We LOVE our Superbowl! If you haven’t noticed, the last two weeks have been full of Superbowl everything: Pepsi halftime hype, Arnold in a wig shilling beer, media day, another media day, and all kinds of speculation over who’ll win. We place our bets, whether big or small (I myself will be forced to make my specialty dessert if my team loses), wear our team colors (I never knew so many Seahawk fans lived in NorCal), and stock up on beer, chips, and salsa (let’s not forget the layered bean dip). We joke about calling it a National Holiday and secretly thank the work gods that we have Sunday’s off. We plan where we’ll watch the game (the friend whose house has the biggest flat screen), and today, we’ll spend four fretful hours rooting for our favorite team…blissfully happy if they win, miserably humiliated if they lose.
Lets go back in our not too recent memory of another national pastime: our last presidential election. Sure, the process is longer, we spend months instead of just weeks hyping up the big day, we wear our team colors with pride and argue with friends about whose offense is best. We decorate our yards with signs, our cars with stickers, and our national conventions are circus wonders (have you seen what some of those people wear?). We listen to talking heads on the t.v. make this or that prediction, their predictions and analysis disturbingly similar to the conversations studiously churned out by the NFL network .
In his book “Griftopia,” respected columnist Matt Taibbi makes this very comparison between our obsession with a sports event and its eerie similarities to our current election process:
“We get a beautifully choreographed eighteen-month entertainment put on once every four years, a beast called the presidential election that engrosses the population to the point of obsession. This ongoing drama allows everyone to subsume their hopes and dreams for the future into one all-out, all-or-nothing battle for the White House. a big alabaster symbol of power we see on television a lot. Who wins and who loses this contest is a matter of utmost importance to a hell of a lot of people in this country. But why it’s so important to them is one of the great unexplored mysteries of our time. Its a mystery rooted in the central horrifying truth about our national politics…..Which is this: none of it really matters to us. The presidential election is a drama that we Americans have learned to wholly consume as entertainment, divorced completely from any expectations about concrete changes in our own lives. For the vast majority of people who follow national elections in this country, the payoff they’re looking for when they campaigning for this or that political figure is that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when the home team wins the big game. Or, more important, when a hated rival loses.”
Think about this while you watch the game today and consider our mentality towards our politics. This past election did we revel in our victory or did we pout in defeat? Did we choose our candidate carefully based on his past performances instead of what the media presented to us? Did we research to find out the team histories: which has a better record with national deficits for instance? If our candidate lost, did we find it in ourselves to at least rally around the one that did since obviously the majority of our compatriots thought he was the right one – or did we choose instead to miserably accept the outcome and wait for the next big game, uh, election. Did we buy into the losing team’s excuses or did we hold them accountable for their failures? If our team won, have we blindly followed them to the trophy house or do we call them out if they overstep the bounds of privacy and drone use? This is exactly the mentality that Taibii examines and it’s effect is damning. He goes on:
“Their stake in the electoral game isn’t a citizen’s interest, but a rooting interest. Voters who throw their emotional weight into elections they know deep down inside won’t produce real change in their lives are also indulging in a kind of fantasy. That’s why voters still dream of politicians whose primary goal is to effectively govern and maintain a thriving first world society with great international ambitions… What voters don’t realized, or don’t want to realize, is that that dream was abandoned long ago by this country’s leaders who know the prosaic reality and are looking beyond the fantasy into the future, at an America plummeted into third world status. ….Our leaders know we’re turning into a giant ghetto and they are taking every last hubcap they can get their hands on before the rest of us wake up and realize what’s happened. …In the new American ghetto, the nightmare engine is bubble economies, a kind of high-tech casino scam that kills neighborhoods just like dope does, only the product is credit, not crack or heroin. ”
Let’s think about these words for a second “America plummeted into a third world status.” There’s our horror story: From top to bottom in just a couple of short centuries. We need to wake up.
We need to pay attention. We need to realize (myself as well) that we get so caught up in the game that we forget the stakes are high, a matter of life or death to our nation. We need to do our research. On a weekly basis I encounter two or three conspiracy theories on my Facebook feed, full of fear mongering, conservative anxiety, and meant to keep me distracted from the real issues. ARE there FEMA camps throughout the U.S.? No, but our congress is allowing Wall Street to write legislation, effectively making us a plutocracy. IS there Fukushima radiation in my milk? No, but I do know that the NRA is mostly funded by ….. gun companies and so their interest in gun legislation is certainly monetarily based, not second amendment sanctions. Did Phil Robertson have his constitutional rights violated? Not in the least, but our voting rights are being carefully restricted in thousands of counties. Does the ACA have an exception for Muslim believers? No, but I do know that those states whose governors have chosen not to enact the law have millions of Americans who are without medical coverage. We interrupt the news because a celebrity was arrested but few people notice the signs that another financial bubble is already starting to arise. Are you getting it yet?
We always have a choice. We have the choice to make a difference or ignore the evidence and await disaster. Either way, the burden falls to us to dispose of our cheerleader/spectator role and become well-informed citizens who vote not because we want our team to win, but because we desire a nation that functions for the people, by the people instead of for the corporation, by the corporation.
Enjoy the game today kids, but as we watch, let’s keep in mind Mr. Taibbi’s comparison with our game mentality towards elections. It is my sincere desire that we learn from this lesson so that we may build a better nation to leave our children, and perhaps avoid a true American Horror Story.
Choose truth…however hard you must dig for it….
Taibbi, Matt. Griftopia: The Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History. Spiegel & Grau, New York, 2011. You can also read Matt’s blog at the following address: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog