I was born on Super Bowl Sunday 1986 and my Dad let my brothers stay up until 1am to watch it. When my Mum heard the story in the hospital the next day she was less than impressed, but my I had won my brothers’ love on day one. This month is my first living in the United States and I had never actually stayed up to watch the Super Bowl in Ireland despite my origin story. When my apartment complex announced its Super Bowl party the anthropologist in me went into overdrive. Would it be just like the movies? Would I be bored stiff watching 60 minutes of football stretched out for several hours due to adverts and stopped play? Who knew, but I was going to experience it.
My new friends told me I was a Falcons fan so I diligently became invested. It felt like being back in Mayo routing for the underdog. Unfortunately the ending wasn’t too far removed from an All-Ireland final either. Despite a phenomenal first half this Mayo lady ended up on the losing side all over again. But it was nice. It felt like home. I’m not a big sports person but it was actually pretty exciting despite the constant halting of play and ad breaks. There was some impressive throws and catches and runs for touchdowns. But the real winner of Super Bowl LI was the battle to voice equality
After crushing the New England Patriots in the first half my new team crumbled in the second leading to an even score of 28 – 28 at full time, and the ultimate loss of the Falcons. Another historic aspect was the atmosphere. Politics leaked onto the pitch with the Patriots’ superstar Tom Brady and owner publicly supporting Trump. When the Falcons won their fans took solace in the fact that they at least wouldn’t have to take a photo with the President.
Everything was being analysed for political content. Loving football seems to be one of the few things Americans can agree upon now but neither side can bare to stay in the same room with the other. Watching the Super Bowl was like begrudgingly sharing the same arena with the enemy, each waiting for the other to break the temporary truce. It was incredibly tense, not because anyone in my area of San Francisco supported Trump – my new neighbourhood voted 95% Hillary, 3% Jill Stein – but because I wasn’t just in my apartment complex, I was in a virtual shared space with Trump fans, Falcons and Patriots alike.
My immediate location was safe. When Mike Pence appeared on the screen the party booed him – but the wider space felt like dipping my toe out of the echo chamber. I was taking over the HeadStuff Twitter that day, and while Ireland was mostly asleep I was finally seeing the Trump and non-Trump supporters interact online and not quite being sure how to interact when they agreed with each other.
Officially, of course, the NFL tried to keep things politically neutral. But the Super Bowl trying not to offend anyone is like walking on glass. The advertisements became the battle ground, where companies courted one political side or the other – but mostly non-Trump supporters, because at least advertisers still know that racism isn’t a good strategy even if politicians don’t. It was a moral victory of sorts. Budweiser’s advertisement was almost rejected until they pointed out it was the portrayal of the American dream.
Melissa McCarthy fought for environmentalism and against climate change for Kia.
But the biggest winner of the Super Bowl advert game and the most overtly political advert was probably Airbnb. They are launching a campaign to house 100,000 people in need over the next five years. Their #weaccept campaign shouldn’t even have been controversial, but sadly the times we live in made it so. Acceptance shouldn’t be political, it should be universal. Wouldn’t it be magnificent if we could take it for granted?
Of course, it was all about the half time show. Here there was another victory for equality because, well, Lady Gaga is hardly a-political. There were protest tweets dissing #Gaga and cheering #Maga (Make America Great Again). Diving off the roof of the stadium to the stage in a sparkly onesie she did not disappoint. There were hundreds of red, white and blue twinkling drones covering the Houston skyline and what looked like thousands of little Gaga monsters on the pitch coordinating their movements with her act. There was a costume change, fireworks and general spectacle. It was impressive. I saw what the fuss was about.
After Queen B’s apparently controversial show last year, where she referenced the Black Lives Matter movement, the rumour was that Gaga was banned from any political statements. I have a lot to learn about American culture because Beyonce’s actions last year didn’t sound that controversial to me especially since 68% of NFL players are black.
Gaga sang a patriotic piece from the pledge of alliegiance – “This land is my land, this land is your land, this land was made for you and me, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice” – and I don’t think it was my imagination that she chose to place special emphasis on the last words “for all” before diving off the edge of the stadium roof. Devoting a majority of her set to sing Born This Way was a political statement in itself so the winner of the Super Bowl probably wasn’t the Patriots at all, it was making sure the voice for equality was seen and heard by all.