If you want to see what Americans think about their country, sporting events are good places to find out, particularly the Super Bowl, the sporting event of the year.
This year, the pregame featured a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Football players, surrounded by military personnel, read the main parts though we didn’t hear all the grievances regarding the tyranny of the English king. Colin Powell and Roger Goodell finished off the reading.
The two patriotic songs, God Bless America and the Star-Spangled Banner, seemed overwrought. God Bless America had an interesting arrangement at the end while Christiana Aguilera tried her own take on the National Anthem.
Some of this is standard fare at American sporting events. But I’m still trying to figure out how the Declaration of Independence fits with football. It did offer an opportunity to support our military, a cause that often is invoked in big sporting events. But is the idea that because we have freedom and strive for equality as a nation that we therefore should sit together for the next four hours and watch football? Perhaps a little more text could have been added: “We are not red or blue states, Republicans or Democrats: we are united together on this day like no other in our desire to watch football and many commercials.”
This mix of patriotism plus the military plus explicit values plus football seems to have been done in a uniquely American way. The next step sociologically is to discuss this as American civil religion.
I have been watching the most recent season of the Sing-Off on NBC. Here are some reasons why I am willing to watch this but have no interest in viewing American Idol.
1. The Sing-Off is only five episodes. Short and sweet. This doesn’t require much commitment on the part of viewers and it leaves them wanting more. In contrast, American Idol seems to go for ever and involves lots of weeks with minimal talent.
2. The Sing-Off seems a bit quirkier (perhaps that is the nature of people trying to make accapella music look cool?) while American Idol seems contrived. (This may be the result of time – it’s hard to remember an era when American Idol was new and exciting.)
3. I like Ben Folds as a judge. Since I enjoy some of his music, it is interesting to watch his comments and actions. I get the feeling that he really like this gig – he gets to be the nerdy judge who compliments the all-important rhythm guy or girl behind what the rest of the group is doing. And whenever he finishes his comments, he immediately sits back, crosses his arms, and smiles.
4. The group aspect is appealing. These are groups that don’t often get the same sort of attention lavished on rock stars. They seem to really enjoy what they are doing and just like having some people pay attention to them.
5. I like the song selection better on the Sing-Off. The songs picked for American Idol seem to be arranged for middle America – hinting on edgy but never really straying from the middle of the road. How many times do we have to hear something like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”?
6. The host battle is a toss-up. Nick Lachey has very little personality while Ryan Seacrest is a bit too smooth (unless he is fighting with Simon).
My prediction at this point: it comes down to Committed or the Back Beats with Committed winning America’s vote (though I think Back Beat would get the judges’ votes).