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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.)

  • black dog barking

    The video production team scattered around the stadium is better equipped to see the game action then any fan in any seat. They have telephoto lenses, multiple angles, a central editing booth, and instant replay. The best seat in the house is in front of the TV.

    • Vvoter

      I’ve thought this for a while, too. But the TV experience leaves out some crucial elements of the live experience that give me pause before I reflexively grant Best Seat props to my living room sofa.

      Consider the material, physical dimension of sitting among thousands of screaming, stomping people, all more or less enclosed within a building whose purpose, function, and shape is designed to engulf the individual in a, shall we say, Herculean spectacle. In short, a seat in the grandstands is a seat fully immersed in a physical-collective experience unlike any other in classical or contemporary Western culture. With all of the noise – and yes, lights, cameras, and action – the actual bodily experience in Dallas supersedes anything that even the latest home theater technology can deliver in terms of material impact on one’s body.

      This afternoon, the individual in Dallas will become subsumed by a collective dynamic much larger than oneself. And while my impulses lead me to look for some abstract relationship between the collectivism of live sporting events and the collectivism of Western democratic socio-political life, I’m straining to find the points of contact. I find myself thinking more along the lines of concentrated expressions of collectivism, or as Glenn Beck might extrapolate, communism.

      On this proposal, North Korea’s Mass Games come to mind, especially with regard to the size and scale of Dallas’s LCD screen, unquestionably diminished by comparison to the North Korean human analogue.

      Best seat in the house? Hard to say. But thanks to BNN and the fine discussion community here for stretching our minds this week – amidst the unfolding stories in Egypt – to draw connections between the NFL and broader public life.

  • chrisanthemama

    “…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.”

    Also: because it’s true. The show/game is just the casing for the advertising-sausage.

  • Books Alive

    Mammoth screen and yet no heaters to melt the roof-top snow and ice. Quite a debut for Mr. Jones, in addition to the last-minute elimination of 1,250 “bleacher” seats, sending those ticket purchasers to watch on TV.

  • momly

    I was impressed with the stubbornness/stupidity of the people outside the dome watching on screens set up for them. I suppose if I spent $800+ for a ticket (not to mention the expense of getting to Dallas and having someplace to stay), I would have stood around outside, too, dammit.

    FOX showed a view from the nosebleed seats at one point in the game and it gave me vertigo. I had to look away from the TV I was watching and re-orient myself to my friend’s living room. I would never have been able to 1)climb to that seat and then 2) feel secure sitting there.

  • Marsupialas

    What was strange was how the cameras would cut to someone “watching” the game and their gaze was directed up at that giant screen overhead and not at the field. Weird.

    • bartcopfan

      I noticed that–and it wasn’t just the fans, it was the PLAYERS, too!

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