Can you handle another post on the Super Bowl? Well, I don’t watch hockey and baseball isn’t in spring training yet so I’m not yet ready to let go of the NFL. Last one for a while and I’ll get back to posting on seeking a better evangelicalism and building a stronger church.
There is so much I enjoy about the NFL. It’s fast, exciting and competitive. Regardless of the performance of your team, this season had some pretty dramatic story lines: Replacement Refs, Rookie QB”s, the Seahawks??, the return of Peyton Manning trumped by the return of Adrian Peterson, “Butt Fumble,” the Gronk, and of course the Harbough brothers facing off in the Super Bowl that contained a power outage, Flaco’s big fat Baltimore contract talk, more Ray Lewis hype and a half-time show that will be remembered for a long time.
Starting at the half-time show – let’s face it, they almost always disappoint. Examples include The Who, Rolling Stones and Tom Petty – great music, boring show. Indeed, there have been some memorable moments over the last decade like Bruce Springsteen awkwardly sliding into the camera, or M.I.A. flipping the bird last year, and who can forget the Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” but these shows generally disappoint.
I was optimistic about Beyonce performing at halftime. As one who was mildly annoyed to discover there was an actual “controversy” surrounding her singing the National Anthem at the Inauguration (people, please), I was hoping she’d put on a good show. And for the most part it was good but it also was awkward.
A blogger I found on Twitter, Christena Cleveland said it was bittersweet. Exhilarating because it featured a “supremely talented black woman on a world stage.” However she was also saddened because “ever since the days of slavery, black women have been almost entirely evaluated based on their ability to sexually arouse white men.” You need to read the rest of the piece to fully get the context but I appreciate some of her argument.
I do push back against the idea that Beyonce was chosen because her lighter skin, “anglo” features and fake blonde air. If she couldn’t sing and perform, she wouldn’t be there regardless of skin tone. The commenters on her post that pointed at her high record sales probably have it closer to right. Beyonce is cool, she’s respected by a wide variety of demographics and we all know she’s going to put on a great show. Yes, she is a sex symbol. I’m not really sure what that term really means anymore. In a hyper-sexualized western culture like ours, she joins an endless list that has blurred the line between money, sex and power. It seems more likely that Beyonce plays the halftime show because she is a symbol of all three.
For me, it’s always awkward watching a woman, of any ethnicity, in leather lingerie dancing provocatively on a large screen while I am surrounded by family, friends, children, and who knows who else. I know, I know, it sounds prudish and many throughout society will tell me that I am afraid of sexuality – which I find to be a very condescending tactic of rhetoric but everyone is entitled to their opinion. Googling “Beyonce Halftime Show Reaction” reveals a variety of opinions including people of faith, feminists and countless others.
I’m not suggesting any performer be less “feminine,” I’m not suggesting something bizarre that she wear a turtleneck and sing old folk music. I’m simply wishing that with millions watching primarily a sporting event with a wide demographic to avoid objectifying yourself and others. It’s not HBO where you know what you’r getting when you tune in, it’s the halftime show of the Super Bowl.
Besides U2 (who did an amazing job in New Orleans back in 2002), they really don’t ever feature the music I like. Which is ok, I don’t expect Radiohead, Bob Dylan or the Arcade Fire to ever be featured but is Coldplay a consideration, how about next time the SB is in New Orleans they bring out Harry Connick Jr.? Basically I am seeing that our options for half-time shows are going to be overtly sexually gratuitous performances like Beyonce or boring us to death like The Who. I’m not saying the Half-time show was a failure, I’m saying 118 million people watching a powerful woman singing and dancing half naked while laying on her back singing while I was eating Doritos and flanked by three generations of family and friends was awkward. Maybe it’s just me, feel free to push back.
The Paul Harvey “God Made a Farmer” commercial was so cool … until I found out it was about a Dodge truck. A blog called The Urbanophile has a brief and interesting push back on it here. In short, he calls it display of “rural mythology and sentimentality in America.” Maybe. I just thought it was overly-emotional for a car commercial and it was a bit of a whiplash coming off the Halftime show (thankfully there was that power-outage). Now, I’m sure the marketing firm told Dodge that you need to touch the heart of America, but by the end of that tv spot, I was ready to hug my wife and my kids and pray for oppressed farmers but when I saw the Dodge symbol, I felt like I got punked by Ashton Kutcher.
And if that really likable Colin Kaepernick couldn’t win, did Ray Lewis have to? Perhaps if Ray sprayed that deer antler stuff on his Bible it would have strengthened his understanding of the text. No, Sports Illustrated, God does not care who wins the Super Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, God cares about Ray Lewis, God cares for all, but every time Ray misquotes the Apostle Paul, an angel gets a concussion and Roger Goodell covers it up.
Now if you can find that SI article, you’d see it’s a well written examination of the role faith plays in football. Some interesting inconsistencies like the unnamed college linebacker who confesses “…I leave God on the bench” to statements that bring relief. Like from Father Joseph Uhen, who conducted the mass for the 49ers before Sunday’s game, “… athletes don’t pray for victory. Instead they pray for health, or just a good, fair game.”
Then there is Ray Lewis. It’s just weird, pastors like Mark Driscoll want to be macho football player types and middle linebackers want to be pastor types. “Worlds are colliding Jerry!” (in your best George Costanza inner voice). Yep, Ray we’re all happy that you’re last ride is finally over. In my ideal world, he would fade off to the sunset, but there is speculation that he will be a Sportscaster-Televangelist. My money is on him being a reality tv show regular.
We all know there’s a lot of dirt on Ray, from his involvement of two men being killed to the six children from four women. I would love nothing more to say that Ray has turned his life around through his Christian faith. He’s either a manipulative showman or utterly confused or something in between. Maybe it’s the concussions, maybe it’s a side-effect of the deer antler spray. I ain’t no sports medicine doctor but he suffers from a very superficial reading of verses he’s collected from t-shirts, bumper stickers and magnets and has been enabled by an enormous fan base that includes his professional peers. Maybe as he comes off the championship high, he’ll deal with narcism and find people who can help him develop his understanding faith in Christ. I’d like to see him read the Bible a little closer and express Jesus as the center point of his faith and encourage others that God is on their side, not just on Ray’s. I never thought I’d say this, but oddly the craziness of Ray Lewis makes me miss for the theological naiveté of Tim Tebow.
But the real issue for me is that why I am thinking about this? It’s because the hype of Super Bowl week kept releasing new news and old news about Ray that forced the audience into two categories – a small group of loyalists that consider him sports hero and a large number of people that are either critical or simply find him to be repulsive. Lewis is being used by playing right into it, not with his diminished athletic performance on the field but with his performance in the interviewer’s microphone. We continue to make a new sport out of liking and hating our sports figures.
We generally have a few options to consider during such cultural episodes. We “consume” this spectacle of entertainment and move on, “It’s just a game, it’s just a commercial, it’s just a half-time show, it’s done, move on.” Or after watching we pause and reflect on what all this says about us. But there should be more. I find myself asking can society value the talents, work ethic and the beautiful stories we find without forcing people to objectify themselves, to be emotionally manipulated or to polarize central characters to “opinionate” an audience? Why do we have to objectify Beyonce, why does Dodge want to make us cry, and why do we have to have an opinion about Ray Lewis?
Clearly I’m being a bit dramatic here has most of us have moved on from being caught up in the moment. My point is that moment seems unnecessary to begin with.
Super Bowl Sunday and Resurrection Sunday have mutually distinct purposes and consequences, it would be wise to consider these values as we enter the season of Lent next week.