February 4, 2019

TO LIVE AND DIE IN ATLA: While many online were joking that, “If I wanted to watch guys failing at scoring for three hours, I would have just taken my buddies to the bar,” I quite enjoyed the on-field portion of the Super Bowl last night. Unlike typical 21st century Super Bowls, in which the scoreboard looks like a pinball game, last night was a titanic defensive struggle reminiscent of the Super Bowls of the early-to-mid-1970s. That was the period best summed up by the January 1976 cover of the since long dead Sport magazine, whose headline implored, “Let’s Have A Super Bowl The Pregame Show Can Be Proud Of.” Certainly, Tony Romo and Jim Nanz, while occasionally getting punchy in the announcers’ booth, did their best to make the action watchable.

If the action on the gridiron was a throwback to the NFL’s past, the commercials and halftime show were a preview of America’s Weimar-esque future. What was Anheuser-Busch thinking, when it paid for ads that believed that light beer drinkers care whether or not their favorite beer has corn syrup in it? And that they wouldn’t get called on the number of beers that Anheuser-Busch brews that contain corn syrup. Or that they’d fail to remember what anybody who drinks light beer actually does care about:

What was Anheuser-Busch thinking, when it paid for an ad featuring Bob Dylan and wind power? Does anyone who drinks Bud care about how its breweries are powered? Come back Spuds Mackenzie, the frogs, and the Americana of the puppy and Clydesdales, you’re sorely missed.

There also seemed to be a push in the advertising to get women playing football. Toyota built an ad around a woman with a college football scholarship, and an otherwise fun ad celebrating a century of the NFL, from its barnstorming early days to today’s corporate (sorry, read: corporatist) juggernaut ended on a typically woke note:

The ad features a room full of men who weigh in the vicinity of 300 pounds and can bench press Union Pacific diesel locomotives. It’s best for all concerned that it faded out when it did.

What was the Washington Post thinking, when it spent five million of Jeff Bezos’ money to pass itself off as an objective news publication, before ending on a shot of of Qatari shill Jamal Khashoggi? As one wag tweeted, “It was so self masturbatory I thought Pornhub hacked the Super Bowl.”

But the real horror show was the halftime show. Ever since midcentury jazz musicians shuffled off to the Great Gig in the Sky (as Pink Floyd would say) and the NFL embraced rock and rap, Super Bowl halftime shows have long been a train wreck; the only real question each year is how will they suck? With so much smoke, fire, posturing and shouting mindlessly into microphones, last night’s halftime show looked like, to borrow a line from the late Michael O’Donoghue, an after-hours Nuremberg rally. At the American edition of the London Spectator, Dominic Green called the score, “Maroon 5, America 0:”

Sport is supposed to be an escape from everyday life, but the Kaepernick-Trump stand-off has ruined all that. Earlier on Sunday, top sports site the Daily Beast claimed that Boston sports teams were uniquely racist, that the Patriots were ‘team MAGA,’ and that Tom Brady’s ‘worldview lines up with that of our racist president’. Personally, I’m more appalled that in 2019 it’s considered advisable to boast in public that you have ‘moves like Jagger’. It is of course impressive that Jagger can move at all without a Zimmer frame, but his moves, a pastiche of Tina Turner’s, are a dancer’s equivalent of blackface.

You could buy a lot more of the Daily Beast’s attention-seeking silliness with the $5m that the Washington Post spent on an advert claiming that it was still a real newspaper. The Post’s plug was Sunday night’s only throwback to the days when you could laugh at the extravagance and absurdity of the nation’s most expensive bathroom break. In such bitter times, there are only two ways to rise above it. One came in the preamble to the National Anthem, delivered by Gladys Knight, now tragically shorn of her Pips, who must all be too old now to take a knee without needing a hand to get back up. The other came midway through the low-grade farrago of the interval. The sight of Adam Levine and Travis Scott bouncing helplessly up and down confirms that there is hope for the American polity so long as mediocrity is colorblind.

With the exception of the consistently brilliant defensive calls of the Rams’ Wade Phillips and the Patriots’ Brian Flores, last night was the Roman Hruska Memorial Super Bowl:

Hruska is best remembered in American political history for a 1970 speech he made to the Senate urging them to confirm the nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Responding to criticism that Carswell had been a mediocre judge, Hruska claimed that: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

To answer all of those “what were the advertisers, the Post, the NFL thinking” questions, as Glenn has written, “The problem is, too much of the political class — and of the business class for that matter — places virtue-signalling for peer approval above actually doing its job. And people have noticed.” Certainly last night’s commercials are aimed at copping industry awards for the agencies that produced them, and high-fives in corporate boardrooms, than actually selling more product.

Perhaps that explains why the mediocrity of last night’s score and commercials was reflected in the ratings: “Super Bowl Ratings Hit 10-Year Low In Historic NFL Game & Patriots’ Win,” Deadline.com reports today.

How mediocre will next year’s NFL product be? And will the left still be calling for the full employment of Colin Kaepernick, currently the greatest armchair quarterback since George Plimpton?

(Bumped.)

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