National Catholic Register


As the World Watched: The Super Embarrassment

BY Jim Fair

February 15-21, 2004 Issue | Posted 2/15/04 at 1:00 PM


Coming from Chicago, I'm accustomed to feeling embarrassed while watching sporting events.

We have a professional basketball team that can't shoot or dribble. We have a hockey team that can't skate. Our football team has a different quarterback most every week and a new coach every couple years. Our baseball teams … well, wait until next year. So I'm often embarrassed by the poor performance of the teams I root for. (Okay … we have a pretty good soccer team, but most Americans, unfortunately, don't care about the sport the rest of the world loves.)

I was looking forward to the Super Bowl. I wasn't emotionally attached to either of the teams involved, so I could observe dispassionately, appreciating the efforts of two great teams. So I plopped in front of the television Feb. 1 and prepared to enjoy 60 minutes of hard-hitting action.

I didn't expect to be embarrassed. But I got a lot I didn't expect.

The Super Bowl is no ordinary sporting event, of course. In fact, sometimes it is hard to remember it is an athletic competition. The pre-game show goes on for hours (but not with me watching). The post-game show goes on for hours (but not with me watching). The game itself takes about four hours to play, which means three-quarters of the time is spent doing things other than playing football.

There other things include commercials, instant replays, timeouts and the halftime show.

Ah … you knew I would get around to the half-time show. If you missed it, you are fortunate. If your children missed it, you are even more fortunate. It was a vulgar combination of obscene song lyrics, sexually suggestive dancing and nudity.

The most-renowned portion of the nudity occurred at the end of the program as a collaboration between Janet Jackson (the “undressee”) and Justin Timberlake (the “undressor”). The whole world was exposed to more of Janet's womanhood than most of the world really wanted to see.

But even before that crowning achievement of tackiness, the show had established a new standard for vulgarity approaching pornography on the free airways on a Sunday evening.

Judged by whatever community standards you wish to impose, the show was an artistic, cultural and broadcast disgrace.

Someone ought to be ashamed. Lots of people ought to be ashamed. But I'm amazed at the people who are not.

The quarterback of the winning football team said at the post-game press conference that he was sorry he missed the halftime show, given what he had heard about it. I suppose he can check it out on instant replay.

One of the Democratic presidential candidates said he didn't think it was such a big deal. Of course, he admitted that as a doctor he was used to seeing naked things. But I doubt he does his examinations on live television with millions of children watching.

The governor of Illinois was speaking to a high-school assembly the day after the Super Bowl. He said he was just kicking himself for having missed the halftime show. Was he sorry his grade-school daughter missed it, too?

Do you get the feeling we lost an opportunity for a little moral leadership here?

Someone once said that your true character is shown by what you do when no one's watching. What does it say for our character when someone does something like this when everyone is watching — and we defend it?

Yes, the halftime show offered a lot I didn't expect. Yes, I was embarrassed to watch it. No, I'm not an innocent just in from the cabbage patch. I've been embarrassed before. I've been around long enough to have done some pretty stupid things, things I'm embarrassed, even ashamed about. Luckily, I've never done them in front of a television audience of 89 million.

But this performance gave us all much to be embarrassed — certainly ashamed — about.

The Super Bowl is one of the few American sporting events that is seen around the world. Even within our country, it is one of the few things that all members of the family watch.

Young and old, male and female, sports fans and sports agnostics — they all show up to see this cultural experience.

This year everyone saw a good football game (cleverly slipped in around the commercials and promotions). The halftime show was an opportunity to showcase for the world the best America has to offer: the best music, the best dance, the best show-manship. The very best.

Instead, we showed the world the sort of thing a person might see in the sort of dives my mother told me to avoid. Instead, we gave the world “Victoria's Secret meets Marquis de Sade.”

I pray that next year the Super Bowl will be a vehicle to showcase the best America has to offer. The folks planning halftime should think like they are planning the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Give us a show that will bring a lump to the throat and make me proud to be an American.

Jim Fair writes from Chicago.