Depsite my classical inclinations, I don’t claim to be pop-culture free. I grew up watching NFL football with my dad (who was a star at quarterback in college back in the 60’s and almost signed with a couple of NFL teams). It’s gotten unbelievably crass and commercialized and obsessive, but then so has the rest of pop culture. And in the meantime the on-field product (as measured subjectively by the enjoyment I get from watching the games) has increased almost non-stop. It’s incredibly popular in the US not just because it’s slickly marketed (which it is ) but also because, if you enjoy sporting spectacle, it’s just fun to watch.
Watching the NFL is also something of a calculated decision. I “indulge” in the NFL once a week, for 5 months out of the year (and many Sundays I don’t watch because of work or other obligations). The rest of the time, I check up on a few blogs here and there and basically ignore sports and other pop culture until September rolls around and it’s time to hope against hope, once again, that the Seahawks somehow miraculously win the Super Bowl… or at least their season opener.
I watched the Super Bowl today, a high-stakes rematch of the 2007-08 game between New York and New England. It was a great game, with some memorable points. New York won in a nail-biter. I watched with a buddy, who is like-minded. We turn down the sound during the commercials and just chat, barely looking at the screen. Then the game starts again and we grab a handful of popcorn and turn up the sound and focus in again. Not for everyone, I understand, but for him and me, it’s a nice way to pass an afternoon together.
The halftime show was by Madonna. It was bizarre. We hadn’t planned to watch at all, but as it turned out, we left the TV on and listened to some Wagner (it wasn’t planned… but I have been listening to the Ring Cycle this week (Solti’s recording) and wanted to share some with my friend) — some of the middle section of Die Walküre.
As all these halftime performers do, Madonna seemed to be performing some cobbled together medley of her biggest hit songs. But what I observed was how incongruent the overall effect was. In the space of 12 minutes, she attempted to hit several different moods. They all seemed false, except for the first one.
She came out on a royal chariot, a goddess of egotism and perversion. She is 53 and still trying to be a sex symbol. It’s vulgar when a 22 year-old woman acts the sex kitten on television, but at least she can have real animal appeal if she has a pretty face and a sexy body. There’s something truly disturbing about a 53 year-old trying to be a sex kitten. (My friend remarked that an acquaintance of his mother, a seventy-year old woman, recently got breast implants!)
The theatrics here aren’t bad. That headdress might look pretty great on Brünnhilde, actually. But of course, Madonna is only partially referencing a classical or pagan goddess. She’s no Brünnhilde, no Freia. She’s not even an Astarte.
The sexuality and slavery is there though. She entered on a golden chariot pulled by a troop of what appeared to be some sexualized mash-up of Roman legions and Trojan warriors.
Oiled-up muscle men.
This is the only part that rang true. She seemed perfectly in her element to be playing the part of sadistic sex goddess (other than, again, the jolting incongruity of her post-menopausal status).
From there it went into some happy-hiphop dance routine on sports bleachers with breakdancers in track suits (track suits with musical notes emblazoned down the sides!). Then came some cameos of current pop-trash stars, including “M.I.A.” who flipped her middle finger at the camera, and Nicki Minaj (she of “You a Stupid Ho” fame), and some other weirdly coiffed rappers that I have never seen before… I’m sure they’re big stars). There was some sort of bizarre cheerleading/booty-dancing troupe of fine young American “ladies” who’s majorette-uniforms and gold pompoms cleverly echoed the Trojan warrior slave guys of a few minutes before.
Finally, out came another star, Cee-Lo Green (who can actually sing very well), for a kind of gospel-inflected religious service.
Complete with choir (surprisingly, there were mostly white people in the choir). For half a moment we turned on the sound, but it was dreadful, so back to Wagner it was.
Anyway, it was so strange to see her (Madonna) try to go from man-enslaving pseudo-sex pseudo-goddess to reverent, joyous praiser of love and togetherness. The stage flashed the letters L-U-V over and over, and ended with electronic doves spelling out “World Peace.”
Truly bizarre. Not that I’m surprised of course. It was just rather striking. “Luv” is probably appropriate word choice, though. It’s not Love. It’s Luv.