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Posted at 03:07 PM ET, 02/06/2012

The Super Bowl’s halftime crisis


Tradition! Tradition! (CHRISTOPHER POLK - GETTY IMAGES)
It’s a tradition almost as time-honored as the Super Bowl itself: getting indignant about something that happened at the Super Bowl.

Last year it was Christina Aguilera’s rendition of the National Anthem, for which she has been punished by being forced to share her reality singing competition with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.

Several years before that, it was the Wardrobe Malfunction that launched a thousand censorships.

This year’s show went so swimmingly that I was beginning to worry. Kelly Clarkson respected the anthem. The commercials were offensively unfunny and at times offensively unoriginal — “Did you enjoy a commercial you saw last year?” they asked. “Here it is again, but with all the joy and life drained from it.” But that was as far as it went. Sure, the combatant cities’ respective mayors showed up to advocate for gun control, and there was an ad for the Employee Rights’ Act. Nothing is, apparently, sacred, and while we passed the corn chips, some groups insisted on dragging out their shoulder-chips as well, like that one aunt who insists on talking politics at Grandpa’s 94th birthday.

Then came halftime.

“It’s halftime in America,” is apparently some sort of metaphor, as Clint Eastwood told us in a commercial reminding us to be invested in Detroit. Detroit is a mystical El Dorado where Real American Values live. I am supremely invested in this place. This is not a metaphor. I think they have some of my money.

Eastwood, with his usual voice that sounds as if he’s been gargling gravel, told us that it is time for America to get back up and do something vaguely Reaganesque. This is the Republican campaign strategy in a nutshell.

Halftime is one of those truly American moments. For once, a massive number of us are all watching the same thing, in the modern sense of watching, which is to say “looking up occasionally from our smartphones to glance at.”

And Madonna’s Midlife halftime show was captivating. Her efforts to force her latest musical concoction down viewers' throats may prove less than successful, but that's not for want of people chanting “LUV Madonna.” 

But then M.I.A. flipped the angry bird at millions of American families. I think. It was over in a few seconds, and I entirely failed to notice, unable to hear M.I.A. over her outfit.

But apparently the viewing public have the eyes of especially alert hawks. The roar echoed from the stadium into living rooms across America. Now the Parents Television Council, an organization of people who notice and file a complaint every time a fly whispers something obscene or a dog or horse appears nude on television, is up in arms.

The gesture was fleeting, but, thanks to technology, it is now indelibly inked into the Internet forever.

Get back to the game? Please. Football’s not the American national pastime. There’s too much running involved. Complaining is. Complaining that Something Terrible Might Have Happened To The Youth is even more so.

Tim Winter, president of the PTC, wrote that “NBC fumbled and the NFL lied because a performer known as M.I.A. felt it necessary to flip off millions of families.”

So there we are.  “It is unfortunate that a spectacular sporting event was overshadowed once again by broadcasting the selfish acts of a desperate performer. Last week the NFL formally told the PTC – and the American public – that the Super Bowl halftime show would be ‘appropriate.’ Most families would agree that the middle finger aimed directly at them is not appropriate, especially during the most-watched television event of the year.”

 To be fair, I don’t think the “selfish acts of a desperate performer” overshadowed the spectacular sporting event, mainly because I could not recognize M.I.A. and the gesture was over before I noticed. If you want to see the selfish act of a desperate performer overshadow a sporting event, go hear the National Anthem sung by anyone other than Kelly Clarkson.

Look, I wanted to care.

I am instantly prejudiced against any musical artist who requires me to punctuate or capi­tal­ize her name irregularly or replace its letters with ampersands. So M.I.A. and I did not start off on the best footing imaginable. And the gesture was in­cred­ibly rude and intensely uncalled-for. But I don’t think the children who watched will emerge more dented by the hand gesture than by, say, any commercial for GoDaddy. If our children are indeed wonderfully attuned and calibrated to note the slightest obscenity and have it warp them for life, I’ll eat my entire collection of Bratz dolls.

Besides, we seem to have this well in hand.

In fact, I somewhat like this tradition. Something swift but offensive happens at halftime, and then we yell about it. It’s an annual ritual, a litmus test of our attitude towards the Devolution of Discourse.

I am glad that we live in a society where this sort of thing is generally regarded as untoward and To Be Frowned Upon. It would be a sign that we had all gotten a tad too lax in our attitude towards the selfish acts of desperate performers if we let our children get the idea that you could go around giving the finger to millions of Americans and get away with it too. This is an idea that they must come to on their own as adults.

Now there’s a whole kerfuffle.

It’s rare that everyone is talking about the same thing. Generally when we do we are yelling. It’s a tradition.

Pass the chips.

By  |  03:07 PM ET, 02/06/2012

 
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