Super Bowl Culture

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    Another Super Bowl has come and gone. One team wins and another team loses, but if you saw any of the halftime show or the Puppy Bowl or if you got to spend the day sitting on your couch eating nachos and mini hot dogs, I think you can agree that the sport is only a small part of the spectacle.

    In its 47 years of existence, the Super Bowl has expanded beyond the reaches of the goalposts and is now in a league of its own as a cultural powerhouse that appeals to virtually everyone. What sets it apart from every other annual pop culture event is the wide range of its appeal, hooking viewers that may know nothing about football, will watch none of the game, but simply want to be entertained. The easiest way into the stadium for this crowd is a flashy halftime show.

    Beyoncé took the stage — which was shaped like her face — in the New Orleans Superdome on Sunday during halftime, clad in a black leather leotard with her former Destiny’s Child bandmates in tow. B-town was fierce before she even stepped out on stage, with a giant silhouette of her body made out of fire announcing her arrival. And if people weren’t over her alleged inauguration lip-sync debacle already, I’m pretty sure she put them in their place. Nobody can stand in those heels, let alone lead an army of women in an extended version of the iconic “Single Ladies” dance.

    The Super Bowl has taken to booking A-list pop stars to entertain during game breaks when most of the fans would normally be waiting in line for the bathrooms. Beyoncé, a strong female figure respected by men and women alike, represents something significantly different from the rough and primal tone of the game. Her performance attracted a whole following of people that might never pick up a pigskin by emphasizing the entertainment, the spectacle and the lighter side of things.

    The Super Bowl figured out a long time ago that pop music gets that job done. Animal Planet more recently realized that puppies do the same thing.

    Though significantly younger than Super Bowl proper, the Puppy Bowl probably earns Animal Planet some of its highest ratings of the year, even though the show is only two hours long and they play it at least five times in a row. It takes place on the same day as the Super Bowl on a mini football field with a football (and a bunch of other toys) but aside from that, it’s practically the opposite of the sport. The Puppy Bowl takes the brutal competition and violence of football and flips it completely upside down, valuing play, adorability and squeals of spectator delight above all else. All of the puppies are up for adoption, there’s a kitten halftime show, hedgehog cheerleaders and hamsters in a mini blimp. And, of course, cuteness always wins.

    Obviously the two events are geared toward different audiences. But I have actually been to Super Bowl parties where the human game is shown downstairs, while the Puppy Bowl captivates at least half the crowd upstairs. The only thing keeping an event like this from being two entirely separate festivities is the food.

    The closest thing to the Super Bowl in the entertainment world would probably be the Academy Awards, even though the sports universe already has its own awards show (the ESPYS, nobody cares). But even film’s coveted golden statuette hasn’t managed to appeal to as wide of an audience as the culmination of 16 weeks of football — the Super Bowl consistently overpowers the Oscars by millions of viewers for the top spot in ratings. People who haven’t set foot in a movie theater all year won’t bother watching the awards show. People who have never seen a game of football just might throw their own Super Bowl party.

    Apart from all of the touchdowns and tackles, the Super Bowl has inspired a cultural wildfire that is unlike anything else. With sports alone, the universal appeal is questionable, but throw some Beyoncé, puppies, hot wings and funny commercials in the mix and you’re a whole lot closer to America’s pop culture-loving heart, clogged arteries and all.

    Soon enough football fever will subside. It will be time for Spring Training, and Northern California’s athletic spotlight will pivot back to its beloved San Francisco Giants, leaving the darkness of a Niners loss behind. And yes the Ravens will return to Baltimore with a little more bling, but I don’t know if their performance was the most momentous on that field on Sunday. That honor belongs to Beyoncé.