The Day After Yesterday
What a game.
In fact the cultural, political and social crossroads of the United States is no longer to be found in Times Square or on Pennsylvania Avenue. It's not on Hollywood Boulevard or out on Route 66 or even over on Main Street. It is wherever the Super Bowl is being played.
The question of how to be an American is no longer asked across the kitchen table or answered in the halls of Congress. Those questions are dealt with more effectively in the Super Bowl media center and the boardrooms above Madison Avenue. While you weren't looking, the NFL became our national metaphor for everything. From Sandy Hook to Camp Courage, the measure of America is football.
For the past 10 days, over some tens of thousands of grueling New Orleans expense account breakfasts, lunches and dinners, from behind a levee of beignets built against hangover, the national sporting media has wrestled and sweated every essential question. Race and opportunity? Here are 500 columns on the success and failure of the Rooney Rule. The rights and exclusions of gay Americans? Tolerance and intolerance? Here's Chris Culliver to assert, retract, explain and apologize in an afternoon. What does it mean to grow old and slow? Here's Ray Lewis doing the Antler Dance. Our battered national economy and permanent underemployment? Here's a clickable list of upcoming Super Bowl commercials. Concussion and the rule of violence and the truth of NFL medicine? Hey! Look over here! Here's another cool commercial! America: meritocracy? Or hereditary aristocracy? Here are a million words on the Harbaugh dynasty. What is the nature of identity and authenticity in the digital age? Here's Beyonce singing her press-room anthem live while we type up the story of Manti Te'o and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. She's even prettier in person!
To think that somehow appetite or corruption or drugs or love or sex or violence or greed or skin art deviate from the script of Super Bowl week is to miss the point entirely. That is the script, and has been for nearly half a century. It is our annual cultural revolution, televised. The game is the recurring sidebar, the afterthought.
But to hear the network news tell it, lately we're in serious trouble. Imprisoned behind walls of money and enslaved to fear, the United States is no longer governable. We're at an ideological stalemate.
So I propose we convene a national meeting the first 10 days of every February, to be held in the Super Bowl host city, to be chaired by football's great blond father and getter-of-things-done Roger Goodell and overseen by a press-box politburo, during which every national conflict shall be resolved by plebiscite or page views and after which, in order to ease the strain on the fragile world economy and the stress of our joblessness, we are returned to our storage pods until the following NFL season.
I understand that this idea will likely inspire a very great deal of fan fiction, most of it an alternative future history of the Second Civil War -- "CW II" -- in which the American East fights the American West. Not blue against gray, but Jims versus Johns, brother against brother as we play out again and again the backyard rivalry that set this nation ablaze. The Strategic Retreat to the Haight! Stonewall Joe Flacco Takes St. Louis! For this, I apologize.
But with a year or two of practice, we could get all the work of this country done in five business days -- with a weekend left on either side for the Big Game and a cookout or a sit-in or a national field trip to the Smithsonian or the Spearmint Rhino. With only a few changes to language and purpose -- i.e., the president shall make from time to time a "State of the Players' Union" address; activist back judges will face tough Senate confirmations, while partisan cries of "This is our House! (of Representatives)" ring from the arena steps -- we will at last arrive at a government of the football, by the football, and for the football. I give you The Peoples' Pigskin Congress and Super Bowl Internationale 2014, in which our every problem is solved and every prayer is answered.
So God will make a farmer.
Then God will make a car commercial.
Our reality in tatters, we long since decided that the last best chance for certain American archetypes to rise and be heard is during the Super Bowl. This we do in 30-second increments. Thus, in the same week we're reminded that more U.S. veterans commit suicide than die in combat, we muffle the drums and use their slow-motion homecoming to sell cars.
Still, what a game. And one day very soon the pomp of those old Roman numerals will be justified in full. Maybe with a special edition 50th anniversary Super Bowl. Proclaim it The Jubilee, to begin the year after next, the sabbatical year, seven years times seven years, the year of our coming home, the year of remission and universal pardon, of our return from alienation, the year of forgiveness and celebration and rest.
The year all of our fields lie fallow at last and we are all of us set free.