The Super Bowl parades pretentious Roman numerals that almost none of the viewers can fathom but vaguely sense must lend a mock-heroic spin to the event. One of the apparent attractions of the current Spartacus cable TV serials — take away the frontal nudity and slo-mo lopped limbs, and we are back to Steve Reeves as Hercules — are the accurate portraits of the mobs in the arenas, gesticulating, screaming, and in general playing the role we get glimpses of in Roman literature and in the L.A. Coliseum. Our Super Bowl halftime show had such sophisticated electronics that it could not keep the power on to supply them — the modern version of the occasional Roman bleacher collapse. There were so many video gimmicks it was hard to know when the replay ended and the game resumed. So much pregame hype and so little postgame concern: I doubt in three years whether too many people will remember who won — or even played.
In contrast, even the still shots of the commercial’s farmers looked real. Beyoncé was a godsend to underline Chrysler’s messaging. Her halftime escapades were predicated on cheap sexual thrills and so-so talent. Cloak her performance in a business suit and no one would have noticed what came out of her mouth. That it was apparently a real real voice at the Super Bowl but was not when singing the National Anthem at the president’s inauguration only highlighted the warped values of the age. One must maintain one’s priorities.
After all, the commercial also dovetailed with the bizarre tale of Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame football star who falsely claimed his undying love was dying, and Oprah’s interview of Lance Armstrong — the gifted athlete who matter-of-factly confessed to lying for half his adult life, on the premise apparently that all athletes get rich and famous by both doping and lying about it. Like the Cretan liar who swore that all Cretans lie, so too by his own admissions we had no more reason to believe that Armstrong’s confessions were any more truthful than his original fabrications.
I knew a lot of farmers who lied — in braggadocio to each other about how many plums they harvested, in an unwise but desperate spin to bankers about how many tons of peaches their farms would likely produce next year on borrowed money, and in complete delusion to themselves about how well-off they would be after ten more years of the same sort of work, market, and prices. But they weren’t exactly liars; fabrications to them were incidental and rare, not essential to their characters and constant. I expect our hero Beyoncé to lip sync again, and our hero Lance Armstrong to kinda, sorta lie again — and to Oprah no less. When the president says, “Make no mistake,” I make a lot of mistakes about it. When he thunders, “Let me be perfectly clear,” I know that he is perfectly misleading. When he throws in those “in point of fact” and “I’m not making this up,” I know he means “in point of falsity” and “I’m not telling the truth.” (Could you imagine Mr. Obama saying: “We have a hell of a problem with spending what we don’t have and so better get to it”? Or, for you tax-raisers: “You all pay too much now in taxes, but we are going to have to pay even a little more”? Or for your entitlement lobbyists: “The money is about gone, so we all are going to have to tighten our belts”?)
Even if they wanted to lie, to whom exactly can farmers lie to most days, when they work alone in a mute world? Like Senator Menendez, are they going to swear that they don’t take shakedown money and don’t visit prostitutes? Swear that to what — a vine post, an almond tree, a crippled Queensland at their feet? That those faces in the commercial are more moral than the rest of us only because they have less occasion to be immoral nonetheless does not mean they are not more moral.