Shock and Awe - Halftime at the Super Blow

Photo by Phil Bonyata

The sad, sick realization hit me about the same time the guacamole & bean dip encrusted nachos settled unpleasantly in my stomach: I had promised my bosses at the website that I would write a column on the music at this year's Super Bowl halftime, and frankly after watching the extravaganza, was unsure as to just what exactly I would be able to say about what I had just witnessed. Unfortunately, for a person living as precariously from column to column in the guise of a "writer" as I do, I had no choice but to try to interpret the blurred Rorschachs of my thoughts into something somewhat resembling cognizance. Besides, the Bonyata Brothers and their "associates" have been known to break legs in defense of their unyielding stance on meeting deadlines.

Janet Jackson I must admit to having watched every Super Bowl that has ever occurred. No anti-sport sissy here, I once noted that sports seemed to be the only place you would see black and white males patting each other on the butts (this was when I was young and naive and unaware of leather bars like The Manhole); but the point remains that although I love all the major sports: baseball, basketball, women's synchronized water tennis, even hockey, I grew up during the golden age of football, and it remains my favorite to watch, even as I sometimes find fault with my own questionable attachment to one of the most violent sports that exists. I started young - we used to spend countless hours playing football with the old neighborhood gang (in those days a less threatening designation), pouring over detailed statistics and glossed-over bios of our favorite players - hell, I even remember betting marbles on games in Sunday School with my buddy (the late) Rob "Flipper" Frandsen. Man, I really am going to hell, aren't I? But this Super Bowl was going to be different as I intended to watch the show in a sober state and make notes on the musical show for my readers' edification..

The best laid plans often fall astray, however. No - I did not fall off the wagon with a resounding crash - rather my living room was invaded by a horde of young men and a woman - none of whom cared not in the slightest about my beloved game. Outnumbered, I was relegated to the puny spare television the size of a toaster (and with similar reception) and "sound off" as they popped in a recently acquired DVD of "Pirates of the Caribbean." Lest you find me weak-hearted, let me assure you that my alpha-male testosterone would have carried the day had I been so inclined. It was however, merely the pre-game, and I did not find the wooden puppet president currently on screen very amusing (although it was amazing how you never saw Dick Cheney's mouth move), and I am well aware that when the female is kindly providing the food, to make compromises. Unfortunately, the invasion of youthful disruptors did stymie my half-hearted attempt to hear the country western pre-game medley. So although, I did not actually hear it, and I am not a fan of either country or western music - Willie Nelson looked great - and it was a pleasure to see someone on the screen who looked older than yours truly.

Mascara-ed Johnny Depp's adventures were subsequently interrupted by Aerosmith (sound up!) - who looked and sounded good, although one of the clueless youngsters asked "what's wrong with his (Steven Tyler's) lips?" Oh the young and foolish - to not know of the infamous "Frogmouth of Boston." Booty-licious Beyonce followed with a pleasant treatment of that old drinking song - the Star-Spangled Bannner, respectful enough not to offend your local VFW members, with just a hint of show-offish-ness to show she could. That show of rapturous love and honest devotion in her moist, beguiling eyes could almost covert the most cynical, but one word always returns to break my beneficent spirit: "performing."

So the game opened amidst pageantry, whilst Disney's friendly dead pirates were busy cutting throats, and I am happy to report that after a few false starts an actual football game between the Militiamen and the Large Black Cats did indeed break out in President Oil's town of Houston. Of the quite entertaining game itself, I shall speak no more. Instead, let us all try to make sense out of the strange scene that unfolded at halftime.

First of all - the choice of Janet Jackson as headliner was more than a bit bizarre - I mean Rhythm Nation is so 1989. The tone-deaf accountants that run things must think they're finally getting hip now that they're a mere fifteen years behind the times, just when the rest of us are hoping hip-hop has finally breathed its last artificial breath. Oh well, I guess they were hoping for some bounce from all the tabloid level pub her creepy brother has been enjoying lately. Like - how many people will tune in just to see the special guest - could it be the gloved (alleged) child molestor himself? - show up at the freak show. How American!

Amid a mass of smoke, dancing and flag waving, Janet segued into P-Diddy - looking snarky as always, in a very un-PC fur coat - strolled the walkways - adding nothing in the form of musicality. The seriousness with which he presented himself only added to the unintended humor of the event, in which androgynous dancers dressed as Clockwork Orange goons (with matching toga-style t-shirts no less!) tried to out-Fosse Bob Fosse's sexy choreography from the 70's through even odder bodily contortions and epileptic gyrations. The twisted totem phalluses erected on the four corners of the stage (from which hung wiggling dancers) left no doubt as to the underlying premises of the exhibition. Fellow no-talent Nelly (Whoa Nelly!) exhorted the crowd to take their clothes off - why was it such a shock when later they did? As for P-Diddy and Nelly - every culture has their clowns - just don't confuse it with music.

Perhaps the most offensive part was the completely incongruous cut from the hip-hoppers to white trash Kid Rock in his American flag poncho who led the boot-stomping of the Third World to the repeated refrain of "Cowboy." And you wonder why the rest of the world hates us? We spend enough on entertainment (of the lowest denominator) than most countries have for a health budget. To side with Bowie - "I'm afraid of Americans."

The backlash over surprise guest, Justin Timbercrank's unharnessing of Janet's breast is fascinating and reveals the personality split deep in our culture. Here we spend tons of money promoting sex and violence, and a woman's single bare bosom disrupts an entire nation. Where are the protests over bombing orphanages or the expenditures of massive funds to get our energy companies to the moon (so they can control the helium-3 energy that will put oil out of business)? Where is the outrage over Bush's "oops we goofed" on weapons of mass destruction? It's okay to dance suggestively, and sings sounds about sex and do each other doggy-style onstage (as Justin was doing to LaToya I mean Janet), but a natural body part cannot be shown. Good lord! We are still performing rites as old as the ancient Dionystic ones - dancing and beating drums and working ourselves into a frenzy (remember the women who tore the first rock star/ androgynous love song singer/lute slinger extraordinaire - Orpheus apart), but our Protestant heritage (the Protestants broke from the mother church partly over the lack of morals shown by the Popes and their gangs) reigns us in through our definition of sin and memories of the lash and the stock. The throat cutting pirates and gun wielding cowboys can wallow in blood for children's wide-eyes, but a woman's body is an evil since Eve. Some will point to the jeweled star the mock-offended singer wore to cover her nipple (doesn't every woman wear them?) as evidence that said feat was planned in advance (it has certainly raised it's share of controversy around water coolers these days), but I am mainly offended that my reception was fuzzy at the moment of the unveiling - a sure sign of a conspiracy by the network.

Long ago, a powerful civilization used bread and circuses to keep their populace in place. The rich and powerful continue this trend to this very day. And yet we totter on - a great civilization, rich and conceited, brash and vain and uncaring, dangerous and in danger, feared, yet fearful - above all divided, yet whole. We are Sparta and Athens combined - the warrior mentality tempering our love of the sensual. We rise up in orgiastic surges in huge coliseums like those Romans and Greeks before us, but our violence and sensuality is kept tempered by our conformity (as in the choreographed marchers and flag-twirlers) and civilized/Christian fear of the primal/animal. It is fascinatingly hideous and appealing to watch. It is spectacle.

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