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A Super TV Show

January 31, 2013

Since we no longer go to the moon there are few national TV events. JR is dead (actually Larry Hagman is really really dead), MASH folded up its tent before we invaded Iraq the first time, and so we are left with one national TV screen obsession event – The Super Bowl.

In theory, it’s a sporting event. In fact the way its presented distorts any accurate view of the game by those who are not familiar with it. A tiny percentage of humans have ever played football so there’s no way the millions upon millions of casual viewers could be expected to understand the game beyond how it’s presented.

The Super Bowl presents football with the same superficial silliness as law was presented on Perry Mason and medicine on Ben Casey or police work on Dragnet. I use those 1950’s television programs intentionally as that era of TV filtered, colored and distorted those complex realities hopelessly shallow melodramas. Jesus did not look like the Jeffrey Hunter, and football players are neither heroes nor villains – they are just humans in an extreme situation.

I am grateful for the projected translations of opera lyrics when my son sings, but I also know that my appreciation for opera has the depth of my understanding of physics. Football is neither opera nor physics, but it is a complex human endeavor trivialized to allow those who dislike or are oblivious to its realities to enjoy just another TV show. Unfortunately if you can follow the reductionist distortions of those presenting the game you may think you “get it”. When I see what Falstaff is actually saying when he sings an aria in my son’s opera in a couple of months, I can “get” the plot line, but I also know I do not “get” opera.

As about 100 million people focus on something that perhaps several hundred thousand have actually played, the information is processed to become just another reality TV show, creating story lines, inventing personas and  glossing over inconvenient realities in a way that would make Walt Disney proud.

Here are the simple realities that are unsaid, but fundamental to the game that is the pretext of the media event most of us cannot avoid watching:

1) Football Hurts. The “Big Hit” is high drama, and the camera will both linger and replay those moments with all the sensitivity of dissecting a NASCAR crash. But most players feel pain on every play -it’s mostly soft tissue or fingers or toes and by the time games are played practices have made players fairly inured to the consequences of pain. But pain is there, continuously – not limited to the “Big Hits”.

2) There is no “Story”. Games are not TV shows. They are not scripted, so retroactive rationalization by commentators to invent crescendos and crashes is similar to finding a romantic novel in “The Bachelorette”. This is not a symphony, it is jazz. Every action has a reaction, every play has a counter, every technique has a defense. These are the actions of men who are freakishly devoted and have spent their adult lives in hundreds of thousands of preparatory moments so that than can create a game from scratch, not follow a script.

3) Football is Not Chess. In football, players create strategies, strategies do not create performance. To dumb down the extreme interplay of the situations created by the players into “they have the momentum” makes the chaos as palatable as the chicken wings, but it’s as thoughtful (and real) as a Snookie romance.

4) Jive is Just Jive. Those absurdly affected and rehearsed celebrations of a hit or a score have nothing to do with the game as the other players are playing it. The commercial value of hype on TV is what created the NFL and thus the Super Bowl, but the garnish does not make or break the dish, and the pantomiming jackassery of “celebrations” is just paprika on a great meal, despite the focus and replay overload.

5) Football is Not a Video Game. Humans, even incredibly talented and trained athletes, make errors. In any game players can do things they have never done before – for good or ill. So when a reliable player makes an error that looks “stupid” (Wes Welker missing a catch) it is neither tragic nor offensive – its human. When a player catches a football on his helmet (David Tyree) it is not luck or an act of God, it is the residue of 20 years of unending practice and commitment.

Life is complicated. Football is complicated. TV is our culture’s Lowest Common Denominator of distraction. So willful ignorance of reality by those presenting the game makes sense. And money.

It takes more effort than most wish to expend at a Sunday evening party to appreciate the realities on the field in any game. But the imitation of insight on this most holy of secular gatherings of gluttony and gab is, to me, irksome. That says more about me than the TV show we all gather around.

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