The first dilemma, in a word, is that we have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature. It could be that in the next hundred years humankind will thread the needles of technology and politics, solve the energy and materials crises, avert nuclear war, and control reproduction…But what then? Educated people everywhere like to believe that beyond material needs lie fulfillment and the realization of individual potential. But what is fulfillment, and to what ends may potential be realized? Traditional religious beliefs have been eroded, no so much by humiliating disproofs of their mythologies as by the growing awareness that beliefs are really enabling mechanisms for survival. Religions, like other human institutions, evolve so as to enhance the persistence and influence of their practitioners…
Thus the danger implicit in the first dilemma is the rapid dissolution of transcendental goals toward which societies can organize their energies. Those goals, the true moral equivalents of war, have faded; they went one by one, like mirages as we drew closer.
Edward O. Wilson, from On Human Nature, 1974, page 3.
The Super Bowl seemed glum (and not just for the commercials, but for that, too). And way less than Super, though I’ve never really considered it much of anything except just another football game. Don’t get me wrong, I love football, or did, before it was feminized to flag football death by Roger Goodell and the NFL. And I used to like (not love, mainly because of its routine failure to live up to the hype) watching the Super Bowl, but it is always a bittersweet experience. The Super Bowl means that football is over for another seven months, and before it comes around again there will be the added misery of an Alabama summer to endure. But football is mostly over in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl anyway, so the game itself is like a Fat Tuesday feast before the deprivations of Lent arrive.
Which almost works literally, as the Super Bowl is usually pretty close to the beginning of Christian Lent. It’s why if anybody asks what I’m giving up for Lent, I always tell them football. It usually gets a laugh. I’m not of a denomination that does the Lent deprivation thing, so don’t feel compelled to actually take the season too seriously. But I hope people who do take it seriously aren’t offended by my mild blaspheme. At least Catholics don’t often breed suicide bombers or holy assassins for the faith. Not anymore, anyway.
The Super Bowl seemed glum because it seems to be bumping up against Wilson’s observation of mankind’s first dilemma. It didn’t seem to have a point. Or that what little point it might have once had has been fulfilled, many times over, particularly so far as how ridiculous a spectacle a pop singer can make at halftime. I really wish for a halftime show where they’d have some folk singer come out and play an acoustic set of his hits while sitting on a wooden stool. Or maybe have marching bands from the high schools in the communities from which the teams hail. The over-the-top halftime extravaganzas long ago turned ridiculous just for the point of spectacle, something like leisure suits in the seventies and skinny jeans today. I really like Katy Perry, not as a singer but mainly because she’s cute, but I thought she mostly just looked awkward and ridiculous Sunday night. To what end was the spectacle of her show directed? To prove that she could be as mindlessly outrageous as the next female pop star? And Lenny Kravitz had less than no point. In a kindergartner’s puzzle, he would have been the answer to the question of which piece didn’t belong.
The Super Bowl’s pointlessness seems indicative of the whole culture. The US no longer has a point. It has mainly solved the serious existential challenges facing its citizens, so now it thrashes about trying to also solve their higher-order challenges, like cajoling men to quit beating their wives and children, or finding ever more specific and narrow interests upon which to bestow civil rights (transgendered dogs might yet have their day in court). Every goal, every dream we could have possibly dreamed, has been achieved, or almost achieved, just as each one faded into a mirage of illusion. What’s the goal of next year’s Super Bowl? To be Supier even than this one?
Even the football was boring and predictable. Except for two plays, which sort of canceled each other out—the one where the Seattle receiver juggled the ball above the ground before making the catch at the five, and then the one where Seattle lost the game on an interception at the one—it looked like each team was painting by numbers. Which they were, because that’s how championships are won, but the notion isn’t novel anymore. Play good, boring, defensive-minded football and you’ll sometimes have a shot at winning a championship. Yeah, I get it. Move on to the next moral football principle steeped in profundity. But I did love that it was mostly dull football because it shows Roger Goodell that no matter all the pass-happy rules changes that are made, so long as football is football, i.e., so long as it involves blocking and tackling, defense will win championships.
But football generally, and halftime shows particularly, are just entertainment. They are attempts to fill the empty times between the fulfillment of our material needs. They so fanatically strive to be spectacular because they stand in defiant opposition to the first principle of life—that there is no discernible point to it. Entertainments are surrogate religions in this regard. If the point of life isn’t going to just be lunch (as I’ve said many times over that it was) because lunch is too easy to obtain, then it must be football, or halftime extravaganzas, or taking selfies of the fun that was had, or making sure the lunch is all organically grown breads, meats and vegetables whose source farmer is known on a first-name basis.
I know there is no point to football but I love it anyway, and for all the wrong reasons. I love the violence, the bone-crushing hits in the open field and the constant hand-to-hand war going on in the trenches. I love the thuggish attitudes of the guys who play the toughest positions, like cornerback and linebacker and lineman. I don’t love, but don’t dislike either, the quarterbacks and wide receivers. They seem to be a necessary nuisance. I love the tough running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacey, who punish opponents that suffer the audacity of trying to tackle them. And though I know there is ultimately no point to football, it nonetheless strikes an existential chord deep within my soul. I intuitively know that football is something very similar to the battles my hunter/gatherer ancestors had to fight in order to survive. I have never felt more alive than when I played it. And I never feel as alive today as when I watch it.
What I don’t like is when football is coopted by people trying to ease their own existential angst by making some social point. Football hasn’t a thing in the world to do with women’s breasts and how they sometimes grow cancerous, or with cancer generally. It hasn’t a thing to do with whether a man beats his wife or his children. It hasn’t a thing to do with whether a man smokes a little weed (but it does have something to do with whether he takes drugs that affect the game, i.e., PED’s). Half of the organizations wanting to make their points at the expense of football use its popularity in doing so.
Let football be. Don’t treat it as a social laboratory like politicians like to do with the military. Football should not be whored out to the services of social organizations in a vain grasp for popularity. Football should not be concerned with its popularity at all. People originally loved it because of the bone-crushing, woozy-head-inducing, mock combat that it is. It will cease being football, and thus being popular, when its primary focus is entertainment and not playing the game. Tweak the rules every now and then as needed to keep things in balance, but quit trying to Progressively reengineer the game to suit feminists tastes. Feminists won’t be satisfied until the expression of every specifically male attribute, like superior athletic ability and the stamina to endure pain, are outlawed in all arenas, not just football.
Though the feminists would surely disagree so long as football continues as a thorn in their Progressive sides that needs excising, there are no transcendental goals to which the US can organize its energies. It is as secure in its existence as it possibly can be. Transcendentalists looking for a purpose shouldn’t be allowed to piggy back their contrived goals on football’s popularity. Let them kvetch about hating the game, but at least give them something brutal and violent that’s worth the trouble.