[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just to let those of you in New York City know, I'll be appearing with the remarkable journalist Jeremy Scahill, just back from the frontlines in the Global War on Terror and author of the bestselling book Blackwater, on Friday, February 10th, 6 to 8pm, at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University -- 7th Floor Commons, 20 Cooper Square (Bowery at 5th Street). For directions, click here.
The event is a launch for my new book, The United States of Fear. I'll read a piece or two and then Jeremy and I will have a conversation about our work and our world. It's free and open to the public. Hope to see you there! Tom]
Are you on tenterhooks? Will Mitt make it out of the Cayman Islands and into the White House? Will Newt take the full "wild and woolly" ride on the primary roller coaster to the Republican convention? Will the two of them and their PACs eat each other alive by next week? Will Rick and his single Wyoming funder hang in there until his "man on dog" sex comment finally fades from Google? And Ron Paul -- yes, we're on first-name terms with the other three, but not Paul, the guy who insisted he'd be home reading an "economics textbook" while other Republican candidates piously opted for watching a football game -- will he continue to make statements about U.S. global policy that would normally send a Republican to hell? And honestly, did you really imagine that Elizabeth Warren wasn't going to have something strong and supportive to say about the Pats in the Super Bowl, after the previous Democratic senatorial candidate blew her chances with a dismissive comment about Fenway Park?
You thought I was talking about American electoral politics? Not at all. I'm discussing the latest version of The Amazing Race. And if you're like me, don't you miss the contestants who have already been eliminated: Herman ("Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan rdquo;) Cain, Michele (who mistook a serial killer for a movie star) Bachman, and the other Rick, whatever-his-name-was, the Texan who just couldn't count to three?
I mean, aren't you having a blast watching this bread-and-circuses spectacle, which in January captured a staggering 41% of the combined media newshole, 64% of cable TV's? There's a headline a second, a new poll a minute, an angry set-to an hour. With only three primaries and one caucus out of the way, the Republicans have already had 19 (count 'em 19!) televised "debates," and my hometown paper is running daily front-page stories about the race with double- or triple-page inside coverage. In a season when spectacle and Super Bowl normally go together, the entertainment extravaganza of the moment remains the race for the White House -- and in football terms, we're still in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
I mean truly, did you ever dream that a moribund Democratic presidential race and a Republican one led by Mr. Mitt, the plastic quarter-billionaire, would be competition for that single holiest night on the sports calendar when everyone but the Giants, Patriots, and Madonna is expected to couch out? Fortunately, we have TomDispatch Jock Culture correspondent Robert Lipsyte, author most recently of An Accidental Sportswriter, to remind us that, whether you're watching a Republican debate or the Super Bowl, it's wild and woolly America all the way to the end zone. Tom
Four Reasons to Watch the Super Bowl
Joe Hill, Joe Pa, Tebow, Wee Brains
By Robert Lipsyte
Most Americans won't need a justification to watch Sunday's game, but if you're a TomDispatch.com reader you might think, even in passing, that celebrating the holiest day of violence, consumerism, and class warfare on your couch is a betrayal of your values or a waste of your time. You might even imagine that it would be better to take a hike, read a book, or meditate.
Not this Sunday, buster. It's an election season. You need to watch this game to fully understand how jobs, religion, leadership, and healthcare dominate every American contest.
1. Joe Hill will be playing: Where else will be you be able to watch more than 100 young men, most of them African-American, working for high wages in a totally unionized shop? True, their jobs are dangerous (more on that later) and relatively short-term (typically three or four years), but they are also high profile. They can lead to TV gigs, even political office. Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp became a Republican congressman and vice-presidential candidate. The former New England Patriots running back and ESPN analyst Craig James is currently running for the Republican nomination for Senator from Texas, although to less than universal acclaim .
Fans tend to fixate on the money and glamour of the football job, so that when this past season was threatened by labor-management strife, it was easy for National Football League lackeys to frame the confrontation as "millionaires versus billionaires" so the rest of us thousandaires wouldn't stand with the workers against the bosses.
Even with a progressive attitude, watching the Super Bowl, which seems to float on rivers of oil -- think car ads -- and beer, is not exactly like holding a OWS-style general assembly in the red zone. Nevertheless, it's a terrific visual of the American class divide. In their skyboxes, usually in jacket and tie, eating, drinking, and high-fiving -- or scowling -- are the one-percenters who own the team, which is usually not their only source of income.
Below them, on the field, are their employees (many of them temporary one-percenters, given the median league salary of at least $560,000), using up the capital of their bodies. If you want to root for the Patriots or the Giants, fine. I'll be rooting for the working class.
2. Tim Tebow will not be playing: Thank God. The season's most hyped player -- the NFL published its first magazine last month with Tebow on the cover -- has the looks, personality, and backstory of the clean-living, principled, athletic role model we've been told we need to help raise our children. Born in the Philippines to Baptist missionaries who refused to abort him despite his mother's illness, Tebow led the University of Florida to two national championships and became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, college football's top individual prize. He also refused to be considered for Playboy's annual all-American team because the magazine's values conflicted with his Christian beliefs.
Tebow was a star attraction of the 2010 Super Bowl -- in which he didn't play. (He was still in college.) He appeared in a commercial for Focus on the Family in which he tackled his mother. The ad generated intense controversy because of the group's stand against abortion and same sex marriage. Neither issue was explicitly mentioned in the commercial, which marked the first time CBS had broken its rule against ads from advocacy groups.
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