Monday, February 7, 2011

Eximius Scaphium XLV

Another splendid event of imperial scale, in which the battle-tested Sarcinatori of the tiny outlier settlement of Sinus Verdis faced off against the favored Faberici Ferrum of the mighty Civitates of Arces Pittus before more than 100,000 lustily screaming citizens. The gods of the republic were sated by the spectacle-- particularly Bacchus, Mars and special guest deity Mammon, god of money.

The Super Bowl is a celebration of American exceptionalism, and in that respect the comparison to a Roman triumph is most appropriate. Barbarian pastimes like soccer are unmentioned; decadence is taken to the extreme ($900+ for SRO seats for the game; $200 to watch it from the parking lot); and viewership outside the sphere of our direct control is noted only as affirmation of the superiority of our particular form of SPQR. It is a far more reassuring indicator of the state of the Union than the presidential state of the union address could ever be, and it is far more effective at addressing the needs and fears of our collective psyche.

Some random observations:

• The game itself was, as last year, quite a good one. And this time I almost nailed the point spread: I picked Green Bay by 5, and they came within a point of that. Good passing, some amazing plays and smart officiating. The pros down on the field conducted their game with professionalism, unlike...

• No wardroom malfunctions per se, but a few things did go spectacularly off the rails. Christina Aguilera muffed the lyrics of "The Star Spangled Banner," the anthem for the country where the Super Bowl is being played this year and, coincidentally, the nation Ms. Aguilera was born and raised in. Blowing the national anthem at a professional sporting event-- now there's something I've never seen before. When Rosanne Barr's performed her notorious crotch-grabbing version back in 1990, even she got the words right.

Around the middle of the halftime show some massive lit-up stage pieces were wheeled in so the performers could cavort about on them. one section malfunctioned--leaving what should have been the word "LOVE" looking like "LO\'E."

• Ah, the half-time show. To quote someone else's Twitter, "It was nice of the Black Eyed Peas to come back in time and warn us about the future of music." Funny, but the show was definitely a look at the present state of pop music, which looked like a Broadway version of Tron: Legacy-- LED-lit costumes, inexplicable geometric patterns and very serious, Cylon-sounding AutoTune abuse. Slash appeared as Slash, doing a Slash guitar jam. Usher showed up, doing a very convincing Usher. And hey-- if the BEPs were doing a medley, where was "My Humps," dammit?

• The commercials for the most part were banking on familiar American themes, nostalgia, trivia and slapstick humor. Some seriously thin retreads were, Snickers, eTrade: same s***, different year. Two car ads caught a lot of attention, both highlighting some rather arcane and useless new features of their vehicles: The Darth Vader VW ad (keyless ignition, which looks kinda dangerous) and Chevy Cruz's Facebook capability (which probably IS dangerous).

My favorites were the ones that pushed against the paradigm a little: The stirring, beautifully shot Chrysler ad featuring Eminem-- with the tagline "Imported from Detroit," which re-brands it as being somewhere outside the USA and confirms just about how far the Motor City has fallen. The Groupon Tibet ad, which started like a far-left political message and came within a hair of pissing off the Chinese government AND most liberal activists.

• Although there was nothing but loud cheering throughout the telecast, much of what has been written about this contest has a vaguely apocalyptic tone. The feeling is that Super Bowl XLV may well be the biggest, best one we'll ever see. A dispute with the NFL player's union looms, and there is much talk about a shutdown or lockout in the upcoming season.

Even if the players, the league and the owners iron everything out, the awareness of how the modern game exacts such a high physical and neurological toll on players is rising. The men on the line of scrimmage have been leading tackles "from the hat" (i.e. helmet-against-helmet drives) for years now, and the majority of NFL players have had serious concussions as a result. 2011 may see the beginning of a wave of class-action suits against the league from punched-out, demented former players. Dark clouds are forming on the horizon, and the barbarians (or at least barbarian-sized former players) are gathering at the Danube.

So if this were were a Roman spectacle, Super Bowl XLV is set during the reign of emperor Trajan (98-117 CE), a time when the Roman  Empire reached it's maximum extent.

Oh, and forgive the bar-floor Latin. The title, I realize, would be better translated as "Scaphius Maximus XLV." Oh well: Sic transit Gloria Cheeseheads.

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