers in the the High Holy Day of the Secular Football Calendar. For a few hours we can forget about the problems of the nation and the world and enjoy our post-modern incarnation of bread and circus. The biggest difference between us is no longer Democrat or Republican not fiscal policy positions but whether you root for the Ravens or the Niners, or whether its the game or the commercials or half-time show that is most important. We have the Super Bowl and all is okay. All is normal and we are safe. But it is not real. We have to remember it is just a distraction away from that which is truly meaningful and important: Those we love, those less fortunate, to do what we can to lift up the human spirit. That is what counts. The Super Bowl? It is spectacle and we need to be mindful and remember that. And I guess that's my point. So it is within this context that the Super Bowl has become a false idol. Our Golden Calf.
Meanwhile, can someone pass me the blue cheese dressing?