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Where I live February is the lousiest month. The shortest, but still the lousiest. In ordinary winters, the snow by now is gray and hardened into a crystallized rind. The sky is gray, the wind relentless, as they have been for two months now. Plus, my teaching schedule winds up an intensive three-week course late in January only to start up a new semester with a whole new slog till May as the calendar turns to February. Energy’s down out there among the desks; hope and dedication admit of doubt in the podium.
True, in West Michigan, this has not been an ordinary winter. Green grass has been visible more weeks than not since Thanksgiving. Plus, we have the every-fourth-year folly of presidential primaries for amusement and diversion. Except there’s been nothing funny coming out of the Republican offerings this cycle, only a parade of clowns, empty suits, and passion for all the wrong causes. The saving grace, I suppose, has been that the utter vacuity which “Christian Right” or “evangelical” politics has come to is now plain for all to see, maybe even for some Evangelicals. Sad, though, that so much hope and earnestness find themselves after all these years beached on the bloviation of the great whale Gingrich—all rage and frustration and free-floating animus leaking out into racist insinuations.
Plus, presidential primaries mean it’s a leap year, and that means an extra day in February, which brings us back to the lousiest month. Yet, if politics has come to be pathetic, the relief for the mid-winter blues cooked up by the market mavens is remarkable. (Never mind that politics is pathetic in no small part because of its capture by just those mavens.) That relief, of course, is the country’s #1 holiday, Super Bowl Sunday, coming to your television in just two days. Catch it early; coverage begins at noon for a 6:30 p.m. kick-off.
The excess of the event—in its preparations, the commentary it inflates and dilates, the advertising for which the whole business exists—all this is familiar enough to need no additional commentary. But its religious dimensions merit some reflection. It is in both literal and figurative senses a feast day, and it is worth noting what is being celebrated.
Feast day literal—two centimeters added to the average American waistline over night in an orgy of beer and tacos and buffalo wings drenched in blue cheese. Feast day figurative in the panoply of gladiators laying it all out on the sacred turf, dedicating the last full measure of devotion to moving the holy vessel into the Celestial City of End Zone. There the bearer of the Grail dances with panache enough to match David shaking his groove thing before the Ark of the Lord. Meanwhile, from the sidelines viewers teased and our warriors urged on by the sweet gyrations of the Vestal-Not-So-Virgins.
Up in the stands America’s saints are sighted by the roving eye of the TV god: saints political, saints commercial, Saint Celebrity, plus the special saint elevated to deliver the ritual incantation at the Halftime Show. Then it’s back to the gladiators, playing the #1 Sport in America, a game that conservative commentator George Will once aptly characterized as committee meetings punctuated by violence. A sport for the Superpower, from Super Bowl I in 1967, a big Vietnam build-up year, to, now, XLVI, in the first year after Iraq and—purportedly—the year before it starts to end in Afghanistan.
Back to the contest. When the end has come there must be a special one lifted high above his fellows. That is, the Winning Team must have an MVP. The knight above all knights, the Winnerest of Them All, the image of what we are and what we must become. And what says our Champion upon receipt of The Prize? A formulary most canonical: “I’m going to Disney World!” That is, the #1 Male on the #1 Team in the #1 Country must hie himself to America’s #1 Pilgrimage site: the favorite place of those just married and of those about to die, the Beulah Land of the Family Vacation, the dream space for everyone. For a utopian community Disney World is, just the sort of utopia that America loves—a rigorously planned, scrupulously clean, privately owned, and immensely profitable paean to American fantasy. “When you wish upon a star,” Saint Walt the Originator promised the American public long ago, you have identified what you are, and what you inevitably will be. Because you deserve it. Because you’re good. And because a dream is all you have in this sweet land of liberty.
Especially in February.