Monday, February 02, 2004

THE CONSPIRACY THEORY OF BAD HALF-TIME SHOWS. I see that many residents of The Corner have, like me, complained about the Super Bowl half-time show -- but while I disliked the thing because it was crass and ugly, they seem convinced that it is a plot by toe-tally eee-vil artists to corrupt their young ("'Dad, why are they doing that?' asked my son, age 6, just before his bedtime. What was I to say? 'Some people call it dancing,' was my lame reply..." God, I hope Lileks wasn't watching with Gnat, we'll never hear the end of it).

They even haul out the customary young-fogey comeback used whenever the bourgeoisie is epatered:
What appeals to them is the idea of shocking other people... what was cool about it was that it would offend the sensibilities of fuddy-duddies. This sort of thing is the source of a vast, vast amount of bad "art," music, fiction etc. The value of a song or a video is measured not by its creativity or excellence, but by its ability to elicit the desired response from the other side.
Always, someone -- probably wearing a beret and high on the latest drugs -- is trying to do something to them. As if pop culture were someone else's fault.

This conspiracy theory of bad half-time shows strikes me as a guilty evasion.

Right-wing types have done their utmost over the years to spread the idea that wealth generation is the highest and noblest purpose of man. This was bound to cause cultural fallout. The first Reaganite phase of this infantile idea's ascendancy brought us such atrocities as Dynasty and Trump Tower -- ugly, but in a way we all recognized: a rube's idea of "class."

In recent years, technological advances and corporate windfalls have given top-end providers of eye and ear candy the means to cram their products to an ungodly degree with such signifiers of wealth as elaborate special effects and the high sheen of digital recording. Audiences responded to this, because it sounded and looked, as the wonderfully apposite saying goes, like money.

Over time, content mattered less than these signifiers. Movies became inchoate light and sound shows, and videos became noisy showcases of art direction and bling. But that was okay -- audiences got what they wanted: a lavish sensory bath in something that quite obviously cost a fortune.

Even the sports world got in on this: star players became warrior gods, rope-muscled, chest-thumping embodiments of the will to power. (And every fan knew how many millions his hero was pulling down, and where his mansion and/or golf course was.) In an age where too much ain't enough and only the loudest, most violent, and the most x-treme gestures are worthy of notice, pro football reaped the greatest bounty. Once the NFL could only get Hank Williams Jr. to sing its praises; now everyone wants to rub up against the new national pastime.

As half-time can only last so long, lest the athletes' muscles turn to mahogany, a few years ago the show's producers come up with an idea: instead of having only one headliner, why not have several? This was brilliant, because no one really needs to watch or hear these artists do whole songs: that's what iPods and DVDs are for. Live performances are so low tech. But six or seven top acts crammed into a highly-concentrated ball of entertainment, glazed with smoke and lights and celebrated by squads of dancers -- now that looks like money!

And if the particular hallmark of this particular product (music, file under contemporary) is snake-hipped sexual play-acting, let's make sure we have plenty of that, too. Check the calendar to see if the time has come for a nansecond of exposed breast on network. It has? Then let's go for it.

In this case, the resulting soulless, joyless eye- and earsore chagrined conservatives because it showed a little tit. I, of course, like tit. However, I don't like the howling vacuousness of the thing, which seems to have bothered them not at all.

The economy, the Defense of Marriage Act, etc., are all important, but this is really why I'm not a conservative.

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