James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Super Bowl’

The Stupor Bowl — enjoy it while you can

Posted by James McPherson on January 28, 2015

seahawk bandaide logo

On Sunday I hope to see my favorite professional football team win a second consecutive Super Bowl. So it feels odd that a column on the front page of my local newspaper this week would have me considering when professional football will end up like boxing, another American sport that glamorizes brutality.

Say what? Pro football is the most popular sport in America, with both viewers and gamblers, while professional boxing now barely hangs on. The National Football League’s championship game typically is the most-watched television program of the year, which is why companies this year paid an average of $4.5 million for 30 seconds of advertising. (Though GoDaddy has made more money from ads it supposedly couldn’t run than from ads it could.) We take football far more seriously than we do a lot of other far more important topics.

In short, if football is dying, some might say, give me the disease.

And maybe I’m nuts. After all, I have suffered multiple concussions and take a bit of weird pride in the fact that I was once knocked unconscious in a college football practice (yes, practice) by a guy who is (at least for now) the head coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. But if I were a gambler, I’d bet that next year’s Super Bowl — the 50th — will be the high point for pro football before an inevitable downward slide.

Unless some prominent Republican politician’s kid gets killed on the gridiron, I don’t expect football’s decline to be sudden. There’s too much money involved — perhaps most importantly at the college level. As long as doddering alums will pay big bucks to relive their college days by cheering for nonstudent athletes clad (if only for a year or two before they go pro, get hurt or flunk out) in the alma mater’s colors, major universities will continue to pay football coaches far more than their presidents. And even if colleges start paying their players, the reason many of them play in college is for the chance to turn pro.

Still, the column by Los Angeles Times writer Bill Plaschke helps demonstrates why I believe pro football may be peaking in popularity. At some point we will have to come to terms with the fact that our favorite sport kills and maims too many people, most of them kids. There’s a reason that, as Plaschke points out, even “Iron Mike” Ditka wouldn’t let his own son play football today.

Like football today, boxing was once one of the top three sports in America for viewers and gamblers,  Aside from the corruption that came to characterize the sport, those of us old enough to remember Muhammad Ali battling Joe Frazier could no longer in good conscience watch the bloodshed — especially after seeing what the sport did to the wit and vocabulary of a man who could have been the rhetorical model for Richard Sherman. (Even as young sportscasters now emulate others who copied Howard Cosell, perhaps without knowing who Cosell was.)

We’ve now seen the corruption that football madness can engender, even at the high school level. It’s much worse in college, and of course this year has been a bad one for the NFL. People still have a somewhat favorable view of the league, but disgust or disinterest has set in for many. As scandals and awareness of the bloodshed both increase, people will find other entertainment options.

I don’t know what might replace football in popularity. I’d hope for baseball, but basketball is more likely. Mixed martial arts, soccer, golf and auto racing all have rabid fans, but not enough to convince the rest of us to buy expensive apparel and plan our weekends around events.

Maybe we’ll give politics or community affairs or education more attention. Perhaps we’ll read more. Maybe we’ll go back to actually engaging in activities ourselves, rather than simply watching others do so. But probably not, unless those activities involve some form of video gaming that we can do while drinking beer, eating pizza and burgers, betting big money, and yelling at the screen.

In the meantime, of course, most of us will keep watching football, rooting for laundry, hoping “our guys” crush the competition without anyone getting killed in the process. Go Hawks!

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What’s more American than stupid, dishonest Super Bowl advertising?

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2014

“What’s more American than America?” Bob Dylan asks in an ad for the Chrysler 200 that appeared during the Super Bowl (the ad is posted above).

The question is stupid — and in this case, largely irrelevant since in most years you can come closer to an “American car” with a Toyota than with a Chrysler. Last year’s Chrysler 200 was less than three-quarters “American.” The company itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Italian company, Fiat.

The Chrysler ad was also misleading in another way. You may have heard the line, “What Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” If the line refers to some specific type of car, such as Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line version, that line may be accurate — but the first two real automobiles were made in France and Germany (and the first American ones weren’t made in Detroit). The ad also shows a picture of an American freeway, followed by a sign for the German autobahn — which, in fact, inspired the American interstate highway system.

