Monday, February 06, 2012

A few things the Super Bowl says about America


I don't have a television set, but I was invited to watch the Super Bowl last night at a friend's house. As happens with many people who don't have television in their homes and are constantly exposed, I was riveted to the screen. Habitual watchers seem to be able to multitask when the T.V. is on. I can't. I didn't watch the second half which, I am told, was quite exciting. However, I did make some observations:

The evening was imbued with violence. Even before the game, and at every conceivable chance during the game, advertisements for movies assaulted us with pictures of explosions, hurtling cars, crashing sky scrapers, and guns, guns, guns. These concentrated attacks of mayhem were viewed by millions of children. When something like this is so vivid, it becomes reality for children (I say this from experience recalling when I first saw Disney's Snow White as a child and the discussion amongst adults about whether the evil queen was too terrifying for us wee ones. She was. )  If one remembers for the moment that Obama is trying to negotiate peacefully with Iran to stop another disaster in the Middle East, you have to wonder what kind of message about the use of violence we are sending to susceptible minds. (I am avoiding the whole discussion about the importance of the engendered fear inspired by fairy tales like those of the brothers Grimm.)

Children also accept the violence on the field where over muscled men clash at terrific speed. These same children try to emulate this in their on play and this accounts in part for the dramatic increase in concussions that we are seeing. It seems that the whole point of this being a "ball" game has been lost.

Tattoos are ubiquitous among athletes. It used to be that such body art was only seen in the State Fair where it was classified with the other "freaks." Thankfully, we have put to rest entertainment based on unfortunate genetic malformations, but the tattoos have spread widely. I suspect that there would also be piercings on these players if it didn't pose a potential for ripping out the piercing by the opponent. One has to wonder what is going to happen to these men in 10-15 years when they want all this ink out of their skin. I understand that treatment, is very painful and only partially successful.

People love violence. We would hope that adults would be able to separate out violence experienced second hand from their own lives. I am not so sure. The report of a man setting fire to his house and killing his two children and himself this morning, in addition to the persistence of violence from small guns in the United States may be, in my opinion, closely linked to the ceaseless display of violence on television and, overwhelmingly, in the movies. But, then, people have always loved violence as in the portrayal of gladiators above.

One should also comment on the extraordinarily elaborate half time show. It was a perfect reflection of our mass culture and, as such, was frightening to behold. I'll leave it at that.

15 comments:

Felix said...

I agree with you pretty much across the board, Doc.

But ...sadly ... voices crying in the wilderness.

(Not just America, by thr way ... the symptoms are pandemic.)

Ray Girvan said...

Someone (I forget who) said that they must be pretty nesh to need to play rugby in armour! There is something rather strange about the way the USA seems to have upgraded sports into more macho versions (rounders into baseball, and netball into basketball spring to mind).

As you've probably gathered, I'm not against tattoos, but the designs sportspeople get to try to emphasise their alpha-ness are usually thoroughly naff - and even worse when they get pretensions of being deep thinkers.

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Redjalapeno said...

