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February 5, 2011

Super Bowl: Enter the Matrix

CNN runs this photograph along with its article about this Super Bowl being the most high tech ever.  Featured in the photograph is the Dallas Cowboys Stadium large-screen LCD television, which, at over 9000 sq. feet of image-space on either side, is the largest high-definition television in the world.  In this photograph the screen is shot from below, giving it a God-like appearance hovering over the mere mortal action of the game.  With a vision this large, this clear, and this dominant, it’s easy to forget the rather violent, rather intense, and all-too-human contest taking place on that afterthought of a field below.

What’s at stake here is reality—screens and their power to swallow up the actual in the neatly framed and perfectly lit.  It’s like an NFL version of the Matrix.

Appearing on the screen in this photograph is a waist-up shot of Felix Jones, running back for the Dallas Cowboys.  When the image of a player looms this large for fans—even those sitting in the cheapest of seats (and at the Super Bowl, that’s not very cheap)—they can’t help but feel they are lining up against Jones themselves—that they themselves are middle-linebackers staring into his eyes and attempting to read the play.

But this is a false sense of reality.  When the play starts, the fan is not going to collide helmet-to-helmet at full speed with Jones—or with Rashard Mendenhall of the Steelers or James Starks of the Packers. Instead, rather than feeling woozy after the hit, they’ll be alert and ready for the next distracting image.

Today, a live NFL event includes a vast amount of non-game time, produced by the various media demands of live broadcasts (i.e. time to run commercials).  When one attends such an event at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, the largest LCD screen doesn’t go blank but shows commercials just like you’d see at home in your living room, except on a scale fit for the gods.

When Dallas Cowboys Stadium hosted the 2010 NBA All Star game (above), the screen was larger than the court the game was played on.  The late French media theorist Jean Baudrillard worried that when we create ever-more compelling copies of our reality, our attention becomes so distracted that events, at least in the minds of media consumers, cease to happen. When NFL fans attend a game at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, they are often so distracted by the massive spectacle of the screen above, they fail to see the game happening below.

So maybe this isn’t The Matrix, but 2001, the screen a monolith jammed into human consciousness by aliens.  Except these aliens aren’t trying to usher in a new human race, but rather, one attuned completely to the corporate enterprise of buying-and-selling.  These aliens, in other words, are from from Madison Avenue. And when fans are this distracted, it’s easy to convince them that the blood and sweat of sport and these inspirational, if intermittent acts of physical dedication are just a screen for the consumption of other brands.

– Brent Cottle

(photo 1: Ronald Martinez /Getty Images Sport. caption: Running back Felix Jones #28 of the Dallas Cowboys is shown on the screen at Cowboys Stadium on September 20, 2009 in Arlington, Texas. photo 2: Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images  . caption: The All-Star logo appears on the jumbotron during the NBA All-Star Game, as part of 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend on February 14, 2010 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

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