When I was a journalism/communications student at then Point Park College, now Point Park University, one of my professors had a saying about sports and its impact on American culture: “Sports can be news but news can’t be sports.”
The point is, events in sports both on and off the field can seep into the world outside of sports. From Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the barrier blocking Black players from participating in Major League Baseball to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to protest police brutality, sports often reflects the culture in real and interesting ways. One of the reasons why I like the “intellectual approach” to sportswriting, the style of George Plimpton, Frank DeFord, Christine Brennan, and Charles Pierce, who understand how sports influences culture and vice versa.
Last night’s Super Bowl was a pretty good example of sports as a cultural marker in several interesting and at times, disconcerting ways. First off, the part of the Big Show that always seems to get the armchair critics rushing to social media with their Hot Takes: the halftime show.
Last night’s spectacle was fitting for the location of the venue: A salute to hip-hop, a recognition of sorts of its impact on our culture, and one that was heavy West Coast/Los Angeles-focused. Full disclosure: having grown up in York, Pennsylvania, the hip-hop part of my music fandom was mainly falling on the East Coast/Native Tongues side, so my favorite part of it was New Yorker Mary J. Blige, and less L.A. denizens Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre.
Such a full-on embrace of hip-hop at the Super Bowl probably was a long-time coming, given how long hip-hop has been an American cultural force. After all, we are about 45 years out from the birth of it. Caught up in racial controversies recently, the NFL probably was looking to look good by showcasing Black American music. From truly canceling Kaepernick over his kneeling protests (funny how the Cancel Culture Warriors remained quiet about an actual canceling, isn’t it?) to most recently, a lawsuit that brought a ton of scrutiny on the NFL’s coach hiring practices, recently the league has not really looked too good.
So, they offered up a slate of mainly classic hip-hop, since outside of Kendrick Lamar, the performers’ ages range from the mid-40s to the mid-50s. In my opinion, they put on quite a show.
Of course, given the propensity for white conservatives to treat Black music not as something that isn’t their cup of tea but instead, The Greatest Threat to Our Way of Life, the right-wing is having a moment. Semi-Sentient Pile of Pig Poo Charlie Kirk, who is apparently the World’s Oldest 28-year-old, went on the Twitter thing to shake his cane at the heathens. Yes, despite the National Narrative that it is those darn mean progressives who want to cancel everything, here’s Chuck stating that the halftime show shouldn’t be allowed on television.
In addition, Bush-Hiding Chump Sean Spicer leaped in to DEMAND WHAT THE MESSAGE IS. I guess Eminem kneeling was a trigger moment because someone paying tribute to a Black athlete who sacrificed his career to speak out about police killing Black people was too much for them. I guess you have to be white and whining that people want you to do something that would help others for it to be a legitimate protest.
Along with the halftime show, the commercials are always a subject of attention, as people talk about which ones they love and which ones they hate. This year, just how many were focused on money itself has been a subject of discussion. Lots of crypto-focused commercials, which depending on how you feel about cryptocurrency are either going to be remembered similarly to commercials by failed Internet companies in the late 1990s or a sign of great things to come.
Crypto’s star power was on display, including Crypto.com’s infamously ridiculous “fortune favors the brave” spot featuring Bro Actor Matt Damon that posits investing in cryptocurrency is the same as exploring new lands by 17th Century ship or landing on the moon for the first time, or something. The one ad that got many to leap into the rushing waters of The Online Discourse was Larry David, the Patron Saint of All Us Cynics, failing us all by appearing in a cryptocurrency ad.
I think all of us Larry fans were watching that ad with the ending theme of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” playing in our heads. Et tu, Larry?
I should also add that the Super Bowl pregame is getting more and more ridiculous which each new version, as this year’s display of Big Patriotism felt a bit more “nationalistic dictator-ish” and over the top than prior years. Not to mention, The Rock’s odd onfield wrestling-esque rant right before kickoff, which I’m sure had Rams and Bengals fans thinking “okay, enough already, let’s start the game.”
I guess this particular Super Bowl as a cultural marker really was a mixed bag, from statements about racism to commercials focused on greed to whatever The Rock represented.
And oh yeah, the game…I am a Steeler fan who was rooting for the Bengals to win because go AFC North, but hey, they didn’t. At least it was a pretty tight contest, right? I hope poor Sean Spicer and Charlie Kirk could get over their outrage at Eminem’s kneeling and Mary J’s thighs to at least enjoy that part of it.
The last word goes to Mary J. While this song is not about the kind of drama we saw on social media last night and today, the title is pretty fitting.