The Super Bowl and Capitalism’s Banal Powers of Cultural Recuperation

The Super Bowl is, of course, as American as the Constitution itself. By that, I mean that it is almost a perfect expression of a set of conventions and protocols at least accepted, and often revered, by the nation at large. So, while a few lefties grouse, most people seem to enjoy all the hoopla that goes with the game–from the show of American military force flying over the stadium (guess they can’t pull that off today with game being played under a dome) to the reliably famous and popular half time performers.

And those performers always–always!–reflect the power of the nation’s marketplace ethos to defang what were once thought to be subversive challenges to conventional pieties. Look at the musicians who have performed over the past several years: the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and, today, Madonna. Every one of them was once viewed as a challenge to the country’s middle class norms via a snarling, anti-authoritarian hyper-sexuality (the Stones); a pained, working class sensibility that urged America to live up to its own stated ideals (Springsteen); a ultra-individuated, feminist shape shifting, determined to escape every prescribed, cultural role (Madonna); and–yes, even Paul and Beatles back in the day–a re-imagining of the prescribed masculine requirements for hair and clothes.

But that was long ago. In fact, there’s a statute of limitations for cultural subversion that all of these artists have long since surpassed. Once the Super Bowl ratifies you as fit to entertain the great American television audience, you haven’t threatened American norms for at least ten, and more likely, 20 or 30 years. You’re as harmless as Allen Ginsberg became. The famous Beat poet, conscious successor to Whitman, who “put his queer shoulder to the wheel” to challenge the greed and conformity of 1950s America, has become as safe as car seat belts, and no more controversial. And Howl is now anthologized in all the major American literature textbooks and taught to straight college kids everywhere. If Ginsberg were alive today, he’d be “oming” right next to Madonna from the stage today.

But this system does give me a bit of hope for future Super Bowl entertainment. Carrie Brownstein, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, is now the subject of profiles in the New Yorker and the New York Times magazine for her part in the droll satire of Northwest self satisfaction, Portlandia. In her picture in the Times, Brownstein–a ferocious on stage presence–looked, well, adorable.

All according to plan. Look for the re-formed Sleater-Kinney to perform during the half time of the 2027 Super Bowl. It’s a great country.

Oh….Patriots 27, Giants 24. Gronkowski’s injury limits Pats, but, of necessity, Belichick and Brady figure out a way to get their wide receivers more into the game, and a last minute field goals wins it for them.