On Superbowl Sunday and other public faces


I’ve long been frustrated by the unappreciated homo-eroticism of the American footballing term ‘tight end’. To see a double entendre that even Carsson Kressley would label ‘too camp’ uttered without even a flicker of a smirk by a succession of stony-faced sporting analysts is a source of great dismay to my juvenile comic instincts. I’m slowly becoming one of them, though. I’m more likely to think of the alternative passing option than any elaborate joke-construction which culminates in the punch line ‘Show us yer tight end!’

This is, of course, an excessively long-winded segue into how I was one of the few non-American-expat Australians who spent five hours on 7 February watching the Superbowl. I actually enjoy the game and have done so ever since my first encounter with it, on a chilly December day in New Orleans in 1995. I was entranced by the spectacular Superdome, the enormous sideline entourages, and the ability of the opposing Green Bay supporters to wear a piece of Styrofoam Swiss cheese on their head without a trace of irony (a symbol of their dairy-producing native Wisconsin, God only knows what a Packer – their mascot – looks like). My mother was less impressed, complaining that at three hours it was too long; until my Dad pointed out that we came from a country where a game could last five days and still not have a result.

So I’ve been a devoted Superbowl fan ever since. Of equal interest to the game itself, however, is the nationalistic fervour on display in the pre-game and halftime celebration. I’m always fascinated by which America is going to turn up. I’ve always detected a schizophrenic quality about their public display, torn between the desire for the world to like or admire them, and the currently more evident tendency towards a this-is-who-we-are-we-don’t-give-a-shit-what-you-think mentality.

In the end it was neither. Military pomposity was cancelled out by an internationalist appreciation: a combined armed forces choir sang the anthem, but an Englishman featured in the coveted halftime slot. I won’t become bogged down with an analysis of why it was that they had to turn to a foreigner to find a performer they could be certain wouldn’t take their clothes off.

Appearances, it goes without saying, are very important in the US, not least due to their competitive approach to most affairs. They know when the world is watching, hence their sporting events must be the most elaborate, their people the most free, and of course their government the most compassionate and supportive. It is the last of these that has been the greatest struggle for the Bush regime in its first term, finding itself constantly having to assert how beneficial their foreign policy is for all nations and not just the US itself.

The second term was getting its first real test this week with new Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s approach towards peace talks between Israel and Palestine. The importance of this exercise cannot be overstated, apart from the obvious historical implications; Rice’s work could set the tone for the second Bush term which finds itself with some fence-mending to do after a disastrous interventionist approach to foreign relations over the last four years. It also sets the tone for the career trajectory of Rice herself, a successful term in the post could set the wheels in motion for her to become the nation’s first female (let alone African-American) leader.

Rice is a good choice as SoS, as she brings an intellectual sophistication to the Bush regime that the Rumsfelds and Cheneys can not. She is a neo-con, but not a religious neo-con, and thus not given to fundamentalist dissertations of world affairs (traditionally reducing complex issues to battles of good vs. evil) that leave foreigners agog. She represents a different elite within the administration, one based on an academia and not a familial dynasty or wealth. Whereas Bush once crowed about being a role model for the ‘C’ students, Rice represents the other end of the report card spectrum. Put very crudely she appears to be the ‘thinker’ to Bush’s ‘drinker’, one might imagine her on Superbowl Sunday diligently drafting paperwork in the Oval Office whilst Dubya and Rummy fight over the corn chips in front of the box, debating the benefits of a strong tight end (smirk, smirk).

These, of course, are observations based on news reports and personal inference. And with the Machiavellian notions of appearances mattering more than reality which predominate in modern politics, that’s all that is necessary for Rice. Rice, by merely posing for a few pictures with various figures, by offering the usual platitudes about ‘bringing the conflict to an end’, ‘lasting peace’ or ‘measurable distance of its end’, has already done enough to cement a positive image in relation to the issue. She’s done her best, and if nothing comes of it, well it’s not really her fault, I mean who can do anything about that lot anyway?

She cannot lose, and of course, in the appearances game she has already won. And appearances in Washington are a bit like Superbowl Sunday, they’re the only game in town.

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