The gods may not have planned January as a festival for the American male ego. But they have let it work out that way this year. Stock markets, professional sports and political primaries all reverberate this month to the undisguised force of masculine ambition and vanity clawing toward that ultimate human goal: more.
It is a season of competition between Time Warner and Kurt Warner for our attention. The arrival of both Warners on the road to their respective Super Bowls signifies a reordering of national priorities and potential. It reflects, and affects, a new American self-image taking form.
Political power long ago followed demographics to gravitate from Metropolis to Sun Belt. Economic power has moved in the global era from the bricks-and-mortar factories of the Middle West to the fiber-optic cables of the Internet's decentralized suburban gateways. Now comes a burgeoning shift of content power--of sports and entertainment innovation--away from familiar urban centers to newly empowered heartland areas.
That is where Kurt Warner and Time Warner come in.
Kurt Warner is a lightning-bolt-throwing quarterback for the St. Louis (nee Los Angeles) Rams, one of the four National Football League teams that play on Jan. 23 to see who goes to the Super Bowl a week later. The others are the Tennessee Titans (nee the Houston Oilers), the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This new football order is dominated geographically by teams that have been transferred out of bigger cities when attendance dropped, or that were allowed to join the old guard in expansion years and then encouraged by the league's parity policies to muscle and purchase their way to the top.
Collectively they have a transient, opportunistic personality when contrasted to the dynasties built by George Halas in Chicago or Paul Brown in Cleveland. The new NFL masters seem both products and agents of the shrinking of the American national attention span under the relentless assault of television.
Warner is a sportswriter's dream cliche, the unknown who comes off the bench to lift his team to the league championship game on his powerful arm. He is, as the sports analysts say, the complete package: His career encompasses global-era symbolism as well as football's traditional values.
He played in the NFL's farm league in Europe last year, presumably gaining a personal insight into the importance of the ever quickening movement of goods, people and ideas across national frontiers. Before that Warner practiced his arts in pro football's equivalent of Nasdaq, the Arena League.
Football in the Arena League is played indoors, on much smaller surfaces and with different rules that encourage a go-go, quick-strike, all-offense approach to fame and fortune that is not unlike the ethos adopted by the original e-traders.
St. Louis under Warner is also all about speed and timing. The Rams are the first NFL bandwidth team, capable of downloading a complex set of data in the form of touchdown runs and passes with a speed their more traditional opponents can barely comprehend. They bid to set a new paradigm for sports, which has no Alan Greenspan to inhibit exuberance of the rational or irrational kind.
The stock market's Super Bowl equivalent came this month with the announcement of the proposed $183 billion megamerger of Time Warner and America Online.
Outwardly, the content power of Time Inc. (New York City) and Warner Bros. studios (Los Angeles) seems to be shifting to AOL's cyber-universe headquarters (Dulles Airport, Va.). But it is likely to take years of reorganization and struggle for the dominant egos of the two organizations to find synergistic equilibrium.
"Speed is more important than size today," says Thomas Middelhoff, who is not an NFL analyst but the e-savvy chief executive officer of Bertelsmann, the German-based publishing and online conglomerate. Back in October on a visit to The Washington Post, he explained with prescience why Bertelsmann would not follow the example of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler and seek to merge with an American company like Time Warner:
"It will take two generations of executives for Daimler and Chrysler to merge their cultures and ideas. I would not want a big merger, which would just slow down our executives" in dealing with today's changes, which make the future now. Middelhoff made clear his thinking would apply to big companies from the same country but different fields.
Kurt Warner and the Rams will succeed or founder on speed once the kickoff comes. So, it seems, will the once stately journalism of Time Inc. in the electronic era.