Friday, February 11, 2011

Forget The Single Wing! This Blog's Runnin' A Left Wing Double-Review Of Super Bowl XLV

Today, this blog offers a belated corrective to last week's Faux Network cablecast of Super Bowl XLV in Jerry World. That entire football-a-palooza played as if it had been choreographed by Monty Python. The Dubster was sitting in a luxury box feeding popcorn to A-Rod, or something like that. Bizarre singing performances before the game and at halftime were so bad that this blogger couldn't make it up. If this is a (fair & balanced) revelation of folly, so be it.

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[1] The Super Bowl O'Socialism — David Sirota
[2] The People's Victory — Dave Zirin

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The Super Bowl Of Socialism
By David Sirota

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The Super Bowl has become a true televisual non sequitur — a bizarre "Rocky"-style montage mashing together as many divergent strands of American culture as possible.

This year's blockbuster was no exception. There was former President George W. Bush sitting next to coach John Madden, who was obsessively texting. There was actress Cameron Diaz feeding popcorn to baseball bad boy Alex Rodriguez. There was Christina Aguilera belting out a "Naked Gun"-worthy version of the national anthem. There was even a melding of hip-hop, hair metal and sci-fi, as the Black Eyed Peas joined Slash for a rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine" — all in front of neon “Tron” dancers.

This was a bewildering assault on the senses, to say the least — and nothing was more singularly mind-blowing than the NFL using a Ronald Reagan eulogy to kick off a sports-themed tribute to socialism.

Reagan, of course, made his political name regularly invoking the "s" word to demonize government. For such bombast, he gained many followers, most of whom nonetheless cherished the doctrinaire socialism that undergirded their communities in the form of public infrastructure and services.

This Reagan-inspired paradox of cheering anti-socialist platitudes while supporting socialism in practice was the tale of Super Bowl XLV. The game began with a jubilant Reagan biopic that approvingly flaunted his red-baiting past, including his 1964 warning about America "tak(ing) the first step into a thousand years of darkness." The game ended with victory for professional sports' only publicly owned nonprofit organization, the Green Bay Packers — a team whose quasi-socialist structure allows Wisconsin’s proletariat to own the means of football production.

Green Bay's win, though, doesn't tell the Super Bowl's entire socialist tale. The game was held in one of the NFL's government-funded stadiums. Additionally, training for many Super Bowl players was subsidized by taxpayers when those players honed their skills at public high schools and universities. Meanwhile, fans arrived at the event on public roads, the contest was broadcast on public airwaves, and the Navy spent $450,000 of public monies flying jets over the game in order to stage a momentary TV image.

Except for the Nation magazine's Dave Zirin [below], none of the major media examined any of this. The Super Bowl was presented as a seamless jaunt from Reagan hagiography to trophy ceremony with no mention of the socialist context. Why?

Some would argue that the sports commentariat was laser-focused on the game itself. Others might say that in trying to break the players’ union, NFL management intentionally trumpeted an anti-union president — and the management-worshiping media avoided highlighting the Reagan celebration’s underlying hypocrisy in order to avoid humiliating the owners.

Both theories are likely rooted in truth, but there was something reflexive at work, too — a deliberate self-censoring.

Yes, even though we clearly embrace socialism in everything from professional sports to telecommunications, the politicians and corporations who frame our public dialogue have long stifled honest discussions of our socialist reality because they know such discussions would show that America primarily champions a particular form of socialism -- a corporate socialism leveraging public resources for private profit.

Like the few municipal services that still remain in today’s era of Reaganomics, the publicly owned Green Bay Packers are a rare exception to this norm. That's why the story of the team's organizational structure is suppressed — because it shows the most important question facing our nation isn't about accepting or rejecting socialism. We've already accepted it. Instead, the real question is about what specific type of socialism we want: the current kind that works only for those in the luxury box, or the kind that starts working for the rest of us? Ω

[David Sirota attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he earned his bachelor's degree with honors in journalism and political science. Sirota is a political journalist, nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist and bestselling author living in Denver, CO. As one of the few national columnists living and reporting outside of Washington, DC, he is widely known for his coverage of political corruption, globalization and working-class economic issues often ignored by both of America’s political parties. David Sirota is the author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government—And How We Take It Back (2006) and The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington (2008).]

