By: Matt Gordon
The halftime show was problematic. Or maybe it was emblematic of a baser problem? Either way, it showcased that, indeed, we have a problem.
Perhaps it is fitting that “Lose Yourself” was one of the featured songs, because I think we have.
And this is not a post about gyrating bodies or that Rap is Crap—yes, sadly I saw that archaic trope dusted off and posted online. Nor is this a post about it being the BEST HALFTIME SHOW EVER.
What it is about is extremes.
Cultures are defined by language. Language forms the lyrics to our songs—our songs taken from the essence of life. Our movies come from scripts. We, from our beginnings, are communicative creatures. First, as babes, we cry to tell anyone around us that we are cold or hungry or just plain mad. Then we point, first with eyes alone and then with hands joining the action. We point to things that matter to us, and we learn if we are doing it right by how much the things we point out matter to others. “Look, Mama, Look!” my toddling son said as early words, pointing out things in the world and finding out that the sun was less worthy of a point than the fox in our backyard was, and both paled in comparison to him pointing out his baby brother climbing over the baby gate on the stairs.
As we learn what matters and what doesn’t, we also develop a sense of value. When to exclaim! And what to question and when? How loud should my voice get in response to stimuli—and when does a whisper do the trick? It is a dance of nuanced complexity, but we are always learning and refining the act of wrapping words around our thoughts. Or, at least, we should be. We maybe even used to be.
Which brings us to the Super Bowl halftime show. After it, I got online, as one does, to see how other folks were reacting. I saw what you saw, heard what you heard. Most of it shouted:
BEST HALFTIME SHOW EVER!
I’M LITERALLY DEAD!
AWFUL! WAS THAT EVEN MUSIC!?
NO WONDER OUR NATION IS A DUMPSTER FIRE!
THAT SHOW WAS EVERYTHING!
Thing was, it wasn’t. It wasn’t everything.
It had very little to do with the state of our nation.
It, decidedly, is music.
You aren’t literally dead. If you were, typing would be a pretty weird waste of some quality haunting time.
And, for all those claiming the halftime show’s kingship six seconds after it was over, how many of them can name even five other halftime shows? How many had actually watched any of those back? How many are qualified enough in choreography, sound mixing, music, and art to even make that claim much less to die on that hill?
And herein lies the problem I referenced. Language matters. Words do. They are how ideas are built, how opinions are formed and shaped, how growth and change happens. We write papers in school to drudge along accidentally into deeply-delved thought. Deeper thought, indeed, than if our paper was a shot-gunned tweet. In our thinking—a dwelling, pensive, considered thing—we come ever nearer to truth.
But, fueled by social media and the fascination with being first or funniest or rightest, we stretch our linguistic assessments to the sole boundaries of best or worst. These are the only things that are click-worthy, so they are all we aim for, thus creating an ever-widening chasm. Consider all the precious thoughts that lie dead at the bottom of the in-between ravine. Ones we so flippantly discard, sometimes without even realizing it.
I read one longer social media post from an author who chronicled her and her gathering’s reaction to every bit of the halftime show. It was full of exaggeration and bombast that seemed fixed on proving that she liked the halftime show more than anyone else possibly could. It was followed and liked and loved, and perhaps for good reason—it was entertaining and well-crafted. But I read it and wondered is it true? Is it honest? How many of these reactions were playing to the camera, were performative?
The Hawthorne Effect is the idea that people behave differently when they know others are watching them. This is why someone dancing at a basketball game dances harder when the camera is on them. This is why the kiss cam is even a thing. It is also probably why every reality show ever tells their participants, “Just pretend the camera isn’t here.” This is because we know the camera makes people act differently.
In a way we’ve turned a camera on ourselves on everything. The spectacle, then, is no longer the performers on the stage, but we ourselves. The show is about us, and the show must go on and on and on and on. It is no longer enough to simply enjoy a thing or dismiss it, I have to enjoy it the MOST or dismiss it the HARDEST; and my passion must be sung out as a public performance—and often a single-sided one. OBSERVE ME! I shout to the world. Hence, our language becomes stretched into nothingness, a rubber band without elasticity. We cry wolf every day until, at some point, we cry everything and say nothing. Nothing true, at least.
This is not to say opinions don’t matter. In fact, I’d say the opposite. They are vital. And we should wrap them in words and voice them. But only in their humility-induced nimbleness.
REALLY INCREDIBLE HALFTIME SHOW!
I AM MOVED BY THAT PERFORMANCE!
I DIDN’T ENJOY THAT SHOW! I’VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD RAP.
THAT PERFORMANCE DIDN’T ALIGN WITH MY PERSONAL VALUES.
THAT SHOW MEANT A LOT TO ME!
These would be too tepid to post, but aren’t they closer to truth and more inviting of a follow-up question rather than bullying a passerby to agreement or argument? Think of the questions each statement begs:
What did you find incredible about it?
How were you moved?
How have you tried to understand rap in the past—why do you think it doesn’t resonate with you?
How were your values and that show at odds?
What did it mean to you?
Absolutes demand that you are either totally with me or my enemy. But opinions wrought like other people exist allow for those other people to exist, to occupy your world with questions and answers and experiences.
Opinions are a starting point up the mountain or down it, but the terrain and weather always pose a change in plans, an altered path. When all of our opinions are made absolute truths, they are no longer a means toward a potential truer end—with a better view, mind you—but rather made the mountain itself, wretchedly immoveable and unwavering. Fixed and lonely.
As I read hyperbole after hyperbole (on both ends of the spectrum) regarding the Super Bowl halftime show, I tried to quiet my inner alarm, reassuring myself that none of this matters. It is just a bit of fun. But as I thought about it more, and read actual arguments erupting over this particular bit of fun that doesn’t matter, I had the realization that the pursuit of truth always matters. And the truly worrying part about this is that we are divided by a dearth of truthful expression regarding something this trivial. If we cannot honestly talk about a sixteen-minute show meant for entertainment, what hope do we have of seeking and finding over the things that actually do matter: about race, about religion, about freedom, about family, about justice, about love?
The words we choose echo forth the things we believe—or at least they should. When we choose bombast over nuance habitually in our public language, when the purpose of our language is to build a stage for ourselves rather than a connection point with another, we are headed toward a next episode that is hardly worth watching. Because even if we could gain the perspective to sit and witness it, we couldn’t honestly assess it. We couldn’t charitably contend about it, striving for good and truth and virtue to win. Rather, we shout beyond the makeshift boundaries of the day, straining to hear the beauteous echo of our own voice in order to avoid listening to the possibly dissenting voice of another.
I enjoyed the halftime show. What did you think?