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Super Bowl portrayed as a "Mythic Spectacle"

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

The Super Bowl is a "peculiar" American event because its popularity lies only in the United States and not within the international community like soccer's World Cup, said Dr. Michael Real, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Last Tuesday evening, Real spoke to a standing-room only crowd in McGuinn 121 about how the Super Bowl reflects American culture.

Of the top ten most-viewed programs in television history, all ten are Super Bowls. Real said that this is a major American cultural indicator and he highlighted several functions that make the Super Bowl a "mythic spectacle."

"How do we get into the game?" asked Real. "Well, this year, if you are an Oakland Raider fan or a Tampa Bay Buccaneer fan, there is no question how you get into the game. You are a fan of that team."

Real said that personal identification with a team primarily comes from one's region or locality, whether that is a city, state, or region as is the case with New England Patriots fans. Likewise, one can identify with a team because of a player's upbringing or style. Other reasons include heroic archetypes or players that jump out of the game and seem larger than life.

The Super Bowl maintains a "communal focus," where fans gather before, during, and after the game not only to watch the game and advertisements, but to come together as a group.

Real also spoke about basic values found in football that relate to American society. He said that football is based on territory, as one team tries to move down the field and push the other team into the end zone with a touchdown.

A second major structural value of football is time. Without the clock, the game would never end, whereas in baseball a player ends the game by making the final out. Real said that the great importance of time in a football game reflects current American society.

"How appropriate it is where we all have a time piece attached to us and football's Super Bowl is our big event," said Real.

Real discussed how football, as a male-dominated sport, relates to gender in American society.

"The number-one media spectacle in our culture is, in fact as such, the celebration of a male-only activity," said Real. "This is a big problem."

Real pointed out how the role of race in football is disproportional. He said that the majority of the players are African-Americans; however, few coaches and executives of higher rank in an organization are African-American.

"Count the number of African-Americans on any National Football League squad and you'll see that probably two-thirds or more [are African-American]," said Real. "Clearly, blacks have had lots of opportunities; so have Hispanics, Samoans, and other minorities who can play the game.

"But when you get to the upper levels of power, you notice a shrinking of the power ... you see that it is a whites-favored enterprise. I'm not sure if this is a very flattering picture of our culture."

Real discussed the expensive advertising surrounding the Super Bowl and pre-game hype. "Yesterday, USA Today says it will cost 2.1 to 2.2 million dollars for 30 seconds of airtime. It is our largest annual audience. Last year it had 131 million viewers and was the fifth most-viewed program in all of television history."

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