Raging competition. Athletic excellence. Thrilling commercial pitches. Exciting entertainment. A come-from-behind victory.
If you were one of the one hundred million people who watched America’s most popular television show last night, you saw what I saw in the Super Bowl, a picture of America that is beautiful, vibrant, and functional in every way. There were cheers and thrills from sea to shining sea. Sorry about that, cynics. You have to go elsewhere to find the social pathology you so desperately seek.
What an amazing contrast to the dreary portrait painted by the pundits and intellectual classes in all major intellectual venues. Instead of what we saw last night, we are told that America is a toxic mess of inequality, racism, misogyny, polarization, and decay. Oddly, there was not one shred of evidence of that last night.
You could say, oh you can’t judge a country by what is ultimately a production number dreamed up for profitable consumption by the masses. The rubes are being duped. What this criticism misses is that it is no small feat to produce such an awesome show, fully four hours of viewing that held viewers’ attention throughout. It’s a movie made in real time with highly advanced technology that takes your breath away: drones flying, cameras shooting from every angle, perfect acoustics, and dazzling sights in every frame.
Consider the elements.
Competition. Everywhere you turn in elite culture, you hear condemnation of the competitive drive, particularly as it affects commercial life. What we do not hear is the reality all of us experience every day; namely, that competition is an essential driver of excellence. It helps us find a part of ourselves that is beneath the surface and waiting to be unleashed. We want to win. Watching others try their hardest helps bring us together.
Competition in sports operates as a metaphor for our personal and professional lives too. It’s not a perfect metaphor because in sports there is a winner and loser. But in a market-based economy, the competition is more complicated than that. Producers are seeking to score with consumers by convincing them to buy things. Everyone can win at this competitive game. It means nothing other than striving for excellence. Life would be boring without it and far less beautiful.
Athleticism. The talent on display on the field was just amazing to behold. These are not gods but normal human beings who have worked like crazy their whole lives to achieve the heights of athletic accomplishment. The most valuable player was the brilliant Patrick Mahomes, the 24-year-old wunderkind who is a delight to watch. His performance last night was an inspiration: lackluster in the first three quarters and then breaking out in the fourth into stunning brilliance. His smile was beguiling and his humility in victory a shining example of sportsmanlike magnanimity.
If all you knew was what you read in the papers or saw in the movies, you could be forgiven for thinking that this country is a roiling boiling cauldron of racial division and unrest. It’s tedious to note this but it has to be said, given how much we are told otherwise but the Super Bowl was a fabulous display of interracial/interethnic understanding, which is to say: none of this nonsense matters in the slightest bit for professional football.
It illustrates something super important about the idea of freedom: people can get along just fine when there is more at stake than burrowing into identity politics. The only identities on the field last night were the teams assembled through a competitive process. The teams themselves consist of a huge variety of identities, talents, and backgrounds. Those who kvetch about obvious gender binaries on display might also consider the presence of Katie Sowers.
This is much closer to real life than anything you would read about in the postmodern press that sees hateful ferocity everywhere and cooperation nowhere. Where the ferocity doesn’t appear, the fanatical activists behind our politics are determined to gin it up in order to confirm their worldview. What’s wonderful is how little effect this has had on the real world, which is to say the world mercifully free of political conflict. Say what you want about Super Bowl pyrotechnics, the picture it provides of community understanding is closer to real life.
Commerce. I’ve always loved commercials. My parents tell me that I used to watch TV for the ads, leave for the programming, and return again for the ads. There is magic in the pitch: here is something you should buy but we have to convince you it is worth it to give up your money to acquire it. I loved how the commercials made me feel that I was in charge of whether this company would succeed. Plus, there is a major element of art to them.
The commercial lineup for the Super Bowl takes this to another level, like a series of miniatures that are surprising, funny, dramatic, compelling, culture shaping and defining. There is also the enormous expense. In 1980, an ad cost a quarter of a million dollars. Today, it is nearly $6 million for 30 seconds. It’s a pure market exchange, money for mind share for extremely scarce time slots. Fox bought Super Bowl rights for $1.1 billion, and sold out all its ad space at top dollar very quickly. This is the essence of free enterprise; producers willing to pay top dollar to earn your attention and affection, through humor, art, and storytelling. That’s lovely.
Entertainment. Let’s talk about the magnificent halftime show. It only allows about 20 minutes of showtime. But in that time, we get to see the very best of American popular entertainment. Every year is amazing but the one this year had a special thrill with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira singing their hits with brilliant instrumentals and dazzling dances all around. It was exhausting to watch these hard-working performances but also tremendously inspiring. As one Twitter account said, “I hope heaven has even half the rhythm and joy of Shakira and her crew.” As for the women themselves, observe that Lopez is 50 and Shakira is 43 — which is a further tribute to the advance of civilization, health beauty, and longevity. Magnificent.
Comeback Wins. Part of the story of America about which ruling-class intellectuals can never stop sneering is the ideas of opportunity for all, economic mobility, and rags-to-riches achievement. But at the Super Bowl, there were so many stories of just this story on the field, beautiful personal anecdotes of how relentless work and stamina resulted in personal glory and riches. This year was particularly thrilling because the winning team had been 10 points behind. Kansas City came back in the fourth quarter to take the whole game, not by just a bit but by 11 points. When it unfolded, you could just feel an entire nation yelling with excitement.
There was also an interesting regionalism in operation here: the left coast vs the heartland, and just look who won! Political allegory anyone?
The whole effect of the awesome sights and sounds of this year’s Super Bowl – which, let us not forget, is an achievement of private enterprise – was to underscore what most of us know in our hearts. Our civilization is not falling apart. So long as we are free to create, compete, and cooperate, it is healthy, wealthy, and wonderful. These are great times to be alive, to be inspired, to live large, and celebrate sport, life, and the magic of human cooperation.