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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Superbowl XXXV and America

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

I'm not a TV reviewer by occupation, but Superbowls have taken on such a life of their own and such monumental importance in our culture that I figured I just HAD to watch Superbowl XXXV last Sunday and then try to make some media sense of it.

Superbowl Sunday is practically a national holiday. I read somewhere that more than 14 thousand TONS of potato chips are consumed on that day (antacid sales rise 20% the next day, statistics also show). There were 14 hours of pre-game programming dedicated to the Superbowl, and the audience was estimated at 135 million. Tickets to the game sold for $325 each. The 30 minutes of ads (for the 60 minute game) cost $2.3 million dollars per half-minute. You know (or recall) all of the pre-game hype, football-related, network-related, commercial-related - all of it. It is a VERY big deal.

And then I heard someone say that the Superbowl really represented America. And I realized how right that was.

Affluence and conspicuous consumption. Over-doing it - ALL of it. The hard-hitting (uniquely American) sport of football, the showcase for creative product commercials, even the entertainment provided before the game and during half-time - they are all little glimpses of America.

The pre-game show featured Sting and fire-belching pylons surrounded by gyrating gold-clad dancers. Spectacular.

As the players were introduced, the live mikes on the field inadvertently picked up their obscenities ("Hey! Let's show these %$#%^$#^ that we mean business!") Crass.

Ray Charles sang "America the Beautiful," and there was a flyover of a B-2 Stealth bomber. Soulful, strong and showy.

Then the Backstreet Boys did the National Anthem with their hands held over their hearts. A flyover of six jets. Patriotic.

What we saw at home featured the best American technology could offer - not only was every single snap replayed at least once in slow-motion or from a different angle, but CBS unveiled a brand-new gizmo called "Eye Vision" - a series of 23 cameras set in an arc around the field, capturing simultaneous images up to 30 times a second. When played back, the cameras can show a particular play from different angles at the same time. It's kind of like the special-effects used in the film "The Matrix," only more complicated. It looks kind of like a video game on your TV. Technologically advanced.

One of the referees wore a camera on his hat. Superfluous and silly.

The game itself was a pretty good contest, including one space of 36 seconds which saw 3 touchdowns. It was a fast game, a hard-hitting game, a high-scoring game. Macho and athletic.

An awful lot of the commercials were for Hollywood films that won't be out for another three or four months; some haven't even been rated yet. But there was star power in the commercials, things blowing up, breathless excitement in the spots for "The Mummy Returns" or "Tomb Raider" or "Exit Wounds." Violent and gory.

Other spots were clever - trying to get a Volkswagen out of a tree, the running of the squirrels, inmates digging a tunnel to get a Pepsi machine. Whimsical and light.

A few commercials parodied earlier ones, like the one in which Bob Dole kept talking about the blue "revitalizer" that made him feel young again. It was a Pepsi finally (not Viagra), and we all had a little chuckle at a commercial that made fun of another commercial. The "Wassup" spot (and its own parody, the "What Are You Doing?" spot) were fun. Creative and self-effacing.

Halftime brought a stage show that combined Aerosmith (whose claim to fame is - to put it bluntly - not just their music, but their hard edge ugliness as well) with NSync (whose image is just the opposite). Britney Spears appeared in a silver outfit that was cut down to here and practically spray-painted on. Hard rock, pretty music, and teen goddess all in one show. Diverse.

It's said that the media (all media, but perhaps especially TV) reflects reality as well as creating it. It holds a mirror up to us and our society and shows us who we are and what we value. And perhaps because the Superbowl has become so immensely big and noticed and produced and sold, it has itself become kind of a big reflection of ourselves, of America.

Good and bad. Crass and whimsical. Clever and gory. Athletic and commercial.

All of the above. All at once.

Maybe that's one of the reasons that it's become such a big deal. We can see who we are (or what we like to think of ourselves as).

It is both spectacle and truth, which is a difficult thing to accomplish.

But an interesting sight to behold.