The Super Bowl must be a great place to sell cars: Besides the Chrysler ad, viewers saw commercials vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, HondaHyundai, SuburuVolkswagen, Maserati and Jaguar.

Of course, the entire Chrysler ad fell short of what many of us would have expected of Dylan (though he had previously “sold out” to Cadillac and Victoria’s Secret). Designed to pull at the heartstrings like a campaign ad for Ronald Reagan, it was very similar to a Chrysler ad done by Clint Eastwood two years earlier. But it made me wonder how soon Dylan will stand alone on a stage, talking to a chair.

Coke did patriotism much better than Chrysler with its “America the Beautiful” ad. (Though the best Super Bowl ad of all was one apparently seen originally only in Georgia, for a personal injury lawyer.)

The Coke commercial also drew some criticism because of its use of multiple languages — which predictably offended Glenn Beck, some at Fox News, and other nitwits — and its portrayal of a gay family. The latter point is especially interesting, considering the fact that the words for the featured song were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a feminist who probably was a lesbian. Perhaps more surprising in regard to the Coke commercial is the reasoned liberal objection to the ad.

Incidentally, this was perhaps only the second time in decades that I’ve been more interested in the outcome of the game than in the advertising. As a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan, I was much happier with the result this year than when the Seahawks were robbed in 2006.

Next-day follow-up: Below is a video of Atlanta anchor Brenda Wood talking about the Coke ad.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Music dies; parents watching Super Bowl nearly do the same

Posted by James McPherson on February 2, 2009

CNN reminds us that it has now been 50 years since “the day the music died,” coincidentally in the same state where many presidential campaigns throughout history have crashed and burned. Buddy Holly was the most important of the musicians who died in the crash, which also claimed teen singer Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper Richardson (and would have killed one of my personal favorites, Waylon Jennings, if he had not given his seat to a flu-bitten Richardson).

Holly brought us songs that included “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and the last song he ever performed, the ironically titled “Not Fade Away.” The crash brought perhaps my favorite rock song, of all time, Don McLean’s “American Pie” (the meaning of which isn’t totally clear; McLean famously said, “It means I don’t ever have to work again.”), sung by Garth Brooks and a cast of thousands at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Concert.

I was at an impressionable age for music when the song came out (I turned 13 shortly after that) and a big fan of 1950s music in general (despite being only only six months old when Holly died). A few years later even modified McLean’s chorus to fit my first car (a 1966 Valiant): “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie; drove my Plymouth to the limit but the limit ain’t high. The others drinkin’ whiskey, and I guess so was I. If my ol’ man finds out then I’ll die.”

The song is also very long, meaning it never got as much airtime as I thought it deserved–and less after pre-programmed corporate radio meant fewer DJs who needed bathroom breaks. But you can see an early live YouTube video of McLean performing “American Pie” below.

On another media topic that brings to mind the words, “O, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away” (a song later recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Supremes, the Beatles, Deep Purple and Rush, among others), parents in Tucson have to wishing they could erase from memory the surprise images that appeared during yesterday’s game. Some residents of the Cardinals’ state saw what had to be the longest 10 seconds of any Super Bowl party in history.

Despite the fact that viewers saw the unzipping of pants in this case apparently not because of a “wardrobe malfunction,” but instead through the act of a hacker, cable executives are probably just hoping they can avoid a lawsuit.

That’ll be the day.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A ‘stimulating’ Limbaugh lesson, and battles in Afghanistan and Tampa

Posted by James McPherson on February 1, 2009

Normally I have about the same respect for James Carville that I do for Rush Limbaugh. But sometimes it is interesting to watch a contest in which you wish both sides could lose, such as when a skinny bald blowhard gives the pompous drug-addicted blowhard a lesson about history and government.

Carville is making fun of Limbaugh’s supposed call for bipartisanship regarding the stimulus bill being considered by Congress. In the meantime, in a true show of Senate bipartisanship, Maine Republican Susan Collins (whom some Republicans think should be a Democrat) and Colorado Democrat Ben Nelson (whom some Dems think should join the GOP) are working to create a stimulus package that majorities in both parties could support. Mostly what they’re trying to do is “slash what they call wasteful spending from the bill.”

