Why we all watched that

I get slightly Andy Rooney in thinking about the Super Bowl.

Two things probably happened yesterday.

First, you probably watched at least some part of the Super Bowl, even if you’re not traditionally a football fan. Whether at home, in a bar, or at a party, the odds are better than not that you were one of the hundreds of millions of people in this country and around the world who tuned in to experience the biggest television event of the year.

Second, you probably encountered someone gloating about the fact that they didn’t.

You know the type I’m talking about -- that handful of clever people proudly declaring that they didn’t watch and didn’t even know who was playing, an accomplishment roughly on par in both difficulty and meaning as The Little Drummer Boy Challenge. It’s a personal statement rooted in true contrarianism, as if not watching a football game were a matter of superior intellect and will rather than simply a matter of preference. 

You know, the “lol, sportsball” camp.

It’s perfectly fine to not watch the game, for whatever reason you might choose. Heck, I’ll list a bunch of good reasons in a minute here. But to dismiss the concept of doing so is to misunderstand what the rest of us are doing. Because here’s the thing that most people know going into the Super Bowl:

We know it will mostly suck. 

Last night’s contest turned out to terrific, competitive football game between two teams that most of us aren’t sick of yet, a rare and precious event in recent years. The Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in a half-century with a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback behind star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, an electrifying young player who could well define the next era of professional football, right as the previous era’s standard-bearer seems poised to ride — or be dragged — off into the sunset.

That doesn’t mean it didn’t still, on many levels, suck. We know that.

We know that the NFL is a terrible monstrosity of an organization, a massive societal leach that strong-arms cities into funding stadiums for billionaires while providing those cities little material benefit in return. It’s evolved over the past few decades into a garish infomercial for the military-industrial complex, proudly wrapping itself in an oversized flag and soaking the roar of a fighter jet flyover while absolutely not actually honoring or caring for the people actually serving. Heck, it even charges the military for the privilege. We know that the NFL will demand that its employees stick to sports and then run paid political ads five minutes into the telecast. 

We know the ads aren’t good anymore, either.

This isn’t 1993 and we’re not going to be surprised by anything. We’ve already seen most of the ads touted and teased on the internet for a full week, celebrated as events unto themselves and not as the stilted, crass, ill-conceived gimmicks most of them are. We know that a tech company will try to make us cry, a macrobrewed light beer will pretend to have a social message, and the brands will all get forever hornier. 

We know Joe Buck will be continue to be the worst. I don’t even have a paragraph for that one. It’s just a fact.

There’s still something to be said for participating in it all, in letting the spectacle wash over you, taking it in, crassness, jingoism, stupidity and all. That’s because it might be the last remaining vestige of a monoculture that we have. It’s the one remaining time a year we’re all watching something at the same time.

We’ve come to accept the fracturing as our media landscape has changed over the last few decades. It wasn’t long ago that something like the finale of Cheers or Seinfeld or a late-night talk show would be Something We All Saw, a real point of discussion among people of different viewpoints. That hasn’t been the case for a while now, and it’ll probably never be the case again.

Whenever whatever critically-lauded and internet-beloved show of the moment reaches its long-anticipated finale, it’ll seem like a really big deal to those of us who watch it, and it’ll end up drawing a fraction of the viewers that a re-run of CSI: Dayton or Chicago Transit Police gets on network television. The most popular comedians and musicians in the country right now are people that I, a person who spends an average of 26 hours a day online, have probably never heard of. We’ve all got our own favorite Netflix shows, our own favorite podcasts, our own cozy burrows of entertainment, education and culture that each represents a miniscule part of the population at large.

We’re growing further and further apart, not just in politics but in realities. This is by no means an endorsement of people who suggest that our problems can be solved by having a beer together or being kinder and gentler, because they can’t. A televised sporting event isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with us as a country. The NFL isn’t a unifying force or a force for any sort of good. If they could figure a way to drain our blood at the turnstile and charge us to pump it back in, they surely would. Y’know, for security.

We can appreciate the moment, though: one day a year where the cultural conversation really does seem to align again, when we can all arrive at work Monday morning having done roughly the same thing with our Sunday evening, slightly hungover and oozing wing sauce and pepperoni grease from our pores. We can talk about Kyle Shanahan blowing another Super Bowl lead, or Andy Reid finally getting a ring, or how uncomfortable a snack food company’s new mascot’s name makes us. We can be on the same page for one day, because we probably won’t be tomorrow.

It’s nice to have watched the same thing.

Also, that halftime show was great.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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