Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super Controversy

Television critic Matt Zoller Seitz once wrote that the Super Bowl defines who we Americans are as a nation. He stated that the big NFL championship reflects the American character with its gaudy showmanship, its crass commercialism, and its general excess. Ironically, this column originally appeared in the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger on January 31, 2004, the day before Super Bowl XXXVIII - the one with the infamous Janet Jackson halftime striptease.
If Seitz is right, we're in big trouble. Seitz is no longer at the Star-Ledger, but his words still ring true - and never have they rung truer than now. CBS, which is airing the Super Bowl this year, has decided to accept an anti-abortion ad from the Christian conservative group Focus On the Family featuring college quarterback and evangelical Christian Tim Tebow, whose mother got sick while pregnant with him and refused to have an abortion despite the prediction from her doctors that her baby would be stillborn. Despite numerous protests against the decision to run this ad, and despite the many petitions to CBS urging the network not to air it, the ad apparently is set to go during tomorrow's game.
Tebow's personal story is certainly inspiring and heartwarming, but the placement of an ad sponsored by a right-wing social activist group (only in America) on a contentious social issue like abortion (only in America) during a football game (only in America - we have a quorum, ladies and gents!) is flat-out wrong. Sports are supposed to be free of religious and social issues, and football in particular is one thing most Americans can enjoy together without controversy. Focus On the Family is savvy enough to know that their pro-life message can reach the widest audience during the Super Bowl, but this is not the appropriate time or place for it. But CBS is happy to take the money and run on this one.
It's hard to appreciate how just how much hypocrisy is involved here. Feminists are understandably up in arms over what they see as the sexist message of this anti-abortion ad, a message telling women what to do with their bodies. Even more troubling is when and where the ad is running. Focus On the Family sees itself as a organization guarding traditional moral values, yet they're running this ad during a sporting event known for commercials that degrade and exploit women as sex objects and have references to flatulence, among other unsavory things. Football itself has always had a nasty streak, with its machismo and its scantily clad cheerleaders. But why would Focus On the Family want to do any business with CBS, a network that airs sitcoms such as "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two and a Half Men," both shows known for prurient dialogue and overt sexual references?
Oh yeah, this year's Super Bowl halftime show will feature what's left of the Who, a band whose song canon includes tunes about masturbation, revolution, and homicidal spouses. And, they're British. What does Focus On the Family think of that? (For their part, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have nothing to do with this controversy, they're probably just happy for the opportunity to play.)
Returning to Seitz's point about the Super Bowl defining America, I heartily agree with that assessment. This year I get to see Americans polarizing over an issue that should have been settled long ago, with corporate greed, right-wing bullying, and blatant hypocrisy involved. The worst aspects of American civilization are all here in their splendid horror.
I won't be watching the Super Bowl. I simply don't like football. Besides, I'm more eagerly awaiting the Winter Olympics.

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