Last Sunday, America played America in the most American freedom thing you can ever watch because AMERICA.
This was only the second time in the last six years that I’ve been in the US to watch the Superbowl. Last year was the first time since 1997 that I missed it entirely.
So it was a bit more than a shock to realize how far the NFL and major advertisers have gone to tie football’s biggest game to freedom, honor, cars, guns, and (at least in the DC market) a virulent hatred for organized labor. Hooray for capitalism!
The game was so steeped in ‘Murica, that you’d be excused for thinking it a well-executed bit of parody or pastiche. It wasn’t, and that actually makes it all the more terrifying.
Advertising in America
How bizarre was it to see one of the 60s biggest counter-culture icons hawking Chryslers in one of the night’s most mind-bogglingly inane commercials. “Is there anything more American…than America?” I don’t know, Chrysler, is there anything more table…than table?
Way to take an object’s intrinsic properties to describe that object. You have just failed 8th grade English.
Chrysler’s commercial was ultimately just sad, representative of Dylan’s long decline into appropriated irrelevance. At least it wasn’t patently offensive, like Budweiser’s “Welcome Home” spot. While Lt. Chuck Nadd may have had a lovely homecoming, many more soldiers are met by a six-pack of Steel Reserve, a lack of job opportunities, a healthy heaping of PTSD, and months of bureaucratic wrangling to get their disability claims through the VA backlog.
We do our soldiers wrong by letting one man’s small town homecoming stand in for literally thousands of broken futures, all for the sake of selling beer.
Finally, the commercial that should have been the least offensive and the most empowering, Coke’s celebration of American diversity, came under assault from a full-color spectrum (okay, mostly white) of the country’s leading bigots. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been too surprising as there are idiots everywhere, and Twitter has given them a platform to make their voices heard.
Reading the Declaration
If I was disturbed by the amount of America in the advertisements, you can imagine my surprise at the reading of the Declaration of Independence before the game even started. Advertisers tried to sell their products by linking them to national fervor. If there’s anything more American than that, I don’t know what it is.
But what was Fox trying to sell?
Certainly there’s no harm in attempting to educate Americans (and others around the world?) about one of the country’s founding documents. However, that’s not all this broadcast did.
This was a political statement. Spliced into the middle of the Declaration was a spot from former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer extolling the virtues of our men and women serving in the armed forces.
To the casual observer, this may seem like a moot point, but to those who don’t remember the Declaration from eleventh-grade social studies, this aside is easily mistaken for something the founders wrote. There is no indication, in the clip, of when words written 237 years ago elide into modern commentary.
To Fox Sports, there is no separation between the military and the founding of America, despite the fact that none of the men who signed the document were military men. They were community leaders, politicians, merchants, and farmers. It ignores the fact that the volunteers who made up the continental army had various reasons for fighting, least of which may have been any of the lofty ideals stated in the Declaration.
And let’s get into some of those complaints against mad King George. Despite claiming to uphold the ideals on which America was founded, Fox cut out most of the reasons for which the authors of the Declaration claimed their right to secede. They’re shockingly similar to grievances other countries around the world hold toward America as the world’s sole superpower.
“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness in invasions on the rights of the people.” It was only recently that the CIA confirmed what everyone already knew – that they had overthrown the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953.
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.” The history of South and Central America during the Cold War is an interesting case study for US-backed juntas.
“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.” Considering Blackwater in Iraq, US troops desecrating bodies in Afghanistan, and collateral damage from drone strikes in Yemen and Afghanistan, there is little indication that military justice has ever been taken seriously.
“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.” Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo, well to get around to it anyway, not that any of that matters because few of the men locked away have ever been tried for anything.
We could look at these examples and claim that the lessons are not applicable, that American foreign policy does not apply to the lessons of the American Revolution. To that, one only needs to remember how radical a document the Declaration was at the time.
During the Revolution, Americans were insurgents. The Revolutionaries were terrorists. And we must remember that at least one of the founders’ complaints, that “[The King]…has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions,” is directly predicated on the genocide America committed upon native populations. The English crown attempted to keep American settlers from encroaching on and appropriating American Indian lands, and this (this!) was one of our complaints, “You’re not letting us steal land from the savages.”
The Military Message
The entire video is built on the belief that the military has kept America as a bright and shining example in the international sphere. It plays down the impacts of Americans who have not served but who have nevertheless built America into what it is today.
The military may have provided for our defense, but military leaders have also destabilized countries around the world, to the threat of America’s long-term security. Unnecessary wars in Vietnam and Iraq have claimed millions of lives that aren’t American and sown hatred for those who did the killing.
At the end of the video, the First Lady implores us to “do our part as well. We all can find new ways to salute the service of the troops, veterans, and military families who have given us so much.”
I’d like to find new ways to salute the service of our troops. Because right now, this self-congratulatory grandstanding isn’t cutting it. The continuous exaltation of the military inures the average citizen to the sacrifices that military men and women make that they should never have to make.
We don’t see the coffins come home. We don’t see the demons that come with PTSD. We don’t deal with the pain of waiting months for disability benefits to navigate the backlog of Veterans Affairs.
Moreover, the constant paeans sung to military men and women militarize our culture. They make it far too easy to approach each problem with a military solution, further endangering American troops and making the US even more unsafe. It prevents us from cutting military spending, which, as a substantial piece of the budget, creates a longer-term danger to the social contract – providing infrastructure, education, and health care to American citizens.
Finally, this full-blown military blitz creates an environment where criticism of this message is criticism of the state. Anything less than excessive patriotism is nigh-on a traitor’s game.
I am American. I have a voice and a view that isn’t Coke and Budweiser, Chrysler and Fox. So let’s tone it down a bit; take it down a notch. It is one Sunday in February. It is not the damn Fourth of July. Let’s get back to football, because this is just weird.
Photo: Anders Jildén
Sterling Carter writes on the intersection of political economy, arts and culture, and human rights. He has over five years’ experience on African development, violence and conflict with organizations including Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, and Search for Common Ground. He is originally from Flora, Indiana but pulled up stakes long ago.