Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Few Nachos for Thought On Super Bowl Sunday

Anyone who watches the NFL for more than an hour realizes that football is presented as the national sport, and that the language of war is often employed (grotesquely so) to describe what happens on the field.  I'm a fan of sports and athletic prowess as much as any American male, but the Super Bowl raises the usual level of masculinity to an extreme and laughably ridiculous degree--then adds HGH, a big swig of American self-regard and patriotism, objectification of women, and worship of military might.

9/11 has frequently been part of the commemorative aspect of the Super Bowl.  Last year, U2 did this:

Budweiser ran this commercial:

Now, before you get all weepy about it, remember, they are selling beer.  With the death of 3,000 people.
When the Patriots won the Super Bowl, owner Robert Kraft said, "we are all Patriots."

Nicholas Archer recently wrote his whole dissertation on the topic of NFL films and the "counter subversive" politics they trumpet and circumscribe.

In his work on the use of the male body in Monday Night Football broadcasts during the 1994 season, Trujillo notes that the discourse used to describe the players and their actions on the field often referred to the players as weapons and their actions as military maneuvers.

During the season, players were described as "weapons," "missiles," "shields," ''rockets," "hitting machines," and other instruments of violence. And these "weapons" engaged in an impressive array of offensive and defensive maneuvers. For example, among the terms used by MNF commentators to describe what these offensive and defensive weapons (bodies) did on the football field were attack, blow away, break through, burst, catapult, club, crash, cripple, crunch, decapitate, decimate, destroy, dislodge, dislocate, dismantle, drill, explode, fire, fly, hammer, hit, hurdle, jackhammer, kill, launch, mortar, mug, penetrate, plug, pop, pound, push, ram, rifle, rip, shoot, shred, slam, slash, smash, smoke, snap, shred, spin, stearnroll, tattoo, tomahawk, toss, twist, unload, upend, whack, whip, wound, and wreck.

...Moreover, their analysis reinforces the frame of warfare or pageant of violence that Powers argues made the League the success it is, noting that the “Monday Night Football” broadcasts were introduced with exploding graphics and a theme song that included lyrics “Like a rocket burning through time and space, The NFL’s best star will rock this place...the battle lines are drawn.”

While such findings are important in showing the specific ways NFL broadcasts use militaristic imagery, they do little to tell us what precise political utility these symbols have relative to the larger puzzle of countersubversive elements in the American political tradition. While Trujillo does argue in part that the valuation of militarism the NFL promotes may relate to changes of gender relations and female boundary invasion into male occupations in the 1990s, such analyses seem insufficient, especially in light of aforementioned demographic findings that females constitute 50 percent of the NFL broadcast audience. What then, does the purpose of pushing militaristic symbolism in NFL broadcasts serve?

The use of militaristic condensation symbols in NFL videography serves the countersubversive agenda by normalizing militarism as a constitutive part of the American experience. In doing so, it prepares the audience for mobilization in times of actual military conflict to more readily accept the binary divisions and fears of alien invasion created by the countersubversive and the appropriateness of military action against them. It may also, in times of actual alien penetration, serve to recharge the legitimacy of the National Security State when its capacity to protect people is brought into question. In essence, the NFL’s use of militaristic symbols helps to personalize military conflicts by allowing viewers to experience the nationalistic fervor of real warfare vicariously by linking it to the viewing of the fictional warfare of pro football.

What if the best way to be patriotic this Sunday is to turn off the television?

1 comment:

Philip Metres said...

Watching the Super Bowl this year, I found very little in the way of militarism, except for a commercial for a film; apparently the halftime show was peace-themed, and even a beer commercial heralded that "the war is over" (though it was WWII, the only "real war"). So perhaps the zeitgeist has changed. Americans, according to the marketers, may be tired of war, after ten years of it.