Thousands have assembled. They walk in throngs towards the gathering place, all donning the same colored robes. A tonic is being drunk by all, and foods eaten only at festival times like this are being heartily indulged in. The ether is buzzing with a chatter that carries an heir of hope and enthusiasm about the day’s ceremonies. Some have anxious faces, others’ demeanors are stoic and grave, propounding the importance of the gathering.
Now in the center of the multitudes one man is standing in robes distinctly different from all the rest, and in his hands he holds the Idol. Upon seeing It, the chanting begins; it is sporadic at first, with gesticulations barely decipherable above the buzz. Soon though, everyone becomes aware that the moment has arrived, and each individual understands it is time to act as One.
The most enthusiastic members of the congregation are now jumping up and down, shouting, “OOOHHHHHH,” which reverberates an undulant quality. As if having waited for this fervor to develop, representatives of the two denominations now walk to stand on opposite sides of the man with the Idol, and he acknowledges their readiness by lowering the icon using a single hand.
At this move the “OOOHHHHHHH” builds to a climactic frenzy. Every parishioner amongst the 20,000 assembled is meditating with every fiber of their being and hoping that the vibration of this incantation wills their desire into being; however, suddenly the idol flies upward! Tossed above the representatives’ heads, each now leaps to claim that most coveted object.
Tip-off of course, is just the beginning of a basketball game. Dozens of times throughout the day, the masses will begin to chant in unison. At certain intervals, “D-FENSE” will be thundered in the dome with the hope that the opposition’s attempts to score will be thwarted. No doubt the official will be collectively “BOOOoooed” at various times for his inability to properly engage his senses in the observation of events. And if there is a particularly dynamic individual on court, “MVP” might become the chorus of the day. Each of these different mantras is invoked circumstantially, based on the situation and the desired outcome.
Perhaps, though, my verbiage has been unfairly applied? I believe I was supposed to say ‘gear’ or ‘jersey’ or ‘apparel’ rather than ‘robes’. Robes sounds a bit cultish. ‘Idol’ too. That’s a heavy word; ‘ball’ is easier on the ears and mind. And parishioners, or rather fans, certainly don’t ‘chant’. They cheer, and drink beer, not ‘tonic’.
“The similarities between sport fandom and organized religion are striking. Consider the vocabulary associated with both: faith, devotion, worship, ritual, dedication, sacrifice, commitment, spirit, prayer, suffering, festival, and celebration.” That’s Daniel Wann speaking this time, not me. He’s a leading sports psychologist. Though the comparison might be uncomfortable for some, how we relate to sports and God are in many ways the same, as Wann and co-authors point out in the book, Sport Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators.
The parallels of praise and play became clear to me on a recent trip to India. Amongst a crowd of 300,000 who had gathered for the spiritual New Year, I immediately recalled a few weeks prior when I had been at the site of 2012’s Super Bowl.
Hundreds of thousands of people had traveled from every part of the world and descended upon Middle America during the weekend of February 5th 2012. Parking spots were going for $200 a spot that day, while entrance into Lucas Oil Stadium for five hours and Harvard for a year were pricing out evenly.
Quarterbacks, Eli and Brady, were back on the slate to toss it out. America had watched once before as the putzy, unassuming, almost shmuckish Eli had smited the Ubermensch Brady in his quest for world domination. Many biblical scholars have noted David wouldn’t stand a chance against Goliath if the big guy had a second chance; so, it was expected Eli and his Giants could look forward to a thorough trouncing at the hands of Brady and his Patriots this go round. There was little expectation from anyone but Giants fans that the game would be much to watch.
Indeed, the Super Bowl itself is historically a lopsided affair; so, the wisest watchers do so from the comfort of their favorite drinking establishment – their house or otherwise. Factually, the greatest value in entertainment is available to the stay at home Super Bowl viewer. When, where and how else can one enjoy a $220 million production for free? Not the game of course – the commercials!
In what will no doubt one day be known as the ‘trojan horse’ of capitalism, advertisers have created an environment inside the commercial minutes of the Super Bowl where people eagerly want to be marketed to. It’s a dream scenario for the corporate schemers of the world, as viewers actually anticipate with glee the many sales pitches they are going to receive that evening. The game is, for many, secondary to catching the thirty second spots that were billing this year at $3.5 million.
