Economy featured

The Stupor Bowl

February 16, 2024

Another football season has come and gone. The pinnacle of professional sports has concluded.

Congratulations to the Chiefs for beating the Prospectors, winning their land back on behalf of native and indigenous peoples everywhere — life will surely and swiftly return to the way things once were.

Or not.

Some interesting statistics surrounding the game of games:

– The average ticket price was $6,500

– The 13-minute halftime show cost $13,000,000

– Taylor Swift’s outfit and accessories cost over $60,000

– Every second of advertising cost $233,333, or $7,000,000 for a 30-second spot

– 67 Palestinians were killed as Israeli forces bombed Rafah while 123,000,000 people were distracted

As Noam Chomsky once said, “One of the functions that things like professional sports play, in our society and others, is to offer an area to deflect people’s attention from things that matter, so that the people in power can do what matters without public interference.”

The game within the game of the NFL is one that vies for our attention — spending handsomely-grotesque amounts of money to keep our manic myopia maintained solidly every day that ends in “y”. The real magic of the NFL is in its ability to keep its fans engaged somewhat perpetually, with a news network that rivals any major news outfit in its attention to minutiae that mesmerizes.

The world’s most profitable, yet second-most popular form of football used to have its tentacles tacitly tangled around me. Not long ago, I used to look forward to Sunday — the day of rest and football. No more, for I have beat it at its own game. I divert my attention explicitly in other directions. I do not even own a television anymore. I have a projector that can only be turned on at night, so during daylight hours I now read instead. I no longer ingest statistics, player injuries, trade deadlines, or the waiver wire targets that used to consume hours of my daily routine. I no longer wish to live in the fantasy football fable. I prefer to peter down rabbit holes of my own choosing.

Once you learn that 90% of the media in the US is controlled by only six companies, it becomes hard to believe anything you see placed before your eyes. We used to refer to the term propaganda in relation to war-time efforts by state-led agencies to propagate narratives to justify violence. Few realize that nearly a century ago propaganda was rebranded as public relations and spun back around into the faces of a largely unaware citizenry.

Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was the architect of this movement that redefined advertising as a tool for consciously conceptualizing consumer-capitalism. Utilizing his uncle’s theories before they were even mainstream, Bernays coined concepts like product placement. He most famously changed public perception around female cigarette smoking by paying suffragettes to stop in the middle of their protest, and light up what he termed torches of freedom in a display of sexual liberation in front of the cameras.

Bernays also invented the celebrity endorsement, which is what brings us out of this rabbit hole and stumbling back to the stupor bowl. Beyonce may not be able to break the internet on behalf of Verizon, but she can break their bank — to the tune of $30 million dollars. More than 50% of the ads aired contained celebrities. Celebrity culture is pervasive in consumer-capitalism, as it adds buzz around products that extends far beyond the ads, permeating the social fabric as we –the consumers– connect with others in relating to celebrities we have never met, yet feel we know.

Speaking of celebrities, last year I was captivated by The Servant Foundation’s Jesus commercials and included it in my critique because of its ability to mask the product it was selling until the very last frame — Their somewhat-desperate act to bulk up church pews, plucking our heart strings to the tune of atonement, returned with a new theme in 2024 — to the outrage, not of the secular crowd but this time of its own followers. The twitter storm that raged following the ad implying Jesus didn’t hate, as evidenced by his propensity to wash feet, may have lost as many followers as it gained — calling it a wash so-to-speak. Jesus, the socialist revolutionary, probably wept.

Another repeat this year was the “shop like a billionaire” app that has a name not worth dignifying in any way. It was if someone spent millions of dollars to test-market which two consonants and two vowels could be arranged to construct a word no human had ever uttered. The company certainly splurged on airtime like billionaires, airing 6 ads during and immediately following the game. But if you fall for their campaign, in that buying fast fashion is how billionaires shop, or is in any way a good thing, I have a mountain of clothes in Chile to show you that can literally be seen from space.

Pluto TV’s couch potato farm ad was one of the more revealing moments of the entire super sport spectacle. The commercial centered around a midwestern farm that grew people and pets as literal couch potatoes, vegging out in front of televisions consuming Pluto’s content. By showing so overtly the intent of not just their streaming service, but the entire culture of consumer-capitalism, its meaning was glossed over by its apparent hilarity. Never mind the fact that Pluto is a “free” streaming platform that maintains a revenue stream through the commercial ad space it forces viewers to endure; to so openly embrace and endorse the term “couch potato” shows what stage of late-stage capitalism we find ourselves in.

Lastly, I think it worth mentioning an ad that I found myself manipulated by. Google unveiled its latest Pixel phone, but mainly focused on a feature of its camera. As we all know by now, all smart phones are essentially the same. They are all designed in “developed” countries, assembled by women and children in “developing” countries, with parts and materials that come from 50 or so different countries. Nearly all of their value is captured and retained within the global North through unequal exchange. We all know this, right??

From their inception less than two decades ago, their primary selling point has always been the camera and its features, be it one lens, two lens, three lens, FOUR! Well, Google has now added a feature that audibly describes how many faces are in the frame of a selfie/ussie, indicating an effort to be inclusive to the visually-impaired. At first watch, I thought the ad to be innocuous; my buddy, a budding therapist, corrected my vision, subsequently stating how he found it sickening and felt emotionally toyed with. And he is right. The ad was aimed not at the visually-impaired (how would they have seen it anyway?) but at the emotional response system of android-affectionate people like me. I felt swindled.

As a shameful owner of a marketing degree, I have been acutely aware of its atomized impact on the world around me. Advertising has become so embedded in mainstream culture that despite monstrous screens that create massive amounts of light pollution in every major city in the world, it has rendered itself invisible to critique. Instead of considering reforming, or dare-I-say REGULATING an industry which produces no product, we seem content to continue on in a stupor; balling outwardly with our vulgar displays of conspicuous consumption, while at the same time bawling inwardly at our lack of resolve to enact change.

Timothy Linaberry

I am an environmental activist currently enrolled in an online political ecology masters program through UAB in Barcelona studying degrowth. I live in the States, specifically Baltimore/DC and spend my time working and advocating in/for restaurants.