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How the Super Bowl is a Cultural Spectacle


The Super Bowl has been the most watched event on television since the 1970s. No awards show for movies, music or anything else comes close to the popularity of the NFL championship game. In Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018, the underdog Philadelphia Eagles upset the defending world champion New England Patriots 41-33. It was a thriller down to the last second hail mary attempt by Tom Brady. As much as the media painted the game about Brady winning another ring, the real story of every Super Bowl is that it's America's biggest cultural spectacle.

It really didn't matter who did the half time show. This time it was Justin Timberlake, who created panic in the media last time he did the event with Janet Jackson, accidentally exposing her breast. After that disaster that tightened up media decency rules, the half time show started having classic rock artists like Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and The Who. Prince maintained the artistic credibility, but eventually the NFL gave way to watered down pop acts surrounded by about 50 dancers lypsincing to a recording that sounds like 1,000 voices singing.

The point is, the half time show is just thrown in and shouldn't be confused as the main event, no matter who it is. The Super Bowl, which attracted over 103 million viewers according to Nielsen, is over five times more popular than the Grammys, which pulled 19.8 million viewers in 2018. So that being the case, the half time show is more of a favor to the music biz to promote anybody rather than the reason people watch. Most people at the game are there to see the two best teams play. At one time marching bands handled the half time show and it was no different - people were there for the game and appreciated whoever the half time talent was.

This particular game was significant because it would've been Patriot QB Tom Brady's sixth championship victory, putting his record out of reach for decades. Instead, Brady and the Pats trailed most of the game until taking the lead briefly in the fourth quarter. The Eagles simply grinded down the clock and scored a touchdown, setting up another dramatic "comeback kid" story for Brady, who led the Patriots to a come from behind victory last year after trailing by over three touchdowns. Brady was stripped of the ball with a little over two minutes left and the Eagles took over. But it still wasn't over. The Patriots got the ball back with about a minute left but couldn't deliver the miracle play.

The game will no doubt go down in history as one of the most exciting championships of all time. Eagles QB Nick Foles proved himself as a valuable backup in spite of the media writing him off since he took over as a starter late in the season. Like a song, every game tells a story that has a beginning, middle and end. Toward the middle of the game just before the half, the Eagles proved that taking chances instead of being conservative can pay off sometimes. They decided to go for it on 4th and goal at the 1 yard line. Nick Foles snuck up to the line and caught the touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton after a reverse hand-off. It was a trick play that the Patriots used on the Eagles many years ago.

The major takeaway of this game is that trick plays that come from outside the box thinking can lead to radically stunning results when executed confidently. When that type of athleticism becomes part of the cultural spectacle narrative, it illuminates football as a metaphor for a struggling journey to purse dreams. It's that same cultural dream that Dorothy imagined somewhere "Over the Rainbow." One thing about every Super Bowl that's always consistent is there's always a winner. The main message of the cultural spectacle of the Super Bowl is a reflection of the spirit that "winning is everything."

Other cultural spectacles exists beyond the Super Bowl that aren't nearly as big in America, but still radiate with importance. While music has been carved up into genres and demographics by the industry, sporting events draw much more culturally diverse crowds. There's plenty that the music biz can learn from sports. After all, sports arenas and stadiums have been packing in huge crowds to see sporting events a lot longer than pop acts have used those same venues to perform for fans. The music biz should learn more about what type of music rallies huge crowds rather than assume that whatever's on the pop scene will work.



Created by Alex Cosper