Of course, what’s a few hundred million to four billion? According to the World Bank that is more than the GDP of fifty countries, including Fiji, Greenland and Liberia. Four billion dollars is approximately how much the NFL gains in TV contract revenue each year. $1.9 billion of those dollars every year until 2021 will come from Disney’s ESPN, which holds the rights to Monday Night Football.
Naturally, ESPN offered a break down of the Super Bowl ads following the big game. Here’s how some of the articles read:
“Advertisers this year are playing it very safe,” said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University. “They’re running spots that are clearly designed to appeal to a broad audience and not to offend.”
An ad for domain name-hosting site GoDaddy showed race car driver Danica Patrick and fitness expert Jillian Michaels body painting a nude woman. An ad for clothing retailer H&M featured soccer star David Beckham in black-and-white in his new line of undies. And online florist Teleflora and automaker Kia both used Victoria Secret model Adriana Lima in their Super Bowl ads.
Eight years ago Janette Jackson famously exposed her bare chest during a Super Bowl Halftime performance. CBS took a ton of slack for the incident though it was said to be unintentional. This year it’s a PG move to push your product by having a few women painting each others naked bodies with the company name on the screen.
If you’re going to have a Nation of 300,000,000 people believe that spending $38,000 a year on prisoners, $8,000 dollars a year on school kids and more than every other country combined on guns and bombs is what it means to live free… you need a whole lot of bread and circus for them to eat. So there’s a huge market for this slight of Big Brothers hand, and the NFL has asserted themselves as the master of ceremonies.
Our world has become a degraded place where people’s most basic, animalistic desires are cultivated to fuel the fire of a corporate, consumption based culture designed to aggregate as much of society’s resources into as few hands as possible. Branded zombies enslaved to our senses, the Super Bowl is proof we now wittingly ask to be told what to want, how to want, why to want. Indeed that is the only way we can enjoy something. Personalities such as Tom Brady and Eli Manning are vaunted for worship as it’s convenient, and they’re names and faces get slathered all over the preferred poison of the day.
According to a 2010 study in The Wall Street Journal, of the 174 minutes an average NFL broadcast runs, 11 minutes of that time is accounted for by the actual playing of the game. The study is quick to point out sixty percent of the remaining time goes towards commercials. By dangling a very tiny carrot marketers are getting us to pull a very big plow.
Srila Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement, described America’s situation once in a lecture to a large crowd in San Diego. “There were great empires like the Roman, Greek, and later on the Mogul empire, the British empire… Only name is there now. Nothing is remaining. So I came to your country, America… despite all your opulences, you are becoming confused and frustrated. I hear that out of three, one man is a patient of a psychiatrist. Why? Why you are so unhappy?” He answers his own question in his commentary to the 12th text of the 4th chapter of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. “In this world human society is mad after temporary things… Whatever we enjoy with the gross senses are temporary, but permanent enjoyment is transcendental.”
So yes, I may have gone to the Super Bowl on Sunday. But on Monday I had a hangover, I spent $8,000 to watch my team lose, and my wife was upset at me because I missed my daughter’s dance recital to party with my friends in a city eleven hours from home. This is the nature of temporary happiness. What goes up must come down; the enjoyment is concomitant with suffering.
This ‘UP down JOY!’ distress is the combustion that drives our economy forward, and we are the unfortunate and suffering pistons of this equation. Simply watch a few minutes of any broadcast, or listen to a radio advert, and you will simultaneously be asked to eat at an extravagant restaurant and lose fifteen pounds; you might be asked to take advantage of five dollar pizzas and ask your doctor about a prescription to the newest miracle antacid, or to buy this new car so you can move to New York, and park it for $700 a month.
How did this circus of consumerism called the Super Bowl remind me of a spiritual festival in India? Well, as I mentioned, there were lots of people. And they were all screaming. And they were all jumping, and eating. At the festival, we also celebrated great personalities like Srila Prabhupada, who freely gave the world knowledge that could liberate them from the entangling allurements of material culture. Speaking of free, all the food, which consisted of five to seven course gourmet feasts twice a day, was free for the entirety of the five day festival. In addition, world renowned musicians were playing for hours, and inviting any and all to come join them in celebrating life through sound and rhythm.
Of course when I say world, I mean the world outside of the one where Bud is king; in this world Visa is nowhere to be found, so everywhere one can be free to enjoy.