By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
10:28 PM EST, February 5, 2012
I was supposed to review NBC's telecast of the Super Bowl itself. You know, what kind of job did Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Bob Costas do? And I will deliver a short, fast version of that.
But you cannot review the Super Bowl without talking about the ads and the halftime show.
The ads are a barometer of our culture. And what they said to me is that we have become a truly dumbed-down, crass, trashy and even cruel society -- and somehow proud of it.
And if seeing that kind of straight culture talk upsets you, stop reading now, because when I get through the game review and get back to the ads at the end of this piece, you will really be angry. And I have not even started in on the joke of a halftime show featuring an embalmed version of Madonna snatched off the undertaker's table and surrounded by a sea of empty noise, glitz and wretched excess.
The good news: As has been the case all season, Michaels, Collinsworth and the producers and director of the game telecast were superb. What is pleasure it is to listen to them after a season of watching Ravens games featuring the sorry CBS Sports team of Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf.
Typical of the production values, the opening kickoff featured three different camera angles, and the viewer was shifted seamlessly from one to the other. The point of view started with a ground-level sideline shot of the Patriots front line as the kicker approached the ball. And then, once the viewer was anchored on the field, the p.o.v. went to an overhead shot showing the return team setting up, before zeroing in on the runner from yet another angle.
It seemed as if everyone on the NBC Sports team was on his or her game. I loved Collinsworth's explanation of how the New England Patriots defensive linemen held up huge paddles in practice all week to simulate for quarterback Tom Brady what he would face from the New York Giants defensive line. (Too bad, Tom, it wasn't enough for you and your cheating coach.)
Wasn't it shocking to hear a sideline reporter, in this case Michele Tafoya, quickly tell viewers what happened to a player who was helped off the field: a torn anterior cruciate ligament for Giants tight end Travis Beckum? When CBS covered the Ravens, viewers were usually left to wonder what happened to players forced off the field with injuries.
And what superb camera work late in the fourth quarter on Mario Manningham’s marvelous sideline catch. NBC had it from every angle to show the Giants receiver getting both feet down with total control of the ball.
But forget the game for a moment. I want to make my larger points about the commercials. Nothing approached inspired, that's for sure. David Beckham's underwear ad was probably best -- all sex, tattoos, longing and physical desire. (I wonder how many women are going to buy those briefs for their boyfriends or husbands, hoping for an act of God.)
But what was really sad about most of the ads was how many featured stupid, gross or cruel behavior.
A dog having killed a cat and trying to cover it up was supposed to be funny in a Doritos ad. A little kid urinating in a swimming pool and laughing when his sister jumps in was the punch line for an online tax service. The joke in a brain-dead, apocalyptic Chevy Silverado ad featuring a group of survivors is that one of the group died because he drove a Ford. Is this where the Obama bailout money went?
But I think the ad that best summarizes how debased our excessive commercialism has made us is the Go Daddy commercial that features two women using another woman's body as a billboard on which to write and draw the Go Daddy brand. There is something especially calculating about having two women do it to another woman -- when you know the intended appeal of the ad is male voyeurism.
And I have seen some of my colleagues online and in social media already applauding this exercise in debasement. And the media world will be filled today with more celebrations of other ignorant ads -- count on it.
And then, there was Madonna's zombie halftime show.
I can't recall the last time I saw a major TV production so desperately in need of a guiding concept. And that includes the obscene gesture from one of the other performers, which typifies the utter lack of imagination from beginning to end of Madonna's so-called performance. (You can read about that crude and ignorant gesture from singer M.I.A. here.)
But what the hell was she doing? Was it ancient Egypt with the Cleopatra entrance? Or was it ancient Rome with the toga boy bouncing on the wire in front of her? (Hey, at least toga boy brought about five seconds of energy to that death march of a production.)
Oh wait, I know, it was supposed to American circa 1950s high school football with Madonna waving pom-poms as a cheerleader.
No wrong again, because now Madonna is standing in front of a huge choir full of people in robes – and she’s acting as if she’s almost singing. I say almost, because there is not a whit of artistic aspiration in the star performer or the production as far I can tell.
But hey, that’s our sad-sack, super-sized, gross American culture these days, isn't it. And it is perfectly suited for empty Super Bowl half-time spectacle. When you don’t have real energy, true conviction, religious belief, art or transcendence, just trot out a monstrous, phony, show-biz choir of singers clapping their hands and looking heavenward as they strut and prance around the lip-synching star.
Thank goodness there was real emotion on the field in a thrilling, 21-17 Giants victory.
On Sunday night, the game was the thing that wound up counting -- as it should be. Not the ignorant and nasty ads or the moribund halftime show.
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