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Fox Be Damned: Why A Packers Victory Is The People’s Victory
By Dave Zirin

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The 2011 Super Bowl was between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers — two squads whose monikers speak to their roots as factory teams in the industrial heartland. As these teams prepared to face-off in the almighty spectacle that is the Super Bowl, the game's pre-game show involved a salute to Ronald Reagan on his 100th birthday. Considering how Reagan gutted the aforementioned industrial heartland, a more appropriate pre-game show would have been an intimate meeting at the 50 yard line between a Reagan- disguised tackling dummy and fearsome Steeler James Harrison. [The Black Eyed Peas at halftime, however, made me long for another Reagan tribute.] It was also, by the way, Bob Marley’s birthday and I’m going to guess that far more Super Bowl parties in this country reflected Marley’s legacy than Reagan’s.

But it wasn’t just the film tribute that reminded viewers of the Reagan 1980s. The sheer tonnage of militaristic bombast with patriotic trimmings was like "Top Gun" on steroids and may have seemed over the top to the Gipper himself. Viewers were treated to a reading of the Declaration of Independence, coupled with Marines marching on the field, coupled with that twit from Glee singing "America the Beautiful," coupled with more shots of the troops, coupled with a damaged Christina Aguilera stumbling through the National Anthem. By the time it was done, I was ready to get an American Flag tattoo and send my taxes to Hosni Mubarak like a Fox-Approved Good American. But fortunately for my sanity, I was watching the game with the DC Chapter of Iraq Veterans Against War at their annual Demilitarized Super Bowl Party. The vets, who booed every time Fox tried to use the troops to build its brand, made it clear that real war in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t have a damn thing to do with what the broadcast was selling. As Geoff Millard of Iraq Vets Against the War said to me, “We love sports but hate the way it's used and hate the way the soldiers are used to sell war.”

And yet somewhere amidst the noise, the smoke, the Reagans, and the Black Eyed Peas, a football game actually broke out and it was a dandy. In every previous Super Bowl, no team had ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit and before you could blink the Steelers were down 18, 21-3. This was thanks to two costly interceptions by Pittsburgh quarterback and twice-accused rapist Ben Roethlisberger. An electric interception return for a touchdown by Green Bay safety Nick Collins reminded a lot of us why we love this game in the first place. But Pittsburgh is a team with two-dozen players who were part of their Super Bowl championship team two years ago and they refused to quit. The game winded down with Green Bay leading 31-25 and Pittsburgh having the ball with just two minutes to play. Green Bay’s defense held and a fantastic game ended as the Pack came away with the win. Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers was absolutely brilliant completing 24-of-39 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and winning the MVP.

Yet for all the celebration of the Packers and their history, there was one brazen decision made by the show's producers and announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman that was an insult to everything the team stands for. Often, the Super Bowl includes numerous shots of the two teams' owners fretting in their luxury boxes like neurotic Julius Caesars. But the Packers are a team without an owner. They’re a community-run non-profit owned by 112,000 fans. Rather than celebrate that fact, Fox didn’t mention the Pack’s unique ownership structure once. They also then didn’t include shots of the Rooney family, the most celebrated ownership family in the NFL.

After the game, during the traditional passing of the Lombardi Trophy to the winning team’s owner, the award was handed to the Packers “CEO and Chief Executive Officer” Mark Murphy who barely looks old enough to shave. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as he threatens to lock the players out, clearly wants to hide the truth that the Packers have no single billionaire owner. They want it hidden because the team from Green Bay stand as a living breathing example that if you take the profit motive out of sports, you can get more than a team to be proud of: you get a Super Bowl Champion. It aint Tahrir Square, but it’s something in our over-corporatized, hyper commercialized, sports world, to cheer. That is reason enough to celebrate the fact that the Lombardi Trophy has finally come home to Titletown. Ω

[Dave Zirin is The Nation's sports editor. He is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports (2007) and A People's History of Sports in the United States (2009). His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports and The Progressive. Zirin graduated from Macalester College in 1996.]

Copyright © 2011 Dave Zirin

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