Well, tomorrow is the day. Super Bowl Sunday. Our nation's winter celebration of the 4th of July. The day that we come together as a country to...watch television at the same time (and, really, what could be more American than that?). It's quite a feat, if you think about it. Gone are the days when we all had only the three networks to choose from (and PBS, if we were lucky and got good reception). Gone are the days when the Nielson's could accurately predict that, on any given Tuesday, the better part of 1/4 of the country was at home watching "All in the Family" or "MASH." Who, back in the 1970s, could have ever predicted satellite TV, DVRs, Hulu? Who could have possibly imagined skipping the commercials, or watching an entire season of a show in one afternoon? That was the Orwellian stuff of the dreams of Madmen (which you can now, incidentally, watch in just one afternoon).
No, the times, they have a changed. But on this one Sunday each year, we as a nation revert back to those times, if only in a nostalgic sense, when we are all doing pretty much the same thing at the same time. Not all of us, of course. If you're like me, you couldn't give less of a shit about pro football. Frankly, I don't even know which two teams are playing in the Super Bowl tomorrow. But it's never been about the football. It's about only two things: the ads, and the halftime show. Here, I'd like to focus on the halftime show.
In the beginning, the halftime entertainment was pretty much standard football fare--marching bands, flag brigades, you know. The usual. I vaguely remember some mish-mash of performers ("Up With People?") who reminded me of the albums I was listening to in the early 70s ("Free to Be You and Me" comes to mind). Then there were lots of Disney productions, and lots of military salutes. But then, in the early 90s, there was a shift. In 1993, Michael Jackson (yes, leave it to Michael) made his appearance, and began a trend (sometimes good, sometimes not so good) of halftime "performances," or "extravaganzas." Acts like Aerosmith, Prince, Diana Ross and Boyz II Men began to replace "Up With People," and the cash started flowing.
Wikipedia tells me that last year's Super Bowl halftime performance (by Madonna) was the most-watched performance of all time. 114 million viewers world-wide (about 3 million more than who tuned in for the actual game). This year, it's Beyonce's turn, and I have no dubt that she'll do well (in lieu of her lip synched performance at the Presidential inaguration a few weeks ago). It'll be stellar.
But, if you know me, you know that my favorite Super Bowl performance was way back in 2002, when U2 were summoned to rally us as a nation in the aftermath of 9/11. Yes, U2, with their jumbo-tron screen of the names of each victim, scrolling behind the stage. Sure, they're a bunch of smarmy Irish dudes, but who better to bring us together, as "One" (pardon the U2 pun). And bring us together they did. I dare you to watch the video and NOT be moved. From their opener "Beautiful Day," to the dream-like interlude that is "MLK," to their triumphant "Where the Streets Have No Name," the audience was whipped into a frenzy. And then, THEN, when Bono revealed the American flag stitched into the lining of his rockin' leather jacket, well...I was sold. Just one more reason why they remain my favorite band, doing what rock bands SHOULD do, and doing it with style and grace.
I won't be watching the Super Bowl tomorrow. If it's Sunday, it's Sarah's ski lesson day. But I will tune in to Beyonce's performance on the Web, to see how spectacular it is (was, by then). I doubt that it will be able to match what I witnessed in 2002, but I guess that's not really the point. Maybe the "point" is that as we as a nation become fragmented around so many divisive issues, disappearing behind our screens and our bunkers, never really needing to come up for air anymore, this annual event gives us an excuse to remember who we are and what we stand for. (And maybe that what we stand for is just an ode to unfettered capitalism and the entertainment industry. In that case, never mind...) Just watch this.