How I tried (and failed) to ignore the Super Bowl

Sadly, one of our last remaining communal experiences is also a bore

Call me a spoilsport, but I don’t have a TV, I don’t watch American football, and I don’t care for big entertainment spectacles.

All of which means, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl yesterday. That’s right: I missed Super Bowl XLVI, the most popular television show in American history. (How they set the record without me is a mystery.)

But here’s the rub: I may as well have watched the show, because I feel as if I somehow saw it vicariously anyway. It’s as if the crowd noise from the stadium was amplified through the broadcast media, then re-amplified through social media. Good luck ignoring that.

Consider Twitter, which I checked periodically until I realized it was swamped with commentary about the game. Swamped? At 12,000-plus tweets per second (TPS) by the end of the game, streams became rivers, and the social media service was deluged.

My single Tweet on the matter was a plaintive cry: Oh right, you’re all watching the Super Bowl. It’s embarrassing how little I know about bowling. It was ignored. I guess everyone else on Twitter was either watching the game, or tweeting excitedly about it.

Facebook, too. Friends who rarely post were suddenly in on the action, and folks who know nothing about football were virtually standing on their seats hollering—especially during Madonna’s performance, which registered a lowly 10,245 TPS. (That makes it third all time, behind the game, and an anime movie launch I really wish I’d seen.)

It was as if Madonna’ Super Bowl concert was an audition for “Earth’s Got Talent,” with a significant percentage of North America’s citizens functioning as the panel of instant experts, voting via social media. The conclusion? Madonna is somehow greater than Prince and Bruce Springsteen.

And there I was, watching a Springsteen DVD on my computer, like a chump. I should have seen this coming, and made arrangements to go winter camping, or spend the weekend at a Buddhist retreat.

The charming Budweiser video that made the rounds last week was a harbinger. Custom-made for Canada, the item featuring two rec-league hockey teams from Port Credit did its work well. If it didn’t sell Bud, at least it got people talking. Incredibly, this one got some of the country’s most respected pundits (not just peevish bench-warmers like me) weighing in. Even if they snidely spurned it, the effect was the same: virality doesn’t depend on approval.

As for the rest of the ads: oh, how sweet it must be for the marketing mucky-mucks, who spent an average of $3.5 million per 30-second spot on the Super Bowl broadcast. They didn’t just see their brands in the flickering blue light in every home in America; they bought themselves mindshare among the teeming hordes who are now discussing their gambits endlessly online.

P.T. Barnum must be chortling in his grave, as the rubes scramble to echo the pitches of the ad-men. Canadian culture-vultures even go to the trouble of googling the U.S. commercials they’ve missed, then tell all their friends which ones they liked best.

Despite the fact that I didn’t watch Sunday’s showdown, I know all this because I’ve absorbed it. (I even know somebody named MIA gave somebody the finger for some reason. Thank you, Twitter!) The Super Bowl is not just a television broadcast; it is a complex ecosystem.

By merely avoiding the broadcast of the match itself, I’ve nevertheless been exposed to all the key elements of the spectacle, except the one that ostensibly matters: the football game. Ironically, that’s the one part of the mix I might actually find interesting.

I don’t know why this bothers me. In a world where media is increasingly fragmented, the fact that a televised ritual—the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or the Olympics, to name a few examples—brings everyone together for an afternoon has a certain appeal. Surely there’s nothing wrong with a big chunk of the global population spending a few moments all on the same page/screen/stream/wavelength, for once?

I’m okay with that; I’m not suggesting anyone else shouldn’t watch the game, or jabber about it in whatever way they see fit. Go for it, people. It’s a free world, sort of.

It’s the corollary that bugs me: anyone who’s even moderately plugged in is experiencing the Super Bowl whether they like it or not.

I mean, look at me: I set out to ignore the thing, and here I am writing about it, churning out the latest, but far from last bit of Super Bowl chatter to make its way into the media.

What can I say: they got to me. So how ‘bout those… Bengals, was it? Boy, the, uh, Packers really didn’t see that coming, eh?

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