Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
People used to think, back in the ’90s, that the most entertaining thing about the Super Bowl was the ads. In retrospect, that judgment seems naïve and hasty, but we can’t really blame the ’90s for not having social media. In our new enlightened age of enlightenment, we’ve come to realize, I think, that live sports and commercials are both exceptionally boring. They’re both fairly scripted, after all—commercials are carefully honed by committees and focus groups to force you to open your wallet, obviously, but so-called “live” sports are narrated by paid shills and often broadcast on a tape delay to make sure nothing unexpected happens. Even pro football itself is seldom edge-of-your-seat stuff. The games are rarely close. The lead rarely changes. And often, as in Sunday’s game, it becomes a brutal, defense-driven affair, where plays tend to amount to lines of sweaty men crouching, running headlong into each other, falling down, and standing up again.
Say what you will, but maybe football’s the right metaphor here. Existence is struggle, and it’s embodied struggle.No, the actual excitement all tends to be on Twitter. I know I’ve previously said I’m not a huge fan of the Twittersphere, and while this is true, I still find Twitter a heck of a lot more interesting than a football game. So I rarely watch a game of sportsball without my laptop handy and open to the tweetyverse, scrolling endlessly through my feed, hoping to find someone who can explain to me what’s actually happening on ye olde TV and why I should care. I generally have rotten luck in this endeavor, getting distracted by the smörgåsbord of butt jokes that tend to fill up my feed. (What can I say? I know what I like.)
The night of the game I am legally barred from referring to as the “Super Bowl,” however, the website that was supposed to be entertaining me despite all the football happening quickly filled up with (mostly incredulous) retweets of a post about one of the ads. The odds are fair-to-decent that you’ve seen the tweet in question already. But, if you haven’t:
— NARAL (@NARAL) February 8, 2016
If my social media feeds are a representative sample, the ad in question ranked among the most popular of the night, just behind the PuppyMonkeyBaby ad for Doritos’ co-belligerent in the war for stoners’ stomach space, Mountain Dew. If you missed it, here’s a link. If you’re too lazy to click the link, here’s a summary: Pregnant woman is getting an ultrasound. Woman’s husband is eating Doritos. Child grabs for Doritos several times before inducing birth just to get his hands on some sweet, sweet nacho-cheese-flavored powder.
NARAL Pro-choice America (official motto: “We’re like the NRA, but with more letters!”) was not amused, because when every birth is a tragedy, how can you possibly afford to laugh at a chip commercial?
Their concerns were twofold: gender stereotypes and “humanizing fetuses.” I can probably get behind the first one. The uptight mother / clueless father dynamic has been done to death, even if it’s probably got some truth to it. (What if the mom had been the lackadaisical one eating chips? That could have been more interesting.) That “humanizing fetuses” thing, though? I mean…what? Even from a pro-choice perspective, damning the commercial on that ground seems pretty silly. It’s clear the fetus in question is full-term and “wanted”—if you can’t even “humanize” that fetus, what can you humanize? Some sort of inhuman puppy-monkey-baby-hybrid monstrosity, perhaps?
It probably goes without saying that the evangelical and Catholic corners of Twitter flipped out over this sort of tone-deafness. I’m not here to lecture you about abortion. The gap between a Christian understanding of life and a pro-choice understanding of it is so vast that there’s really not much to say. It’s abundantly clear to me that abortion is less a political issue than a cultural one—i.e., electing the right politicians won’t magically solve it. The solution will have to involve building a culture that values life for its own sake, which is likely to require multiple generations of work at a minimum and which butts up against core American values nobody wants to talk about, like consumerism, corporatism, and convenience culture.
Interestingly, though, it was another series of ads—and, yes, the Twitter response to it—that gave me a bit of hope. I’m talking, of course, about the “Super Bowl Babies” ad series, which—if you missed them—made the claim that the cities of championship-winning NFL teams tend to see a bump in births nine months later. The commercials featured choirs composed of these alleged Super Bowl babies, ages one to 49, singing, for no real reason, a rewritten version of Seal’s song “Kiss from a Rose.” (Seal was there too, I assume because the alimony checks from Heidi Klum aren’t quite covering his bills these days.)
The commercials were almost unapologetically weird, as if the NFL knew that there would be some resistance to their unambiguous celebration of the seamless garment of human life—the idea that life, marriage, sex, love, and procreation were all intrinsically linked, and that new life is something to be celebrated for its own sake rather than as a fungible commodity. Most of the Twitter reactions I saw were along the lines of “Thanks a lot, NFL, now I have to have ‘the talk’ with my kids!” All I could think was, Great. The earlier the better.
So many of us want to separate our lives into little antiseptic boxes. Sex goes over there. Kids over here. Ogling those NFL cheerleaders right there. That’s not how things work, though. Real life is gritty, and dirty, and grimy, with everything mixed up in the muck together. It’s full of triumph and defeat and the struggle to continue on, and…wait a second, did I just talk myself into appreciating football?
Say what you will, but maybe football’s the right metaphor here. Existence is struggle, and it’s embodied struggle. Intellectual assent to the playbook isn’t sufficient—it has to be lived out in blood and sweat and tears. This means embracing the body and using it, not fighting against it or trying to escape it making it irrelevant. Using it for love and intimacy and the creation of new life.
So as I switched off the TV, I turned to my wife and asked her if she felt like making a “Super Bowl Baby.” (We’re Broncos fans, after all. Or at least, so she tells me.) She turned me down.
Ah, well—the triumphs are meaningless without the defeats, right? Perhaps I need to work on my game.
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