The Super Bowl: A Museum of American Culture | Arts

“Why do people care so much about advertisements? My roommates – a handful of international students from the UK, among others – asked me a few Sundays ago.

“Is the pitch the same size in rugby?” “

“This is where the ‘left shark’ happened, isn’t it? “

“How can this 43-year-old man who throws the soccer ball be so handsome?” “

Okay, that last one actually comes from me. But as a resident American football fan of my apartment, I didn’t run out of questions during Super Bowl LV. My tea drinking and fearing Queen Elizabeth roommates were quite intrigued by the game that unfolded that night – American football is chess, not checkers, and it takes a lot more discipline and good skill. sense that Tom Brady’s alleged victory celebration would suggest. Yet my roommates’ questions reflect their understanding of two key truths about America’s most watched sporting event: It’s a big deal in A.’s former United States, and it transcends just football.

No, you didn’t stumble upon the Sports section of the Crimson – stick with me for a second. If it’s not just the game between the top two teams in the National Football League, what is the Super Bowl? Is this the epitome of American consumption and ugliness – an annual excuse to binge on an inappropriate amount of nachos with warring relatives touting beer-stained jerseys? Does it represent anything even worse when we voluntarily tune into a league plagued by issues of systematic racism and, more recently, neglect of the current pandemic?

Answering these questions far exceeds the pay level of a football fan, let alone a deeply misguided Denver Broncos fan (sorry for the reference, Crimson Arts readers – please believe everything I say on the football and football culture is true). But I was offered a unique opportunity to see the Super Bowl through the eyes of international friends – newcomers who could recognize it as distinctly American but struggled to define it. From their perspective, it wasn’t a single piece of art or a concrete exhibition to judge. It was something more encompassing, more varied, more nebulous, like a living museum. And like any other museum, this one houses an abundance of stories across different wings. With so much to see, it invites visitors to just take a stroll.

The first wing is dedicated to football itself. Visitors hoping for pure action don’t need to look beyond the box: the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are outstanding football teams. Talent abounded between the two lists, and even my fellow rugby enthusiasts could appreciate the artistry of a perfect tackle or a run at twenty miles an hour. Yet just like a Van Gogh isn’t all about pretty whirlpools, there’s more to football than athletic effort.

While no one has lost an ear during the game, the mythology of top soccer teams and players is as fascinating as the game itself. Kansas City and Tampa Bay have proven that small market teams can make big splash. The Chiefs’ young but decorated quarterback Patrick Mahomes won them last year’s trophy and could be the face of the league’s next dynasty. But Mahomes couldn’t stop the husband of Gisele Bündchen, who won his seventh Super Bowl record in his first year with a new team at 43. Art is nothing without the history of art; Underneath the universal sports language of flashy coin creation, there is a rich web of narratives surrounding this game.

As we continue to wander, we might leave the sports realm and stumble upon the most expensive exhibit space in all of television – the Super Bowl Commercial Slots Hall. TV commercials are often annoying interruptions, but for half of Americans it is the main event of Super Bowl Sunday. Due to the unparalleled exposure that brands receive each year on America’s most popular broadcast, the game’s commercial slots have become a hatchery for some of the most memorable commercials ever – for better or for worse. . This year’s slate featured a plea for Jeep’s pandemic unity and a surreal five-second cameo from Reddit, but how could we forget all-time greats like “The Man Your Man Could Smell like “from Old Spice and Willem-Dafoe from Snickers turned -Marilyn-Monroe Edition of” You’re not you when you’re hungry “? Along with the football competition is a Marketing Championship – one that paints a unique portrait of today’s viewers and their interests (Deodorant and Willem Dafoe, of course).

But museums can also be made up of physical experiences. Maybe we leave that hungry wing and head to the food court, where a plethora of Super Bowl snacks await. From traditional family celebrations to Pinterest-worthy treats, there’s a whole culinary realm dedicated to the social event of game day food. A Google search reveals hundreds and hundreds of recipe ideas for dishes to share with a distinctly American twist. That is to say that these recipes leave something to be desired from a health point of view. It’s almost a public holiday in the United States, after all – expect indulgence and communal meals. For now, it’s an America that my roommates can support: we have sport! Snacks ! Unleashed consumerism!