Republicans, many of whom consider almost any spending not related to killing someone to be wasteful, continue to call for the least effective means of stimulus (tax breaks) while rejecting the most effective (programs for poor people). Regardless of the outcome, a big stimulus package will be passed and much will be spent on infrastructure–a good thing except for the fact that too much of it will go to reinforcing a car-centric culture and not enough to mass transit (the benefits of which I greatly enjoyed last month in New York and Washington, D.C.).

Related to the economy, the stupidist spending under the George W. Bush adminstration was, and continues to be, expensed related to the Iraq War. While I am encouraged that President Barack Obama will likely reduce our presence there, I am troubled that he may be aiming toward creating his own Vietnam/Iraq-style quagmire in Afghanistan.

Obama probably will double the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, which might have been a good idea seven years ago. But keeping in mind that the current U.S. presence is smaller than the number of police deemed necessary to patrol friendly, celebratory crowds without guns in our nation’s capital on Inauguration Day, Obama’s plan seems mostly like a way to temporarily look semi-strong on defense while accomplishing no clear goals. Among those continuing to pay the price will be American soldiers and their orphaned children, and American taxpayers and their bewildered grandchildren.

Incidentally, Senators Collins and Nelson and I do have something in common, if the two really are working through the weekend to fix the stimulus package–we’ll be among that distinct minority of Americans not watching today’s Super Bowl. I’ve skipped viewing most Super Bowls, often other matchups in which I hope both sides lose, though I did hang on every second of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2005 loss to the Steelers (part of why today I’m rooting for the Cardinals–another area in which I disagree with Obama).

While I like football (I played in college, and still prefer the college game), with a few obvious exceptions the Super Bowl generally is not a particularly good game. With every key play to be shown endlessly in coming days, the halftime show a watered-down performance by a popular star provided with poor sound, and (thanks to YouTube) every commercial worth watching available anytime after the game, there is little reason to tune in.

I also don’t think the game will be close. My prediction: 34-13, Steelers. I figure today might be the perfect time to finally brave the mall and exchange the shirts I got for Christmas, since there will be few other guys there.

Same day update: So much for my career as a sports prognosticator. I walked into the house and flipped on the TV just in time to see the last play of the first half–the longest play in Super Bowl history. I then watched Bruce Springsteen in a halftime show that was every bit as weak as I expected, and then turned the TV back off until just before the Steelers gave up a safety to let the Cardinals get within four points.

To my credit, I did then have enough sense to watch the rest of the game, which the Steelers probably deserved to lose–after all, how do you NOT cover Larry Fitzgerald closely enough to prevent the last Cardinal touchdown? On the other hand, can you cover Santonio Holmes any better than he was covered on Pittburgh’s last TD? Who knows, after the last couple of years, I may have to start watching Super Bowls again.

Posted in History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Congress approving digital delay that few want?

Posted by James McPherson on January 27, 2009

After last night’s unanimous Senate vote, the House of Representatives will take “emergency action” to vote on a bill to delay the switch to digital television from Feb. 17 until June 12. The House vote may come as early as later today, though I suspect ongoing stimulus talks and other issues (which fortunately included passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) will delay it until tomorrow or later this week. So much for the idea that interest groups and lobbyists have all the power in Washington, since students and I learned first-hand last week that representatives for several powerful groups actually oppose the delay to digital.

The “emergency” aspect of the House action is somewhat humorous, since the switch to digital has been scheduled for more than a decade and those of use with cable or satellite hookups probably won’t be seriously affected (though even we may need an extra cable box or experience a slight  increase in the number of neighbors who want to watch football games at our houses). A January startup date previously had been moved to Feb. 17 after legislators realized what might happen if the switch screwed up people’s Super Bowl viewing or messed with the plans of advertisers, who will pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of advertising during the game. No, that’s not a joke–at least three experts we spoke with in New York and Washington, D.C., verified the Super Bowl-related reasoning behind the February date.

I don’t know the significance of the June 12 date, which among other things happens to be George H.W. Bush’s 85th birthday, the 70th birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 22nd anniversary of the date Ronald Reagan urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the 15th anniversary of when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered (an event that came 27 years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriages, suggesting that O.J. may have an odd way of celebrating key anniversaries).

