“. . . an efficient instrument . . . to keep the population peaceful. . . “

Everyone in the country (perhaps in the world) who has a TV or is connected to the internet knows today is Super Bowl Sunday. I almost missed it. Or, rather, I tried to watch a day early.

The applause meter says kill the loser

The applause meter says kill the loser

Besides the obvious, that I don’t understand the concept of football—I understand more of how the game is played than I like to admit—the centrality of these three hours in America’s imagination baffles me almost beyond words. No, beyond words. I simply don’t get it.

But this is not a rant against the Super Bowl. A well-reasoned discussion is already available.

When the movie Gladiator (starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix) was released in 2000, I became morbidly (I didn’t kill anyone) fascinated by the concept and history of gladiators. My partner wanted to see the film, but I refused. If I think about gladiators to this day, I am sickened at the idea that a crowd large enough to fill the Coliseum in Rome watched a sword fight to the death—if the loser was not actually killed in the fight, the crowd had the prerogative to decide whether or not he should die. Sort of a first-century applause meter (remember “Queen for a Day”?).

If I remember correctly (I’m not going to start the ghoulish research again), gladiators lived to an average age of about 27, and 1 in 4 died—were killed either in the combat or by vote of the crowd—in every show. The killing of persons, slitting their throats if they had not died in the combat, for the entertainment of the crowd was the norm for Monday Night Munus.

Jerry could not convince me to see the movie even though I thought Russell Crowe could be forgiven almost anything because of his role in The Sum of Us.

This is not a rant about the similarity between the Super Bowl and gladiators.

Last semester I was leading a “make-up” class for 11 members of the SMU football team who had missed class because of an out-of-town game. One of them had been injured in the game, and in the discussion of his incapacitation I asked how many of them had had concussions, either in high school or at SMU. Seven of the 11 said they had.

Even that is not the subject of a rant this morning.

On the CBS sports webpage devoted to hyping coverage of the Super Bowl (even though it will be on FOX, of course—all bread and circuses events seem to be there) the links at the bottom of the page to sites “You may also like” are almost uniformly to reactionary websites. One, for example, reporting that Piers Morgan was put down and embarrassed by a Fundamentalist Christianist preacher when he asked the preacher to tell him where Jesus mentions homosexuality.

Even that is not the subject of a rant this morning.

The Super Bowl is not—as everyone knows—the purview of any government. It is the terrifying apex of private enterprise. MetLife Stadium. Why is the stadium the MetLife Stadium? (We all know that’s because everything in America is for sale.) And why is this afternoon’s game called the Super “Bowl?” It is a ridiculous name. The fact is, when we think about it, we can’t think of a more fourth-grade-sounding moniker than “Super Bowl” for this multimillion-dollar spectacle. It sounds like something an elementary school kid calls the giant container for the six pounds of cereal he eats every morning or the name of a strange, toilet-themed comic book superhero (1).

The circus tent.

The circus tent.

Ivaniszn goes on to detail the fourth-grade manner in which the fourth-grade name was concocted. (Read his story; I’m not going to repeat it.) It’s intended to indicate all of the college “bowl” games are nothing compared to this one, this championship game between the titans of football. But since the game is not played in the Orange Bowl or the Rose Bowl or the Cotton Bowl, why is it not called the “Super Stadium?”

Here’s my two-cent’s worth about it. The entire enterprise is so trumped-up, so manufactured out of whole cloth, so much a non-event that everything about it must necessarily be phony. Starting with the name. The game is “a mechanism of influential power over . . .  the population, and thus a political strategy . . .  [it offers] a variety of pleasures such as . . .  sports competition. . . It [is] an efficient instrument in the hands of the [advertisers] to keep the population peaceful, and at the same time giving them the opportunity to voice . . .” their fanatical support for their chosen team (2).

It’s hardly fair to equate the Super Bowl with the Roman “Bread and Circuses.” But given the fact that the huge megalithic corporations of the country, of which the NFL is one, have almost equal power with the government (or, does the depression of 2009 indicate they have more?) is it not at least an interesting thought that the Super Bowl is “a mechanism of influential power over” the population?

The circus barker?

The circus barker?

As you watch those elaborate, memorable, funny, “artistic” commercials this afternoon, think about the “mechanism of influential power” you are supporting. And go out and don’t buy a single one of the products advertised. Right.

The mechanism of power is the attention of the entire country garnered in a way that even the government cannot accomplish and that the Roman Emperors would have coveted. Join the masses. Join the bread and circuses. Participate in the gladiatorial games. Is keeping the population mesmerized any different from keeping us peaceful?
(1) Ivaniszn, Robert. “Super Bowl 2011: What’s in a Name? The Origin of the Term ‘Super Bowl’.” Bleacher Report. bleacherreport.com. Feb. 4, 2011. Web.
(2) “Panem et Circenses.” Imperial Fora of Rome. capitolium.org. 2008. Web.

About Harold Knight
Retired English prof, SMU. Old man. Musician. Passionate about justice, equality, freedom. Therefore, I am a fervent supporter of and advocate for the Palestinian People as they struggle to survive genocide. That also means, of course, I have no use for US 45.

2 Responses to “. . . an efficient instrument . . . to keep the population peaceful. . . “

  1. Yup. I sometimes wonder if the winning team had the prerogative to slay the losers at the end of the game whether the crowd wouldn’t love that as well — the fans of the winner, of course. I even think this about baseball games, which are supposed to be gentlemanly by comparison. I suspect all, almost all, athletes have the same killer drive those gladiators did. They turn it on for the game, and then turn back into gentle farm boys afterward…except when they don’t.

  2. Pingback: I didn’t have time to write anything this morning, and that makes me crazy! | Me, senescent

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