“Part of the main plan of imperialism… is that we will give you your history, we will write it for you, we will re-order the past…What’s more truly frightening is the defacement, the mutilation, and ultimately the eradication of history…”
--- Edward Said
It would be hard to imagine any ardent advocate of the military/industrial complex not reveling in what the Super Bowl has become --- a veritable marketing orgy of violence and consumption --- advertisers spending millions per minute to pander to our desire to own more stuff while fighter jets roar overhead reminding us of how the right-to-stuff is protected. Why must a football game become a vehicle for materialism and the power that defends it? I like football, played it pretty well in high school, and still think that in spite of the performance enhancing drugs & obscene salaries, the game itself is one of the few more or less honest of our mass cultural diversions. But the integrity of the game itself drowns in the toxic soup of values being dished up.
However, I have no need to belabor what should be obvious to anyone.
Instead, something far more insidious was presented to the world minutes before the opening kick-off. A short video, 111 seconds, narrated by the actor Michael Douglas, portrayed The Journey of American History --- its culmination being Super Bowl XLV.
The video consisted of a quick series of icons, both events and people, from our history, each one meant to strike a chord of collective pride, courage, triumph or suffering. In quick succession we saw in black and white the Statue of Liberty, suffragists marching, an image from the Dust Bowl, a landing craft at D-day, John Lennon’s image on a peace poster, JFK at his inaugural saying, “Ask not….,” MLK, Jr. intoning, “I have a dream…,” Rosa Parks, the Challenger lifting off, someone pick axing the Berlin Wall, the floods of Katrina, FDR speaking, Muhammad Ali gesticulating over a downed opponent, Ronald Reagan smiling, Lindbergh, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, a similar flag raising at 9/11, Amelia Earhart, Ray Charles, the moon landing, a scene from the Depression …. I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Michael Douglas’s minimal narration began by saying that this was our journey. And after Dr. King’s image, Douglas picked up the theme of the dream, our dream & our belief in that dream. With the images of 9/11, he said that this was our darkest day…. But the flag as still there! He said, “We never give up. How could we?”
And then the video shifted to the teams in the Super Bowl. Douglas said that tonight we are united in the journey of these teams as quick images of chicken packers in Green Bay and a steel mill in Pittsburgh flashed by. Douglas said that dreaming and believing have brought us to this moment of collective celebration and that that is Our Journey.
That’s our journey? It began with the Statue of Liberty? Not with the genocide of Native Americans, slavery and the crucial assumption that nature was to be feared, conquered and exploited? If I claim that I am telling you about my journey, and tell you only the good parts, what have I told you? What have we learned about the nature of journeys?
If I tell you that my darkest day was the time I was victimized and fail to mention the time I victimized someone else, what do you think I have learned from my experience?
More importantly, the video portrayed a series of American moments and heroic people and equated them with the Super Bowl as though they are all on a continuum of social progress and equally indicative of our finest character. In the parlance of our time, it was simply a portrayal of connecting the dots: Statue of Liberty, suffragists, FDR, D-day, JFK, Rosa Parks, MLK, Jr. … Super Bowl. All on the same line, of equal weight. If this is the trail of dots we need to follow, it’s a trail that leads us deeper into the dark woods, not out of it.
Obviously the Super Bowl is an excuse to celebrate materialism and militarism. Weren’t those two of the “triplets” (the other being racism) that Dr. King identified as being the forces that were destroying the values of this country and leading us to spiritual death? Many of the dots in that time line figure one way or another in the struggle for some kind of justice. How does the Super Bowl do that? It does, but only if you consider the real triumph of this country not its democratic values but its economic system, capitalism. And you can’t tell the difference.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King described the American Dream as consisting of the “riches of freedom and the security of justice.” The blatant message of Super Bowl is the freedom of riches and the justice of security. Very different things.
People, like many of our students today, who know little history except for the façade of history, and people, like many students today, who have not been taught to think deeply, would accept the message of Michael Douglas’s version of our journey. Without any critique, it felt good.
Who wrote that script for him?
Clearly its intent was to equate the apotheosis of violence and consumption with the struggle for social justice. Its intent was to drain the real courage and meaning of our most important and most necessary social struggles by equating them with corporate power --- corporate power being the same force that did and does impede social and economic justice. The video’s intent was to show that the behavior and interests of Halliburton are on the same moral timeline as the behavior and interests of Rosa Parks.
We generally think of imperialism, as Edward Said was when he made the comment above, as the military/economic process of one country exploiting another. Imperialism, though, is the same within a country. Propaganda and false history, combined with poor education and a corporate press, are used to subjugate people to the benefit of their own powerful elites. It stinks. It stinks in Iraq and it stinks in Wichita.
Douglas said, “We never give up. How could we?” Give up what? Fighting for justice or fighting for profit? His choice of words reminded me of another person who asked the same question. Dorothea Lange went into internment camps in the western US during WW II where our government had imprisoned Japanese Americans. She photographed what was being done to these people in the name of the freedom of security. She went to bear witness. Most Americans had no idea nor wanted to. Fear justifies most anything and denies the consequences. After being there & witnessing this crime against humanity, Dorothea Lange said, “This is what we did. How could it happen? How could we?”
What is our journey?
I know little about Michael Douglas except that he is a fine actor and that he recently survived a bout with serious throat cancer. I suspect that both of those factors made him a good choice as the narrator for this bit of dangerous propaganda. Conquering a deadly disease tends to add credibility to one’s professed integrity. But with this video he was helping to proliferate a cultural cancer that is destroying us all.
I noticed that he was sitting right behind George Bush and Condoleezza Rice in the luxury boxes.