by Glenn Reed
(Swans - January 27, 2014) "Touchdown!"
I suppose that's one appropriate word for my feelings this time of year. During the football playoffs in this country, and especially in the hoopla weeks leading up to the National Football League's (NFL) "Super" Bowl, I certainly do feel alienated. Or literally like an....alien.
I just don't get it. The hoopla, that is.
"What are you doing on Super Bowl Sunday?" virtually everyone asks.
Staying as far away from a TV as I possibly can, I think. Maybe going for a run, reading a book, playing the guitar. Actually, I'll be working when the game is on, so that saves me. Hell, we just survived the succession of consumerism-driven holidays at the darkest time of the year and what is looming on the brightening horizon?.
Super Bowl Sunday. The steroid-filled relative of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
I start to notice the days lengthening with sunlight, but others see that afternoon and evening filled with big screen TVs, ice colds in the fridge, BBQ chicken wings, "clever" commercials that fog the boundary between being "entertained" and being nothing but a gawking consumer target audience. This is followed by the spectacle, the show, the Roman Coliseum where it's "us vs. them" and everyone emerges either a complete winner or a loser.
Ah yes, the ultimate glorification of capitalism and competition!
I walk into a local general store and encounter an older man and a college student in a heated argument. One's a New England Patriots fan and the other dares to root for the Denver Broncos on "enemy" territory. They almost come to blows.
I'm at my job and a co-worker asks me "do you think we'll beat them on Sunday?"
What is this "we," anyway? I'm not sure about her, but I don't believe that I am playing in "the game." Nor do I think that multi-millionaire players and even richer football team owners really think of us as part of the team, except as noisy accessories to put the other team at a disadvantage in the case of the former, and sheepish sources of additional revenue for the latter. Not to mention those TV execs and corporate advertisers for whom football fans are just more pockets to be picked.
The living room in my brother's house is filled with several guests. I strike a nerve, unintentionally, as I walk by them. Only because I'm not the least bit interested in the game on TV.
I honestly feel that in their eyes I AM an alien.
They're garbed out in "their" team's jerseys. Both women and men. Okay, more men than women, but the latter are just as tribal with this stuff. Their eyes are pools reflecting bantering, suited commentators in hours-long pre-game shows; corporate logos plastered on everything until contained in every camera shot; corporate hegemony propaganda cleverly disguised as cutesy (multi-million dollar) commercials; gargantuan men celebrating their outsmarting their opponents (the "other") with juvenile dances and trash talk; scantily-clad women ogled by beer-belching male "fans" wearing ridiculous outfits that you would expect in a Halloween parade.
"We're gonna kick some serious ass today!"
Male macho language. The patriarchy. The tribe. You all belong. "We are the (fill-in-the-blank with a team name) Nation!"
WE are part of something bigger than ourselves. And greater than our mundane (the powers emphasize) daily existences.
All you have to do is don the colors, sport the logo, yell the cheer, and you are one too. Oh, you may not be making $10 million a year and you may be parked on a lounge chair instead of cramped into a hard seat under the elements in a giant bowl of mass hysteria, but you belong! Or you can be one while gathered in a dingy bar on a street corner. Or while negotiating potholes in your electric wheelchair, the tribal colors flying high in a banner. Or while in gridlock on the freeway, with your "United in Orange....or Green....or Red...." bumper sticker creating common ground with the vibrating SUV next to you. You wave and give a thumbs-up to the other tribal members. See the colors and the mascot? Just ignore those other little logos that represent the hidden powers behind the spectacle. Never mind when they segue to "drive this," "insure that," "medicate this," and to "these colors don't run" and "United We Stand."
"Oh, give it a rest!" I tell my inner cynic. After all, everyone deserves to escape once in a while. Why begrudge this opportunity to leave your troubles behind? Don't worry...just be a fan.
Who wants to think, 24/7, about corporate rule, climate change, piles of unpaid bills, years of under-employment, mortgage debt, leaky pipes, and that strange rattle in your car? This is harmless escapism: like watching a special-effects-laden Hollywood flick. Or playing a shoot-'em-up video game. Or drinking yourself silly with a six-pack of cheap beer.
Just wait for that instant replay. In slow motion. Speeded up. Rewound and replayed again and again. Instant gratification digitized and home-delivered just for your consumption. How many times does your brain register that little logo? On the uniform. On the background sign. Popping up in a corner of the screen or crawling across in text on the bottom "brought to you by...." Just push those thoughts aside and become one of us!
Just dance after every great play, just like your idols. Spike that football. Rub the enemy's nose in the dirt. The hell with good sportsmanship, humility, and other loser qualities! They won't get you anywhere in the wondrous world of the free-market system. They won't fight terror. They won't get you that promotion! Encourage your kids to do the victory dance too, then go out to buy NFL action figures.
Then I question my sincerity as well. After all, I was a Boston Bruins hockey fan for most of my life. And I think of my activism and past union involvement. What is a large protest but a way to validate feelings and feel part of something bigger? Like a tribe. The tribe of fighting climate change or ending racism.
And what do union members do but wear colored shirts with logos and cheer in unison? Tribal as well.
Ah, but both have a goal and aren't about escaping....but about engaging. They don't turn the thought processes off. Or juice it with steroids.
I'm leaving the living room and the football game behind. No one makes eye contact as I meekly escape from the ultimate "man cave." No one speaks. I'm not....one of them, so I deserve no more.
I shut the door on a kaleidoscope of editing, flashing, constant movement, and bombardment of noises that tense your whole body. I'm outdoors and breathing in the brisk winter air, hearing little but a chickadee "chick-a-dee-dee-deeing" on a maple's bare branch. A flash of red indicates a cardinal flying off from the backyard bird feeder.
I'm outside that mainstream. All alone.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. He currently resides in Fair Haven, Vermont. (back)