“. . . 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.

Let’s bring sexy back

Bread and sexy?

Bread and sexy?

I’m taking another turn. My turn to be that old fart motherfucker*** you don’t want to bother you with his antiquated ideas and his obviously judgmental attitudes toward what is popular and acceptable.

Five years ago the topic for my classes was “Writing about the Grotesque” (as it will be this semester because, since I’m being put out to pasture, I’d rather have fun my last year at SMU than try to get students to think about something serious, which they just resent). When it came time for the students to propose possible topics for their final research projects, one of the boys (I refuse to call him a man, even though it’s politically incorrect for me not to) presented me with an X-tube video of two obviously “over sixty” men having anal sex.

Rather than appearing shocked or judgmental (which I was), I simply asked him in his conference why he thought it was an appropriate topic for academic writing. His answer was that two people that old having sex was grotesque.

He was not fazed that it was men—he chose men because he knew I was gay and thought I’d be comfortable with it—or that it was pornographic. It was grotesque because they were old. He knew I was gay, but apparently he hadn’t noticed that I was about the age of those two old guys he found so grotesque.

I asked him if he would be comfortable if I wrote a companion essay based on a video of two twenty-year-olds having sex and arguing it was grotesque because they were Latin American, as he was. That made him angry. So I assigned him to write his essay on whether or not it was grotesque that he had presented me with a pornographic video thinking it was an appropriate topic for academic writing by a freshman. Eventually he decided it was but only because it shocked the teacher, not because there was anything inherently grotesque in his thesis. He, by the way, wrote a C+ essay.

The student had been in high school the year Justin Timberlake won a Grammy for bringing sexy back.Justin-Timberlake1

I’m not blaming Justin Timberlake for giving my deluded student crappy ideas (although I think he certainly can be held responsible for giving that kind of thinking a commercial boost—or cashing in on the kind of crudeness in which we are already awash).

During the presidential campaign of 1992, Anne Minton, the dean of the division of Bunker Hill Community College where I taught, and I often commiserated with each other about the sorry state of politics. We agreed that we did not want to support a philandering powerfully wealthy drunk for president, but Ted Kennedy espoused (and, we knew, believed) many of our basic ideas regarding the role of government in the lives of citizens, especially the economically disadvantaged. We also still blamed him (and I do to this day) for Ronald Reagan’s election

—how’s Reagan’s “revolution”
working out for you these days with totally unregulated financial markets and trickle-down economics?—

because he so weakened Jimmy Carter’s campaign for reelection by running against him in the 1980 Democratic primaries.

Now I’m worried that someone has brought sexy back, and it’s not about old men and women. Ted Kennedy went on—because of his loss and then Carter’s—to become the single most effective member of the Senate in decades. And his effectiveness was always on behalf of the disadvantaged and the middle class. Anyone who knows anything about the proper uses of power and prestige knows that Jimmy Carter has been the most influential former President in history, and he has used his influence for good throughout the world.

OK, my thinking about both of those men is simplistic and more favorable than it ought to be. A video of anyone of their generation and ideology—whatever they might be doing—could not be sexy. And they, for goodness’ sake, were cut-throat politicians.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz, who is only 11 years older than Justin Timberlake, might be sexy by a college freshman’s standards. Even Rand Paul, who is only 22 years older than Timberlake might be sexy.

Have I mixed my metaphors to the point of absurdity? Sure. Am I an old fuddy-duddy, a moralistic (obviously, if you think that’s true, you don’t know me at all) anachronism who is hopelessly mired in the past? Of course. I’m 68. By definition, according to a college freshman, I cannot be sexy. I’m grotesque.

It’s possible that I could enjoy in private (although I do not—I can’t hear anything resembling music in it) chanting (it doesn’t require singing) the words

I’m bringing sexy back
Them other fuckers don’t know how to act
Come let me make up for the things you lack
‘Cause you’re burning up I gotta get it fast

tedjimmyHowever, it seems to me, hopeless old fart that I am, when we have come to the place that people (not only college students) pay money to sing these words massed together in public, we’re mighty close to “bread and circuses.”

There is something very strange going on when a college freshman thinks it’s OK to present his professor with a video of two “other fuckers [who] don’t know how to act” not because they’re making pornography but simply because they’re over 60 years old. ______________________

***If you are offended by my use of this word, you obviously do not listen to the music your grandchildren love. I first heard the lyrics of the number one song by Justin Timberlake when a college freshman (we don’t call them that anymore because it’s a sexist word) at the ever-so-proper Southern Methodist University quoted it in an essay.  The first and third verses respectively read

Dirty babe
You see these shackles
Baby I’m your slave
I’ll let you whip me if I misbehave
It’s just that no one makes me feel this way

I’m bringing sexy back
You mother fuckers watch how I attack
If that’s your girl you better watch your back
Cause she’ll burn it up for me and that’s a fact.

You have to be pretty old-fashioned and normal to think that the image of a girl whipping first the singer’s back and then the backs of his rivals (as his surrogate attacker) is sexist or crude or abnormal in any way. But it’s what your granddaughters have absorbed into their unconscious (and even conscious) thinking.

The English language is (as it always has been) up for sale to the highest bidder, and these days that may be Justin Timberlake (it’s instructive that the Wikipedia article about him describes him first as a businessman and then as an “artist”). The language is crude, so the ideas it expresses cannot be other than that. The language is not “just words” to dance to as my students constantly tell me. It’s formative.