'People love violence'. I respectfully disagree with that statement.
American society was founded on subjugation and violence, therefore it is an inherent part of our social fabric. Humans are malleable and can be conditioned to do almost anything; individually as well as collectively.
All societies evolve constantly. Some of what we see today on the telly is an example of the residuals of a violent colonial founding. We see these same residuals amplified and muted everywhere in American culture. The mixture of colonial roots and evolving capitalism have largely shaped the American society we live in today. Now, as capitalism continues to spread globally, I suspect we will continue to see the same ruthless pursuit of wealth in "developing" countries. China stands out in this regard as this nation is on the precipice of becoming the number one world economic superpower, or so it believes.
Largely, humans are peaceful creatures and abhor violence. One need only to examine the research on soldiers that have returned from war. In WWI and WWII, the condition was termed shell shock. Now that term is PTSD. The surreal experience of war - read:violence, has a tremendous effect on the human psyche. Soldiers come back from war unable to process what they saw and what they did, every day with the feeling of possible death hanging over their head. Nobody likes that.
Your diagnosis of the super bowl is spot on. I too have no telly, and when I am in front of one I am intrigued by what I see. From a sociological standpoint, television content is most fascinating and curious, and it is certainly emblematic of a society's culture.
To further your observation and curiosity, I'll give you a piece of anthropology work I did concerning violence and colonialism:
Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004. Two teams composed of men, differentiated only by uniform (a type of social skin, tattoos are also a type of social skin) spend one half of the game attempting to defeat the other, as in battle. The field is precise in its measurements; both width and length. The field and the players both exhibit discipline - the ability to control violence. Further, there are agents on the field that are not part of either team - these agents provide judgement on 'illegal' plays and moves by either team. Again, discipline and control over the violence of the sport. Each team has along its side of the battlefield a cadre of female cheerleaders. At the 'professional' level these cheerleaders are overtly sexual in their behavorial support of their team.
Presumed Alpha males in controlled combat supported by "ideal type" cheerleaders (which also exhibit a certain control over their sexual exhibition).
Now, halftime arrives and the entertainment begins. Thus far I have not introduced race into the scenario - the racial composition of each team and each cheering squad has little effect on the violent act that occurred at halftime.
There are a number of acts for halftime but one stands out:
Janet Jackson's nipple is exposed (horrors!) to the American public.
A white male ripped the covering off of her breast during a performance. The outcry that followed - to this day, was directed at Janet Jackson, a black female. The white male was absolved from all responsibility of the violent act. It was a "wardrobe malfunction", a descriptive that is now a part of the American lexicon.
Summation: a controlled spectacle of violence and sexuality, highlited by the violence of ripping off the covering of the breast of a black female by a white male. All of the subsequent outcry was directed at the black female. The white male was absolved of all responsibility.
Colonialism in a nutshell.

Felix said...

Redjalapno wrote:
> Largely, humans are peaceful
> creatures and abhor violence.

I would so much like to agree with you, Redjalapeno ... but, alas, experience has never given me any evidence or encouragement to support the idea.

Human beings, it seems to me, "flip flop" readily from coexistence to bloodlust (and back again) according to circumstances.

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Redjalapeno said...

Human beings, it seems to me, "flip flop" readily from coexistence to bloodlust (and back again) according to circumstances.

Ok. This observation/statement actually underscores the point of humans being non-violent creatures.
If humans love violence, tend towards violence, engage in violence constantly, there would be no social order to speak of. We
ALL would be violent ALL of the time. It would be an integral part of our existence, and that is not possible.
Violence is a behavior that is learned, perpetuated, instigated, precipated, utilized out of desperation or utilized to attain power or to coerce.
This is not the general existence of most human beings.
To kill in self defense is violence, but is defined as legitimate violence. Does that make the person committing the act a killer? A violent person?
Is the woman that protects herself and her baby by shooting the intruder a violent person? Is she a killer? Does she like violence, or was she forced to choose a behavior that she would not normally engage in?
Ray, are you a violent person? Do you like violence? Do you consider your attitudes towards violence outside the mean of attitudes towards violence? Do you think that your views on violence are in the outlier range?
No way man, most people abhor violence.
Watching violence on TV (the packaged, cleaned up, exciting and dramatic violence) is way different than engaging in that behavior.
IE: A constant streaming of images of actual victims of violence is not going to draw the same audience as CSI: New York.

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Montag said...

The half time show was indeed frightening... and one of the participants flipped the bird at us, too!

Montag said...

I also like the notion that TV is similar to one of the dumber colonial powers of the past...

I am thinking along the lines of a "Good Soldier Schweik" type story set just before World War I...
and the more I think of it, the better I like it.

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Ray Girvan said...

@Redjalapeno: Ray, are you a violent person? Do you like violence? Do you consider your attitudes towards violence outside the mean of attitudes towards violence? Do you think that your views on violence are in the outlier range?

Well ... possibly. Sorry about coming to this late. I've discussed this a lot with Felix, and I think I'm no better than many others in being prone to 'chimpiness': peace-loving cooperation within those I perceive as within my group, but hostility to those outside it.

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