In studying both history and modern sociology, we find that great insights into the characteristics and values of a culture can be derived from observing its entertainment and arts. This past week in television has provided an interesting opportunity to examine the priorities of our nation.
As I’m sure you are aware, both the State of the Union address as well as Super Bowl XLVIII took place only five days apart. Both of these events occur only annually. One addresses the state of affairs in our nation’s politics, and the other is a sporting event. In a perfect world, we would hope that they would receive equal coverage, but, as I am sure I don’t need to tell you, the truth of the matter is quite the opposite.
The 2014 State of the Union received the lowest number of viewers of any SOTU since 2000, roughly 33.3 million. Keep in mind that this is roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population if we are using the statistics provided at last count in 2012. On the other hand, around 110 million viewers, roughly 35 percent of the nation, watched Super Bowl XLVIII. If we are to consider that each television is a “viewer,” and that many people had Super Bowl parties, we can safely assume that much more than 35 percent of the nation was tuned in. So what does this tell us about our values as Americans?
At a first glance of these statistics, it would seem that the American people value football above the condition of their government, but I would like to offer a different proposition. Instead of chastising the public over their love of sport and apathy towards government, let us examine instead the reasons that may play a factor in these dispositions.
I think in order for us to accurately examine this issue, we may also need to re-examine the Super Bowl. Taken as just a sporting event, this type of comparison between the highest level of football competition and an address from our president would yield no other conclusion than a deplorable state of priorities from our public. This would, however, be an oversimplification of what the Super Bowl become.
People who aren’t even football fans will attend Super Bowl parties, fans cheer for teams other than those that they are faithful to and even poor college students splurge on some extra snacks and beer for the event. It could be said that the Super Bowl is almost an American holiday. It was very interesting for me to note that at the particular viewing party I had chosen to attend, people socialized and talked smack during the game — but God forbid someone make a sound during the commercials!
Commercials this year featured several heartfelt ads about cancer survival and driving safety, as well as a celebration of a soldier’s return home that would make anyone’s heart swell. We saw frequent depictions of cowboys, American-made products and cars that were advertised as such. During the game itself, the amount of pomp and circumstance surrounding the National Anthem, the singing of “America the Beautiful” and the performances of our favorite musical artists during the famous Super Bowl halftime show all signify to me that the Super Bowl has transformed into much more than an NFL game: it has become a celebration of American culture.
How does this relate to the discrepancy of attention that the State of the Union and the Super Bowl received? In the past, Americans have always tuned in to addresses by the president, especially the “fireside chats” à la Roosevelt. In recent times, however, Americans have turned their attention elsewhere as they lose faith in their government. Gallup polls as recent as last week put Congressional approval at 13 percent and Presidential approval at 42 percent. It would seem to me that the nearly three times higher viewer count that Super Bowl XLVIII received over the State of the Union address signifies not a misplacement of priorities, but rather that, because of our frustration with our government, Americans are turning elsewhere to receive their dose of “’Murica.”
If considering this perspective makes you lose faith in the American people, our government or our culture in general, let’s not forget that we got to see Morpheus sing “Nessun Dorma.”
Andrew DeCilles is a junior in the Philosophy, Politics & the Public program with a major in philosophy. He is from Batesville, Ind.