This year’s Super Bowl broadcast reinforced a theory that had floating around in my head for a long time. There isn’t a single day or event more inherently American than Super Bowl Sunday. Not Christmas. Not Thanksgiving. Not even the Fourth of July can compete.
Last Sunday night well-over 100 million people eagerly huddled around their TVs. They were ostensibly there to watch the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers play a football game. However, many of them hadn’t watched a football game in its entirety all year and couldn’t name a single player from either team. They were watching more for the commercials, the pyrotechnics or Beyonce. They were watching for the spectacle of the whole thing.
The truth of the matter is that last night wasn’t about football. It wasn’t about the Ravens and 49ers. It wasn’t about the Harbaugh brothers. It wasn’t even about Ray Lewis.
It was about Bud Light, E-Trade and Mercedes. It was about CBS. It was about inane bullshit. The whole thing was one giant fucking commercial. In the end, the only purpose of the whole thing is to try to get you to buy some shit.
Of course, you’d be naïve to be surprised by this. Any regular season football game, even those far removed from a national audience (the entire Jaguars season, for instance) is littered with ads for beer, cars and boner pills. After all, it’s no secret that television programming is fueled by advertising dollars. That’s just how things are and we’ve largely come to accept that.
This is exactly why this is the most American event of the year. Does anything represent American culture more than the entire country eating pizza and watching a bunch of ads and pyrotechnics occasionally interrupted by a football game?
The players were far from the only ones dealing with dramatically heightened stakes. The sheer amount of viewership creates massive potential for profit, turning the entire broadcast into a thinly-veiled exercise in mass-marketing, subtlety be damned. Behold the Hyundai Super Bowl Pre-Game Show, the Blockbuster-Total Access Halftime Report and the Pepsi Halftime Show, which cost a small fortune to produce. Hell, this kind of promotion is so prevalent that it’s been wound into the tradition of the game, made evident by the Super Bowl MVP’s annual following of Disneyland’s product-placement script. Of course, in addition to a trip to Disneyland and countless millions in contract negotiation leverage, Joe Flacco gained a shiny new car last night courtesy of the Cadillac Post Game Report.
Nothing can beat the Super Bowl for sheer volume of sponsorship, but nothing from this year’s game even competes with the most mind-numbing moment of shameless cross-promotion sports broadcasting has brought us. That would be from the 2011 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, where Brent Musburger’s infamously said “This is for all the Tostitos” as Auburn kicker Wes Byrum lined up to kick the game-winning field goal. It was a moment that stands alone on the pantheon of soulless corporate shilling. Let us take this opportunity to observe a moment of silence for Musburger’s dignity.
Now, lets take a look at the phenomena of Super Bowl advertising. 30 seconds of airtime cost somewhere between 3.8 and 4 million dollars. Of course, that staggering figure is merely the cost to reserve that airtime. It doesn’t even factor in the amount spent on actually producing the ads, including what surely were expensive cameos from celebrities such as William DeFoe, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Lebron James and Stevie Wonder.
Come to think of it, the most expensive cameo had to be Bar Refaeli, right?
Let’s take a look at the circular logic behind the phenomena of Super Bowl advertising. The ads undoubtedly have a sense of heightened importance; after all, it’s the only day of the entire year where people watch TV more for the ads than the actual programming. Many companies notoriously build their marketing schemes around Super Bowl buzz.
However, there is a major logical fallacy driving the whole thing forward. More people watch the commercials because they supposedly are “more important”, but they are only more important because more people are watching.
Of course, the viewers are who came first in this “chicken or the egg” scenario; without the massive amount of viewers, there is no advertising hype. Nevertheless, if you remove yourself from these illogical preconceived notions about the Super Bowl ads, they become just that: ads.
No one benefited from the hype machine this year more than CBS, who took advantage of its turn broadcasting the big game by slapping shameless cross-promotion wherever it could for anything remotely connected to the network. The nerds from The Big Bang Theory wearing shoulder pads? Sure! Two and a Half Men’s aptly named Jon Cryer donning eye black? Why not? David Letterman tossing a football to Andrew Luck? You betcha! The two sluts from Two Broke Girls looking all slutty? ‘Merica.
The explosion of football’s popularity has created a downward (or upward, if you judge only by revenue) spiral, to the point that the sheer level of spectacle and hype is overpowering. Like the NFL, the Super Bowl is too big to fail; its mere occurrence is self-sufficient. It doesn’t matter if the game is boring, the ads aren’t particularly great, or the Black Eyed Peas suck (and suck did they ever).
Even more than the multitude of products that each paid a small fortune to throw their hat in the Super Bowl advertising dog-and-pony show, the biggest product sold was the spectacle itself. This is the goddamn Super Bowl, and all the build-up, advertising hype, extravagant halftime show and everything else ultimately serves the purpose of selling us the idea that this matters more than a sporting event. It’s as if we need all this bombastic pageantry, all the pyrotechnics and commercials, celebrities, glitter and buzz, to maintain the illusion of grandiosity needed to distract millions of casual viewers (many whom are far from the demographic of football fans) from the fact this is actually nothing more than a sporting event.
Yet, we don’t care and we just keep on buying it. This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched (and almost assuredly the most expensive) televised event in human history. Despite the embarrassing power-outage, questionable officiating and an overwhelming sense of tackiness, everyone made a certified fuck-ton of money, making it an undeniably rousing success.
What could be more American than that?