The Super Bowl and the truimph of the mediocre
It was during the half time performance of the Black Eyed Peas last night, precisely when the dancers with boxes on their heads came out, when I realized I was in a very Devo set of mind, which is to say, really enjoying the de-evolution of culture as described by the band Devo. (Example: “Those two people over there in the polyester double-knit body suits driving that gas-guzzling Cadillac are more DE-vo than we could ever be.”) Some people would put boxes on their dancers’ heads to symbolize or represent something, to create an emotional impact with artfulness. BEP does it because why the fuck not? It’s truly beautiful, if you have a real appreciation for mediocrity, which I occasionally do, and why I have come to enjoy watching the Super Bowl. And last night was awesome, everything I wanted. Besides the actual game—the fact that football players are really good at what they do justifies everything else that happens around the game—last night was a glorious sea of mediocrity.
At its best, the spectacle of the Super Bowl proves the principle that aesthetics by committee will tend towards the mediocre, because that which offends no one will get more backing than that which is actually interesting. Of course, “offending no one” is another way of saying “boring”. Clay Aiken is the epitome of this principle, but last night’s Super Bowl really was competitive. The ads tended towards absurdity in an attempt to be eye-catching without having any of the bite that actual humor has. (One exception was the little kid playing at Darth Vader, which still had some bite in it.) The “jokes” in ads that dared to offend mostly were pretend daring to offend—sexist jokes that are less about having bite than about reassuring the lowest common denominator that all their vicious prejudices are still acceptable. But the cake of mediocrity was definitely that BEP performance. That was the most perfect “offend no one, entertain no one” balance of mediocrity I’ve ever seen. I mean, they had the word “love” all over the place—it’s unobjectionable, and in this context, utterly meaningless. Love? Who or what, to what purpose? I don’t know, but isn’t it a nice word?
They should have the Black Eyed Peas play every year, seriously. They’re the perfect halftime band. They can’t be too awesome, like Prince, which always causes complaints from the large idiot faction of the audience. But they didn’t make you want to hide behind your couch at the tragedy of it all, like The Who last year. They are white bread with butter: we can all tolerate it, but no one will really enjoy it too much.
Matt Zoller Seitz declared at Salon today that the Super Bowl spectacle (which is different from the game, which was actually interesting this year) is a temperature gauge of the national mood. And that would mean that the national mood is one of not wanting anyone to be too happy or too sad or too thoughtful or too opinionated or too intellectual or too stupid. The more meaningless and mediocre, the better. Add some sparkle to it so people don’t notice that it’s empty. It’s safer that way.