The Super Bowl’s deeper meaning

THE SUPER BOWL’S DEEPER MEANING…. There appears to be some kind of significant sporting event taking place this afternoon. I believe it’s known as the “Super Bowl,” involving a couple of athletic franchises from Pittsburgh and Arizona.

The Washington Montly doesn’t offer a lot of sports coverage, of course, but Jamie Malanowski, in a book review of Allen St. John’s The Billion Dollar Game, tackles the Super Bowl’s deeper meaning in the latest issue of the magazine.

There are a lot of reasons that the Super Bowl has become the event that it is. One is very simple: it is a single-elimination game, so viewers who care about the event don’t have to devote multiple days to viewing it. It is also always played on Sunday, which is still a day of rest for a great many people, and a day that for nearly half the year is the regular home of the NFL. Even before the training camps open, the NFL can tell you exactly where and when the season’s championship will be decided. None of the other major sports can do that.

Another reason for the Super Bowl’s primacy is that the National Football League is primarily a TV show. A raffish stepbrother to the college game for the first four decades of its existence, the league took off when it found a home on the tube. And while football can be counted on to achieve high ratings, an appointment program like the finale of M*A*S*H* or the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of Dallas racks up the viewers as well. Think of the Super Bowl as an appointment show for the most popular program on the air.

But there is one word St. John invoked in his valediction which bears some thought: “cavemen.” Super Bowl Sunday does not really fall, as St. John at one point contends, “into the holiday gap between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day.” Super Bowl Sunday is really the last of America’s prolonged interdenominational, generic Holiday Season, which begins on Thanksgiving, and includes Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, that conjoined celebration of God and Mammon, Christmas, the Nobody Does Any Work in the Week After Christmas Week, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day — and, finally, Super Bowl Sunday, the last excuse to have a party until Memorial Day. And of all of these days, Super Bowl Sunday is really the holiday for guys. Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about feminine values and virtues — home, hearth, family, children, giving, cooking, baking, large demonstrations of love — and it’s a beautiful thing that we have them. Not for nothing is this season the culmination of the year, a time of peace and reflection. But after awhile, enough is enough, and so we have developed a holiday devoted to guy enthusiasms — wearing loud, brightly colored jerseys (and, when appropriate, pig snouts, Viking horns, cheeseheads, and similar ugly and ridiculous accessories); eating high-fat, high-calorie, high-cholesterol foods; drinking excessively; gambling excessively; and shouting such manifestly un-Christmasy things as “Kill him!” Throw in color guards, Air Force flyovers, half-dressed cheerleaders, and a big bucket of statistics for the more bookish fellows, and even if a giant erect penis is not wheeled out (as happens at festivals in places even less subtle than America), the ads for Cialis and Viagra make the point: This is Guy Day, and women should indulge us.

And why not? If Thanksgiving and Christmas haven’t been enough, Valentine’s Day, the holiday of romance and extortion, lies just around the corner.

For what it’s worth, I’d take issue with Malanowski’s gender dynamic, knowing plenty of men who couldn’t care less about today’s game, and many women who’ve had the date circled on their calendar for months. For that matter, the “values and virtues” of winter holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas need not be considered “feminine” at all, just as there’s nothing inherently “masculine” about wearing foam fingers and silly hats while screaming violent thoughts at a television.

Nevertheless, enjoy the game.

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