Regardless of the date, the Nielsen ratings folks are concerned about the switch to digital, as Dave Thomas, president of Global Media Client Services of the company, noted when we met him two weeks ago. He estimated that 5 to 6 percent of viewers are “completely unprepared” for the switch (despite the fact that as National Association of Broadcasters executive VP Marcellus Alexander told us last week, more than $1 billion has been spent on industry advertising warning viewers that “you may need a converter box” if your TV is too old and you don’t have cable or satellite television).

“What’s troubling is that it’s not going to fall evenly,” Thomas noted about the people who will be left without television. Young people, the elderly and poor people will be most likely to suffer problems, and not nearly enough cost-reducing coupons have been set aside for people who need converter boxes. I don’t know how much the problem might be aggravated by people like me who got converter boxes despite already having cable, just in case a natural disaster or the desire to watch a baseball game while camping forces me to rely on older, non-digital technology.

A bigger problem will be that some people won’t have signals even with their new converter boxes, as we were reminded last week by Seth Morrison, senior VP of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. On the digital transition issue, members of CTAM–who naturally (but not “officially”) want everyone to switch to cable, anyway–find themselves in rare agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters in opposing the delay, in large part because in the meantime broadcasters and cable companies are paying to transmit both digital and traditional analog signals.

Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, told our group last Friday (and apparently told the Associated Press a few days later) that a four-month extension would cost PBS stations more than $22 million in extra transmission costs. Coincidentally, just a few minutes into our meeting, she had to leave the room to take a call from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the sponsor of the bill (favored by Barack Obama) to delay the transition to digital.

“It sounds like they won’t extend the date,” Kerger said when she returned, indicating that there didn’t seem to be enough Senate votes to force the extension. Assuming that Rockefeller wasn’t intentionally misleading Kerger, just three days later the tide shifted dramatically to make the vote for the extension unanimous, while illustrating another Kerger point: “The conversion has not been well managed.”

On the other hand, as more and more Americans find themselves without work, at least the delay will let more of those people spend their suddenly free time watching the antics of politicians and thieving financial fat cats, so viewers can better understand just how screwed they really are.

Incidentally, for tonight’s viewing I recommend FRONTLINE/World on PBS, which starts a new season with stories about Guantanamo prisoners, the Italian Mafia and Barack Obama’s Brazilian appeal.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Killing youth

Posted by James McPherson on January 2, 2009

When does a kid stop being a kid? When he agrees to become a suicide bomber? When she kills her parents or grandparents? When he joins the military or she starts to drive?

Maybe when he has sex with his high school or junior high teacher, or she “marries” a much-older man? When he graduates from high school or she has her first baby–or agrees to sell the baby photos to the highest bidder?

Or maybe when he or she decides never to watch another “reality show” such as “The Bachelor” or any of its seemingly hundreds of even sleazier video offspring? Have the people who were so up in arms about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction ever seen “Double Shot of Love”?

I find it interesting that the more horrible the crime against youngsters, the more we want to protect them, but the more horrible the crime they commit (an indication of less maturity, not more), the more likely we are to want to see them charged as adults.

We also may have a double standard when it comes to gender (though Slate’s William Saleton has offered evidence to the contrary). Girls, who mature faster than boys, may be more likely to be treated as victims–as they should be–when they engage in sexual relationships with older men. For teenage boys seduced by older women, however, some laugh off the act as a “rite of passage” or the harmless fulfillment of fantasy (though perhaps unfortunate if she happens to turn out to be a Nazi war criminal).

Like other parents and teachers, I worry that our children are growing up too fast. Some people blame the media, though even Focus on the Family admits that with home schooling your children and keeping them away from television, “Still, there’s no way to protect them completely from the perversion of the world.”

Perversion aside (and my definition of the term often differs from that of Focus on the Family) maybe we ought to teach our kids–and ourselves–more about the world as it is: not a dark and scary place where everyone who steps outside is likely to be raped or murdered (the picture portrayed by much of local television news and entertainment), one where everyone ought to be having sex with everyone else (the apparent view of much of the rest entertainment television), or a Disneyfied version in which love always conquers all.

Let kids be kids, when we can. Let the rest of us be kids from time to time, too. But let’s grow up about it, shall we?

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics, Religion, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »