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Super Bowl LIV: Politics, Passion, and Purity

The Super Bowl is a national cultural event that reveals the soul of America.  This year’s was especially revealing as it combined questionable politics, a full range of human passions from the decadent to the ennobling, and a demonstration of the purity of sports entertainment.

The political element in the Super Bowl has intruded itself, as it has in about any other event in American society.  I am not here referring to the political ads for President Trump or the Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.  They were the run-of-the-mill kind that we have learned to expect.  Politics began with the National Anthem.  I do not wish to denigrate the very fine renditions of “God Bless America” by Yolanda Adams and Demi Lovato’s truly outstanding one of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and even less the veterans and military personnel that were involved.  Nevertheless, the singing of the national anthem, which actually used to be sung by the people, has morphed into a larger-than-life mixture of chauvinism and religion.  Such a mixture can convert, and I think has often converted, the sincere and passionate love of one’s country into a kind of idolatry, which is all the more dangerous because it removes the legitimate limits imposed on all human loves by God.  At the same time, it perverts religion by binding it to a local national concern.  We need to display a quieter patriotism, stripped of its religious trappings and entertainment context and characterized more by service to others.

The patriotic act of singing the National Anthem has become increasingly strident and political in response to the protests staged against it.  Whatever sympathy or antipathy one might feel for Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling in protest during the Star-Spangled Banner, the smug look of the fantastically wealthy Beyoncé and Jay-Z sitting in their exclusive seats cooling looking down on all the little people made Kaepernick’s protest look respectful.  The current reigning superstar couple’s “protest” seemed inauthentic.  It certainly was not sacrificial.

The other explicitly political moment took place during the half-time show, when Jennifer Lopez appeared in the Puerto Rican flag.  I am sure that the longsuffering Puerto Ricans were moved to see their flag and to have people reminded of the natural and manmade disasters that continue to savage the island.  My own view is that Puerto Rico should be freed from its territorial status and become its own nation-state.  It is probable that independence will create its own kind of suffering and hardship, but ultimately it will strengthen the people as they are allowed to take responsibility for their own destiny.

As I said, undoubtedly the response of Puerto Ricans to the sight of their flag was passionate and understandably so.  However, upon reflection they should regret that it was tied to another kind of passion—the overtly sexual parading by Lopez.  While both Shakira and Lopez pointed their derrieres at us, Lopez was even more blatant. Spreading her legs in an outfit that was meant to call attention to what it covered, she performed like a porn star.  And like a porn star it really felt fake and ultimately passionless.  If there was any passion, it was a kind of defiant, literally “in your face” statement along the lines of “This is me, and I don’t care what anybody thinks.”  It is sad to see an intelligent and talented woman degrade herself in this way.  It is even sadder that much of our nation celebrated her performance as an act of female empowerment.   Is this the kind of woman Puerto Ricans want to admire?  Is this the kind of woman we want our daughters to emulate and our sons to find attractive?  I hope not.

It was towards the end of the very good football game that I was struck by the contrast between the two forms of entertainment.  The half-time performers seemed full of themselves and vulgar.  On the other hand, the game itself had authentic drama and emotion.  A great effort by the San Francisco 49ers was defeated by the stupendous comeback of the Kansas City Chiefs.  The weeping of some of the San Francisco players and the jubilation of the Chiefs’ players and their admiration for their coach had an authenticity sorely lacking in the political and sexual display of Lopez.

How wholeheartedly these players and coaches had dedicated themselves to their craft and how passionately they cared about winning the game was evident from the tense faces awaiting the start of the game during the National Anthem down to the outpouring of emotion at the game’s end.  Of course, the football players are entertainers too, but their performance and emotions reminded me of the old Wide World of Sports opening narration “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition.”  With all its many faults, the game displayed a kind of purity of passion that ennobles the human and can inspire us to achieve great things in many endeavors.


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