This Week I Quit The Super Bowl
For the first time since the age of nine I’m not watching this year’s Super Bowl. This long, unbroken streak contains a lot of memories, but the way the experience has changed suggested it was time to rethink giving up a day of my life to this distant sporting spectacle.
How I Fell In Love With The Super Bowl
As a kid I was obsessed by sports. Actually, I was obsessed with living life to full. It’s just that growing up in Australia, sports were the main cultural fascination for most males, the only topic of conversation besides girls, music and the surf.
American Football wasn’t a sport I played, but it did occasionally appear on our TV screens, a bizarre foreign spectacle with arcane, hard to follow rules. Its otherness made it fascinating. Its tactical complexity made it feel like a puzzle waiting to be solved.
Not that the sports I played competitively were any less odd. Football might be the world game, but in Australia and the US, where it has always struggled to become mainstream, it’s called Soccer. Cricket, perhaps one of the popular sports in the world, by sheer number of fans, is almost completely a mystery to people who grew up outside the former British Commonwealth.
And, what can we say about Australian Rules Football? A rugby-like game played on a field as vast as a polo ground, with a fluid set of rules, scant regard for human safety and rather fetching uniforms, short shorts and tight-fitting sleeveless tops, that no doubt add to it’s “spectator appeal.”
The Ever Evolving Super Bowl Party
The Super Bowl used to be shown on TV down under on the last Monday morning of summer school holidays, which was often also a public holiday. So, as I got into my teens it felt like a natural occasion to gather a few friends and watch the game. The broadcast would cut to a local studio at half time and we would head out into the backyard to play our own pickup game, trying to emulate the skills we saw on TV, before remembering there was still half a game to watch back inside.
The sport didn’t really become any more popular over the years. Coverage of the regular season seemed to chop and change from station to station. The timing of the games made it hard to follow and the local press (and generally Anglophile orientation of the culture) meant it got little attention.
But, in the own corner of the country, the “Super Bowl Party” kept growing. Hot dogs, BBQ, Coleslaw and a quick pregame run down of the rules greeted more and more friends every year. It was a fun tradition I took with me when I loved to London, introducing it there to a new set of friends, then doing the same in Delhi.
In recent years I haven’t thrown a Super Bowl party. For many people I know it’s a working Monday. While some prefer to watch the game at big events, like screenings at pubs or American clubs.
Also, hosting people at home has become less of a priority. This started in Hong Kong, where I experienced people regularly turning down invitations to dinner or events at my place. I cam to understand this was a cultural thing, a product of living in a city where most people had tiny apartments and couldn’t reciprocate this kind of hospitality. But, at the time, it hit me hard. In my culture, rejecting a invitation to someone’s home is like rejecting their place in society, it is akin to shunning them.
So, for the last few years, it has just been me alone in front of the big screen TV, hot dog in hand, wondering why I keep doing this.
What Is The Super Bowl Today
Of course, the Super Bowl isn’t just a sporting event, it’s also a celebration of US culture, or at least, a particular slice of popular consumerist culture. The digital stream from nfl.com includes the ads and half-time show and in this dual-screen, social media age, the online running commentary about these side-shows is often just as engrossing as the game itself.
However, most of the ads are silly and quickly forgotten. They don’t seldom if ever represent the best the advertising industry has to offer. Most advertise products and services we can’t get outside the US and the ones we can get are best left on the shelf.
Even the half-time show seldom lives up to the hype. There have been stellar exceptions, Prince’s blistering 2007 show comes to mind, but most feel flat, forced and contrived. Very little of what I see in the half-time shows speaks to what I love about music, either as an art form or a form of entertainment.
But, this year, the question of what exactly is being celebrated felt even more acute.
In the days before the US election I started to wondering about what it might mean if Donald Trump won. While most polls were still predicting a Clinton win, it was clear the election was going to closer than anticipated, and the trend had consistently showed when during the regular news cycles Trump would seem to close the gap on Clinton, with the gap only really widening when the media was forced to make direct comparisons between the two candidates, such as doing the party conventions or during the debates.
The day after the election I thought seriously about boycotting the US. After all, I had done it in the past when I country had acted in unethical ways and it felt inevitable this new US government would enact unconscionable laws.
My daughter talked me out of it. She reminded me that hurting the American friends and colleagues I support, buy from, and work with would be out of character for me and that that despite this result there was still big slices of US culture and history that I loved.
So, I decided rather than reject everything American, I would be more selective, letting less of the US in, for a while. America’s is cultural footprint around the world is vast and perhaps, in this current moment, unmerited. Thos of us in the “rest of the world,” which of course is really, “most of the world” gave up so much of 2016 to worrying about the US election, because in very real ways we all have stake in the outcome.
But, we also give up a lot time to consuming US culture simply because it’s convenient, readily available and so temptingly packaged. Given the current state of the US it might be worth questioning this. Why, as a Chilean living in Japan do I watch American TV shows instead of Scandinavian ones (or for that matter, more Japanese ones)? Why do I read American newspapers instead of Spanish ones (or again, more Japanese ones)?
And, why I do still watch the Super Bowl (and talk about it on Twitter before, during and afterwards)?
No More Accidental Decisions
Quitting the Super Bowl isn’t about sport. I went to my first live NFL game in October 2015 (a last minute Giants win over the 49ers) and had a fantastic time. Sport plays a smaller role in my life than it did but still remains something I enjoy.
Quitting the Super Bowl is about rejecting accidental decisions. The Super Bowl parties were fun, but I don’t need to watch this year’s game, to honour the memory of the ones I enjoyed watching in the past.
I’m acutely aware, as I write this, that friends and family, not to mention the vast crowds on my Twitter timeline are gathering to watch and comment upon the game. I don’t want to surf this wave just because it’s there. I want every choice to actually be a choice I make, a choice consistent with the kind of life I’m trying to live. If I long ago decided to not to have cable TV, or be on Facebook, when why I am going to be part of this grand cultural circus?
If I could do a Super Bowl party again like the ones from my youth, no social media, just the friends in the room, great food, a half-time game amongst ourselves, then I would do it, for sure. But, those innocent days are gone. I’ve changed, the Super Bowl has changed and the world is not the same.
This Week I Quit is an occasional series where I try, in a personal way, to address the habit of overcommitment. Each time I quit something, it could be an app, a habit, a possession, a word, anything that had a hold on my attention. I explain why I made the choice to quit and what it was like. Last time I Quit 2016 and you can read all the posts in this series here.