The half-time show at the Super Bowl has become a spectacle that often outshines the actual football game. We have grown accustomed to watching an A-list musical act give a slickly produced, twelve-minute performance midway through the NFL championship game. It provides a pop culture counterpoint to the big game and all the million-dollar advertisements.
Michael Jackson kicked off the modern-era of pop superstars at Superbowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl in 1993, and the NFL has rarely messed with the formula since then. This year’s half-time extravaganza on February 3rd will feature the bootylicious tandem of Beyoncé and Jay-Z on stage at the Louisiana Superdome. America’s first couple of popular music seem destined to deliver a high-energy mix of live vocals and choreographed dance moves set to pre-recorded, synthetic R&B and urban beats.
But it wasn’t always this way.
For the first twenty-five Super Bowls, the half-time shows consisted largely of that staple of college football – marching bands. The theme of the performances would vary from year to year, depending on the venue. Themes included big band music or Mardi Gras for games in New Orleans, something vaguely Latino for games held in south Florida, and Disney dioramas in southern California. There were also far, FAR too many appearances by the wretched Up With People dancers that are best left consigned to the dustbin of history.
Since Jacko’s creepily spectacular appearance in 1993, a variety of acts have represented the shifting flavours of American popular music. Brief dalliances with new-country and soul eventually ceded the stage to modern R&B. The first decade of the twenty-first century begat a trend towards ‘classic rock’ acts like The Who, Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and the Rolling Stones. Most of these bands used their Super Bowl appearance as a launch point for a world tour.
Sequestered in a curlicued waiting room somewhere between classic rock and R&B was the jaw-dropping performance by Prince at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. Urban music fans and meat & potatoes rockers alike were left in awe of the Purple One’s raw musicality.
More recently, the irrepressible Black Eyed Peas got the big gig (apparently they weren’t scheduled to play a bar mitzvah or the grand opening of a new Costco that weekend). Last year, the human-shaped tube of cartilage and rib bones known as Madonna delivered a set that under-delivered on shock value but earned good ratings. The tag team of Beyoncé and Jay-Z will likely prove to be ratings gold in February, providing that Foxxy Cleopatra’s nipples don’t make an ‘accidental’ appearance on worldwide television.
On second thought – a wardrobe malfunction might be EXACTLY what some fraction of the viewing audience is quietly praying for this year.
While entertainment and spectacle is surely a big part of the Super Bowl’s allure, the championship game itself will always matter to the players, coaches, and football fanatics. Half-time is an important ritual in professional football. It gives the players a brief chance to get out of the spotlight, collect their thoughts, talk to their coaches, and make adjustments to whichever tactics don’t seem to be working. Teams will often come out of the tunnel to start the second half with a new game plan, which sometimes leads to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the Craven Hermit’s insular world, it’s half-time and the score feels like 28-11 for the other guys. Despite a decent game plan, the first two quarters did not go particularly well. I’m proud of my education and my relationships with my closest friends, and until very recently my career was on track. The most pressing problem is away from work, where the ‘offence’ is making virtually nothing happen. The first half was a litany of receivers dropping passes and running backs charging headlong into brick walls. So much potential, with so little to show for it. While the game is not over yet, some adjustments are needed before things really get out of hand.
In short, it’s time for an extended break to reflect and reconsider.
By the time this post hits the web, I’ll be on a jumbo jet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. I finally pulled the trigger on my dream vacation – a month of hiking and biking and other outdoor pursuits on a rugged island paradise. I’m normally a creature of habit, one that takes a perverse pleasure in the ritual of waking up in the same bed every day, going to work by the same route, attending the same meetings, and partaking in the same after-work activities. But all this order and structure means that every day is guaranteed to be an unfulfilling cavalcade of diminishing career ambitions and hopelessly asymmetric relationships. I simply can’t continue to come home to an empty house when there’s so much opportunity and potential in this world. One more day of the Tyranny of the Mundane and, just like the Ramones, I’ll be begging for sedation.
For the next month, I’m throwing Order out the window and embracing that fickle mistress known as Chaos. The hope is that a physically challenging adventure in a far-off land with total strangers will shock me out of my rut. With any luck, jumping head first into an alien world will grant me a fresh perspective on life and how to live it. At the very least, I will have some new tales to tell.
Life is kicking the Hermit’s ass, and the second half is coming up quickly. It’s time to formulate a bold new plan to get back in the game.