I don't usually just go around looking for elements of American culture that I think might epitomize said culture, but when one happens to fall into my lap, I can't help but acknowledge it.
Yesterday, most of us — at least, according to the crude survey method that is the checking of AIM away messages — watched the Super Bowl and rooted for either good (the Bears, only because they were opposing Peyton Manning) or evil (the Colts — specifically Peyton Manning). And, during the brief hiatuses from focusing all of my energy on disrupting the Indianapolis quarterback's mental rhythm via telepathy, I reflected on the amazing phenomenon that is the Super Bowl.
When considering everything the Super Bowl — both the actual game and all it entails — represents, you quickly realize that it is essentially a condensed version of the United States of America boxed into one mid-winter Sunday afternoon. Most of the key values espoused by Super Bowl Sunday are the same as those prevalent in general American culture.
Competition: First and foremost, the United States has always been about various interests vying for their share of the pie. From its pitting of various immigrant groups against each other in labor matters to its price wars between robber barons to its gold rush to its seemingly built-in resistance against social welfare of any type, this country has long been based on a system of ruthless competition with little sympathy for those unwilling or unable to participate. No better event could be put on the land's highest pedestal than the Super Bowl — the ultimate athletic competition.
Money: In accordance with the country's aforementioned competitive nature, capitalism rules supreme in the United States and the Super Bowl is perhaps the most obvious example of a national obsession with financial wealth. The event is dominated by massive ticket prices, VIP-style parties, gambling, hyper-commercialism and extraordinary player salaries. Often, it seems as if the game is only of secondary importance to the exorbitance and greed that surround it.
Allegiances: The United States is a country with as strong a nationalistic sense as any other, and this is reflected accurately on Super Bowl Sunday. From the onset, viewers are expected to choose a side in the conflict for which they will cheer, bet money on, or both. The idea of watching the Super Bowl with a may-the-best-man-win attitude is entirely foreign and unacceptable. Just as Americans rally around the flag, they unite behind one of the two Super Bowl contenders.
Gluttony: As becomes evident when looking at the country's materialism, obesity crisis or general way of life, people in the United States just cannot seem to get enough of anything. Similarly, on Super Bowl Sunday, moderation seems to be abandoned for excessive eating, drinking, commercialism and fanaticism. Almost all behavior associated with the event seems over the top.
Sex: The apparent inability of the United States to move beyond its traditional treatment of gender roles is exemplified by the Super Bowl. The game's victors are often promoted as handsome, walking, talking embodiments of masculinity. Meanwhile, females are relegated to roles such as the scantily clad cheerleader, the sideline reporter or the adoring wife of a coach or player.
Super Bowl Sunday is fascinating not only because of its sheer size but also because of its tendency to mirror so many aspects of American culture on such an exaggerated level. Whether they are negative or positive, almost all of the characteristics of the United States are simultaneously characteristics of the Super Bowl.
And for that reason alone, the Super Bowl is an event worth watching.
Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and political science.