Paper on Media Events: the Super Bowl and Presidential Debates
Two of the greatest and most revered media spectacles in the United States are the Super Bowl and the presidential debates. These two events represent a significant component of American history and culture. The Super Bowl is the National Football league’s yearly championship game, the peak of the NFL season that beginning of that season. The Super Bowl was incepted in 1966 between the then rival leagues AFL and NFL, as an agreement due to aggressive competition between the two leagues. The agreement entailed a game at the end of a regular season between champions of the AFL and the NFL to get a national champion. After the AFL and the NFL merged in 1970, the Super Bowl became a game between winners of the NFC (National Football Conference) and the AFC (American Football Conference).
On the other hand, officially, the presidential debates started in 1960 during the Kennedy-Nixon presidential elections, although unofficially there had been instances of debates between presidential candidates of the two largest parties in the United States. For instance, there were the “series of seven debates” between Senator Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln in 1858, and the 1948 radio debate between Republican primary candidates for President Harold Stassen and Thomas E, Dewey among others. This paper analyzes the Super Bowl and the presidential debates emphasizing their cultural and social functions while also highlighting the themes that connect and disconnect them.
Super Bowl and Presidential Debates
The cultural and social functions of the Super Bowl are engrained in its ability to create a ritualized mass activity. Socially, the Super Bowl mainly creates a mythic function that mirrors traditional mythic events. Also, it bears the attributes of a mythic function like personal identification, communal focus, heroic archetypes, marking time and space, ecological regulatory mechanism, and the like. It creates a mythic function by collectively reenacting the symbolic archetypes which share the ideals of a culture and the expressed emotions, in this case, the American culture. It works as an emblem of personal identification. People can identify with the different performances which arouse viewers’ stimuli and evoke subjective participation. For example, at Super Bowl LI, viewers were able to associate with Lady Gaga’s performance which preached inclusion.
The Super Bowl offers the opportunity for people to become vicarious participants by investing their feelings and sometimes their funds in the spectacle. The game gives people identification through participation by becoming vicarious participants in choosing a team, placing bets and the like. The Super Bowl also functions as a social gatherer by creating common focus. The view of the game as a social occasion and an unofficial holiday in the U.S means the game is watched in a group setting. Watching the Super Bowl socially and collectively fosters social cohesion. The Super Bowl has also superseded the boundaries of sport and is now a cultural phenomenon.
The significance of this event in the Americans’ calendar has shifted from being the venue of entertainment to being a metaphor for appreciation of the American culture due to its engrailment in the American society and American way of life. It functions as a reminder of how the American culture has changed over the years with each Super Bowl exhibiting the highlight of the culture at the time. The current affiliations of the Super Bowl with the music industry, big business, commercials, and powerhouses act like Katy Perry means the game has transcended the boundaries of sport. The game now epitomizes the American cultures of business, competition and capitalism ideology.
The Presidential Debates also play several social and cultural functions in the American society. As Boorstin illustrates, over the years, the purpose of the Presidential Debates has shifted from a political or democratic procedure into a social spectacle. The ground rules have changed, and the people focus on the lighting, the participants and the makeup among which has altered people’s opinions on the Presidential Debates. The debates have transformed to social functions that serve as entertainment. The concentration of the public on other factors in the discussion other than what the debaters are saying has led to the purpose of the debates missing their marks.
The Presidential Debates have become entangled in the “mediathon”, the hybrid of a soap opera, a media circus and tabloid journalism, factors that have slowly become the representation of the American culture. A “mediathon” represents the obsessive public and media attention given to media events transformed into infotainment. It has become a “mediathon” due to its transformation to a pleasing audience spectacle that bodes well with the new cultural form in the United States. Its ability to capture wall-to-wall TV airtime and the national imagination justifies the Presidential Debate as a “mediathon”. The dramatization of the Presidential Debates bodes well with the American culture of media and show obsession.
The Super Bowl and the Presidential Debates have a connecting theme which highlights their social and cultural similarities. A cultural theme similar between them is that they are both generating considerable “volume” and considered part of the American culture. They are also considered social functions. Like the Presidential Debates, the Super Bowl officially began in the 1960s, and similarly, the viewership of both spectacles has increased significantly over the years. A spectacle is any event that is appreciated for its visual impact; the Super Bowl and Presidential Debates have transformed into spectacles. In each case, the viewership has continued to grow due to the importance of each event in its context, either sports or politics. Nevertheless, the substantial increase in viewership has been fostered by the growing appreciation of media frenzy and heroic archetypes. They are both spectacles that started modestly but have been fueled by the growth of the media or other avenues of transmission. Super Bowl participants and Presidential Debates are viewed as seen as primordial figures, and their actions during the spectacle are appreciated and revered by the people.
Both spectacles also have cultural and social themes that differentiate them. Collectivity is the one issue that separates them. Unlike the Super Bowl which is mainly viewed as a source of communal focus, the Presidential Debates are collectively watched by most Americans who are divided along candidature lines. People look at the debates to support the opinions of their preferred candidates, in most cases to support the democratic or republican nominee. On the other hand, the Super Bowl, although divided along the lines of the cities participating, is more an all-American watched by people just for the enjoyment. The Super Bowl is also divided into separated into two teams. However, these teams only represent two cities, thus in most cases, only people in the two represented cities staunchly support their respective, unlike the Presidential Debates where the division is national and more staunch. The end of a Presidential Debate often brings differing opinions on the performance of the candidates with each supporting or praising the performance of his or her preferred with usually no clear winner. In the Super Bowl, a large portion of the viewers is attracted by other things aside from the football like the halftime events. Most people are not engrossed in the winner of the game but rather the state of the event as a whole. Such differences illustrate that although the events share social and cultural similarities, they differ in some quarters.
In conclusion, the Super Bowl and the Presidential Debates are simply an illustration of the cultural, social and political changes that the United States has experienced over the years. Their similarities and differences are merely a depiction of how media events differentiate the opinions of the masses. They are media events that have transformed the media landscape of the U.S. Their intended purposes have changed and they are now pseudo-events. The two spectacles now exist solely for media publicity. Nowadays, these events are hosted with the media in mind. As long as these events continue being repeated, continue their dramatization, continue to have high costs of production and continue being intellectually planned their status as media events will only continue to grow.