If ever an event exists that epitomizes this Late Empire decadence, it is the Super Bowl, the trashy teenage illegitimate daughter of Walt Disney and Joan Rivers.
First, there’s the obscenity of the salaries of these gladiators who essentially entertain us through ritualistic war, a string of overhyped “battles,” each becoming less memorable as the Roman numerals march on to Super Bowl oblivion. Admittedly, it can be fun to watch these impressive specimens of predatory machismo smash into one another, sidestep tackles, propel perfect spirals, and make acrobatic diving fingertip grabs (though their inability to master the snap count can become tedious), but you can’t help but wonder if the over-compensation for these essentially physical skills is indicative of some sort of skewed cultural atavism that harkens back to Spartacus. Why, for example, does the secondary coach of the Baltimore Ravens, whoever he is, earn considerably more per annum than Pulitzer winning novelist Richard Ford? Not to mention Deion Sanders whose career earnings undoubtedly dwarf Cormac McCarthy’s, Toni Morrison’s, and Philip Roth’s combined?
Because our priorities are fucked-up perhaps?
Second, there’s the Roman circus of the halftime show, which began innocently enough in the late Sixties with marching bands, but now features antediluvian rockers like Steve Tyler and the Who or commercial hiphoppers like the Black-Eyed Peas. These performances nearly always end up flat (Prince and Springsteen being exceptions) and occasionally can be painful to watch (Grandpa Jagger frenetically cavorting back and forth across the stage as if it were strewn with red-hot coals). I’m far too lazy to research the cost of these extravaganzas, but I suspect we could coax the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn to meditate on the grass at halftime for free, which would be more entertaining than 90% of the halftime shows I’ve suffered through, including last Sunday’s performance by Maroon 5.
Third, there are the commercials, the highlight for many who watch. These advertisements virtually all traffic in irony and celebrate inebriation and sex, which Late Empire denizens crave sitting in their soulless subdivisions on the Sabbath day.
What, may you ask, binds all of these facets of this undeclared national holiday – the verbal jostling of the interminable lead-ins (Terry Bradshaw bickering with Howie and granite-haired Jimmie Johnson) – the game itself, the outsized attempt at halftime entertainment, the pratfalls of the commercials?
Aggression, that’s what. Aggression is what separates the winners from the losers, those who pay sticker price from those who browbeat the salesperson into surrender, those who claw their way to the top from those who rely on honor to guide their lives, those who smash helmet-to-helmet from those who wanly attempt an arm tackle.
Aggression is what fuels capitalism, and sports is a wonderful training ground for aggression, from the bestial grunting of tennis players returning volleys to the narcissistic celebratory endzone fandangoes of wide receivers. No wonder these gladiators (who are worshipped in their high schools, wooed by head coaches who banter with mothers they would never actually associate with otherwise, and marshaled through college by cadres of underpaid tutors) possess Caligula-sized egos. These mannish boys have clawed their way to fame and fortune (the latter thanks in part to their labor unions). Who can blame them for copping the Conan the Barbarian look?