They say the winter is over. (Unless you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, in which case it’s still, you know, coming.) That said, it’s snowing where I am but despite the fact that I feel like a citizen of Narnia, the social pace has become decidedly Springy. For Americans, this means it’s time for the biggest sporting event of the year: the Superbowl. It’s about the most American thing you can attend outside of a gun rally in South Carolina and, like the Oscars, there are viewing parties everywhere. People stock up on guacamole, beer and chips and later hurl abuses at the screen, confident that they know something the professional athletes don’t. Now I avoid team sports as a rule because people tend to get angry and behave like armies of would-be soldiers rather than the fat, out-of-shape accountants they usually are. This is less true of single-member sports. When was the last time you heard skiing fans causing a riot? Anyway, this year I was invited to a viewing party thrown by a friend at a sports bar. I also usually avoid sports bars (obvs), but I decided earlier this year to interact consciously with the natives and hesitantly agreed to the viewing party. I took a deep breath, put on a camouflaging baseball cap and made my way to Superbowl Sunday Funday at Axels Sports Bar. It was my first Superbowl party ever, and I was scared but, to be honest, I’ll give anywhere with endless guacamole a shot.
I arrived early and the place was already crowded with football fans in jerseys and odd hats with cups attached. Giant screens had been set up around the room showing interviews with past players and predictions from experts. Bookies were going from table to taking small bets for a pool you could win if you guessed the eventual score right.
While watching team sports, people tend to become angry and behave like would-be soldiers rather than the fat, out-of-shape accountants they usually are
A few things you should know: the Superbowl is a game of American football. I didn’t know this. I thought it was baseball, and that mistake sent a considerable amount of scorn my way (this coming from a group of people who don’t know the rules to soccer or cricket but fine, whatevs). Second, not only is it a football game, but it is the final game in whatever tournament footballers partake. Third, it has a viewership of over 100 million people and because of this the ads are almost as famous as the half-time show, which usually features some major celebrity wattage.
For the latest Superbowl the crowd was loud but jovial and so, rather than talk to my friend who was engaged in a lengthy debate about points and skirmishes (I couldn’t explain it to you if you paid me), I looked around the bar to do some people-watching. This older guy at the next rowdy table had just finished his beer with a smack of his lips when he caught my eye and shouted, “Who you rootin’ for son?”
“Beyonce” I said, since I knew the African-American pop star was going to be performing at the halftime show. He found this quite funny (though I really wasn’t joking, I still don’t know who was playing) and we got chatting. He works in the city at a tile company and was at the bar with his two sons and his brother, all at the table. He detected my accent and when he heard where I was from, the first thing he asked was if I liked spicy food. The second was if I had seen the Republican debates.
When an American asks you this question, it’s the conversational equivalent of The Walking Dead i.e. the goal is to get out alive. The thing is, you never know if the person asking you is genuinely interested in an outsider’s opinion, or just looking for confirmation that you hate freedom. I think most of the GOP is mad, as should any sane person looking at a party that has Donald Trump in it – I’ll say it again, Donald “The Apprentice” Trump – as a forerunner. But I’ve actually met a bunch of people who believe that having a billionaire in the White House is good because “at least he doesn’t need to make money”, which is the same argument you can use for Paris Hilton becoming Secretary of State since at least she has places to stay when she goes on foreign trips. The saddest part is (if you’re a Republican), most of the other contenders are either mad, racist or related to George Bush.
But elections here are sort of like the Superbowl or the Oscars. People treat them like spectacles or sport, akin to a celebrity boxing match or America’s Next Top Leader. So much so that you know all the major players will eventually appear on Saturday Night Live to seem likeable, or that they will stand up at debates and be judged on how bitchy they were to each other in sound-bites rather than based on any substantive declarations of policy intent. Most people surmise this is because it’s not considered cool to be smart in America, which is why Trump’s brand of shrugging when he gets a simple policy question wrong does no real damage to him. It’s okay not to know, folks reason, because they don’t either and this makes them equal. It’s a country steeped in a rhetoric that equates being smart with being elitist, and that real value lies in corn-fed hard work and retirement funds. In other words, the fiction of the 50s.
It’s a rhetoric that is at odds with the reality of the modern world, especially contemporary America. Obviously not everyone in America feels this way. It is my hope that the recent flagrantly racist, ambitiously xenophobic and mindlessly misinformed segment of America that the Republicans are bent on courting is a fading minority. That’s also my hope for the same sort of people in Pakistan, or Western Europe, or Russia.
But I didn’t say any of this to the man in the bar, or to his brother or sons. Instead I said I found the debates entertaining and munched contentedly on my guacamole. They seemed pleased with that, and so at last, we were able to turn our attention to Beyonce dressed as a Black Panther in tights singing about racial profiling at the halftime show.