After a quick bite (or a meal, if we took the time to experience the seven layers of this famous dip), we might decide to let go of our nutritional regrets and move on to the next wing. Here we find another cultural phenomenon with a legacy as rich as the Super Bowl itself. What do Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson and Christina Aguilera have in common? They all played quarterback for the Denver Broncos. Just kidding, Crimson Arts readers. They all represented America’s dominant musical tastes at one of the most prestigious annual concerts – the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Home to massive sets and stunning visuals, the halftime show is a chance to make history, whether as an offbeat comic background dancer, victim of a stroke caused by Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction, or like pioneers of representation in the entertainment industry. Even my roommates understood how strange, yet monumental, The Weeknd’s pandemic performance was. As the high art reflects the state of life that surrounds it, The Weeknd’s show did: The singer performed primarily for the cameras, spending little time on a stage that would be surrounded by fans under normal circumstances. .

The narrative for the halftime show runs even deeper, however. There’s a reason Rihanna, Jay-Z, and other gigantic names in the entertainment industry have refuse this place exemplifies the past, and much of it concerns the league’s long-standing issues around racism. Former quarterback Colin Kaepernick sued the NFL for allegedly collaborating to kick him out of the league after the rising star protested police brutality during the national anthem just a few years ago, and many chose to boycott the league out of solidarity. As similar treatment to other activists, allegations of discriminatory testing for healthcare payments, and the glaring lack of diversity in the league’s management positions suggest, the NFL has more than its fair share of catching up to do when it comes to advancing fairness and inclusiveness. The halftime wing of our museum consists of more than a few minutes of serenade; it is an arena where questions of justice are played out beyond the field.

Discussions of social issues and the lonely production of The Weeknd point us to an adjacent wing with a rather unsavory surprise – a gruesome reality check in the form of a pop-up gallery. Raymond James Stadium welcomed nearly 25,000 fans this year. 25,000 fans. In one space. No amount of hand sanitizer dispenser installations can make up for a number of attendances that so blatantly rejects all of the gathering guidelines of the past year. Praising healthcare workers at the opening ceremonies only seems deaf when players and line officials leave masks haphazardly dangling over their chins and the threat of a super-spreader event hovers above their heads. In the same way that commercial breaks and halftime embody American cultural interests, American arrogance in the face of a deadly virus manifests itself in the coordination of this Super Bowl.

These last wings – disturbing as they are – are very real parts of our museum, and it is important not to look away; they demand our attention as we continue to explore. No story worth telling in a museum is without an ugly chapter, and what I’ve gradually learned from being toasted by my roommates is that a Spring Sunday can mean endless things to different persons. This game has not only fostered a group dissection of American sports and celebrities, but of our handling of today’s most pressing social dilemmas, of the NFL’s involvement in oppression and exploitation. black Americans with sometimes fatal pandemic individualism. Our conversation even extended to global attitudes towards these topics, covering much more ground than just the rules of “less exciting rugby”.

Maybe you weren’t particularly keen on an artwork you saw in a wing of our museum – football isn’t your thing, let’s say – or maybe you were horrified by an entire exhibit – face-to-face events at the height of a pandemic don’t resonate with you. This is what makes the Super Bowl essential. As you browse through the various exhibits in a museum, good or bad, you are bound to think powerfully, especially when accompanied by a beginner, in whom even the self-proclaimed expert can find a learning companion. You learn more about yourself, the community that built the museum, and the events that shape its collections each year. Museums of this size and grandeur don’t ask you to make a full and resounding judgment on everything you’ve seen. They simply display artifacts and invite you to explore, offering windows to nuanced and sometimes conflicting facets of life.

Super Bowl LV may have been shameless and at times rather American, but that’s why it matters. Between sport, entertainment and a deeply meditative conversation about the country’s underlying social issues, there is something important for everyone within the walls of our museum. The Super Bowl doesn’t seek cultural redemption – no museum needs to. All it takes is for us to watch together and hopefully learn something about who we are in the process.

– Editor-in-Chief Charles W. McCormick can be contacted at [email protected]

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