Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Springsteen

A darkened stadium massed with tens of thousands of fanatics in precise formation, marching in place to patriotic music of the homeland. Powerful searchlights sending their columns up into the inifinity of the night sky in a display seen for miles around and in striking shots from an overhead Zeppelin to be used for propaganda. Nuremberg 1937 and the Nazi Party Congress?

No, it’s Tampa 2009 and the Superbowl halftime show.

Both in the high-energy event itself and even more strikingly in stills, the iconography of the Bruce Springsteen’s grand Superbowl entertainment owed its inspiration to Albert Speer’s Cathedral of Light with its 150 vertical beams rising up from the Nuremberg Zeppelin fields into the Bavarian heavens.  The designers of the Superbowl strayed from the static effect of Speer’s installation, by waggling the stately shafts of light as if they were unable to resist the infectiousness of the Boss’s full-throttle music.  This lascivious quavering demonstrated why the Nazis distrusted the beat of degenerate music from America—jazz and its miscegenated descendents. The menacing majesty of Speer’s original architectural concept would have been weakened if the beams had taken to shaking their booties to a jungle beat.

With one eye on the past and the other on the future, the Superbowl strove to outdo Nazi precedent with the massive effusions of fireworks that punctuated the show at the climax of songs, then finally and orgasmically after Springsteen and co’s twelve minutes were up and the mock referee ran on stage to throw a penalty flag and bring the show to a close. That was when all hell broke loose in a mighty fusillade. With the Nazi imagery clearly in one’s head, the rockets’ red glare was pure Eastern Front. Thus the halftime show combined two aspects of Speer’s dark creativity: the architect and the director of munitions. The fascist design in repose leapt into action with terrible dynamic energy: the Cathedral of Light shattered by a re-enactment of the Blitz.

But when those streaking bolts of fire were frozen by photography for more considered contemplation, Speer’s presence loomed as brightly as the searchlights and flares. Masters of mass spectacle, the Nazi would have admired how the Superbowl exploited the primordial power of light and dark, stasis and movement.

No less incisive a commentator on American culture than the late George Carlin laid bare with comic precision the military metaphors that give meaning to football: the Steelers’ final drive, “marching down the field,” was the last of many examples of this discourse in Sunday’s game. As I recall, the Blitz is one such metaphor Carlin never mentioned, though it’s perhaps the most terrifying of the lot.

What must the international television audience, especially those watching the Superbowl who have experienced real American bombs falling, thought about this theatrical representation of military might and national unity?

Also unsettling was the way these searchlights and fireworks cast a retrospective glare on Springsteen’s most recent national, indeed international, appearance only a couple of weeks ago in front of the Lincoln Memorial to kick-off Obama’s inauguration welcome week with the “We Are One” Concert—the very title yet one more sinister slogan of blind allegiance to America.  On that Sunday the Boss stood on the steps of the monument in front of a robed choir in columnar formation singing the post-9/11 anthem “The Rising.” A version of that same choir, also in church garments, appeared briefly in the Superbowl show on football’s most sacred Sunday. Yet again, the Nazis come to mind in the way they attempted to divert the power of organized Christian religion for the purposes of fascist adoration and ritual. I’m not forecasting a Putsch, but I get doubly nervous when I see church choirs singing in front of nationalist sites.

At Springsteen’s Lincoln Memorial performance all was bright and gleaming. The patriotic ballad “The Rising” moving from the darkness of terrorist attack to the redemption of the “sky of fullness, sky of blessed of life”, traces a predictably trajectory from dark to light.  The backdrop of the monument’s white marble presented an absolute contrast to the dark pit of the Tampa stadium at halftime. But during Superbowl I again saw the gleaming Apollonian facade of the columned monument even more starkly for what it is: too square, too white, too hulking in its proportion. And when one envisions the colossal Lincoln statue and remembers how frighteningly stiff, godlike, scary it is, one might also be forgiven for thinking of the Nazi sculptor Arno Breker’s Aryan nudes. Thankfully Abe is not naked.  In a word the Lincoln Memorial, too, is architecture Speer himself could have created.  That Speer clearly admired and wanted to surpass the grand axes and monumental classical buildings of Washington DC in his architectural plans to transform Berlin into Germania, the capital of the Thousand Year Reich, only helps to confirm these associations.

Some might even claim that the virility of such nudes is to be heard in the rough urgency of Springsteen’s voice.  The manly was on display at the Superbowl, the modern Grecian games of the macho, even more so on the stage than on the field. Springsteen, having ditched his guitar, grabbed the microphone ,then lay back on the stage with the glinting microphone stand rising above him in impressive display. The subsequent knee-skid into the camera that brought Springsteen’s crotch into the living room’s of millions only confirmed the importance of the money shot when heroes are on the national stage. Expose a female nipple and you’ve got national outrage. Give us a breadbasket blackout and you’ve tears of national elation. (The 30-second “glitch” and thus brightening up the fourth quarter for the benefit of Comcast cable subscribers in Arizona offered the appropriate coda to the halftime strutting.)

Springsteen promised good clean rock ‘n roll fun, though purity is an elastic comcast.  But mass spectacle is by definition ideological, the Superbowl the highest holiday of American cultural life. The nostalgic hits Springsteen delivered at halftime tugged persistently at American heartstrings even as the rock n’ rollers shook their creaking hips: the euphoria of the show was built on unalloyed sentimentality. The Boss’s decision to include the title track from his new album was canny product placement, but it also continues in the vein of patriotic vein of “The Rising.” How could such an occasion as Superbowl Sunday pass without yet another variant mantra of Obamian hope uniting the nation in song: “I’m working on a dream / And our love will make it real someday.”

Springsteen is not only a supporter of Obama but also a friend.  If you go to his website, which is also his Facebook account, you’ll see most prominently among his friends a photo of the President.  In contrast to the amorphous group of FOBs (Friends of Bill) in Clintontime, the new FOBs (Friends of Barack) can be quantified with the powerful Facebook software. I’m guessing that Internet President is literally a Friend to millions.

Much was made about Springsteen’s finally relenting, or better condescending, to do the halftime show after several previous invitations had rebuffed. It was reported that the artist saw such a venue as beneath him and his E Street Band. The claim was that only after major acts like the Prince, Rolling Stones, Bonjovi, and U2 others have appeared at the Superbowl did Springsteen decide the context was worthy of him.

Springsteen’s Lincoln Memorial and Superbowl performances are the musical arch through which the Obama years have made their triumphal entry.

That Springsteen and the E Streeters, like Perlman and his inaugural quartet, were faking it along with a pre-recorded tape is so predictable that it doesn’t deserve mention.  Again time constraints and insurmountable logistics provided the justification. That all must go down exactly as planned in mass public spectacle is something the Nazis understood better than anyone.

DAVID YEARSLEY teaches at Cornell University. A long-time contributor to the Anderson Valley Advertiser, he is author of Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint His latest CD, “All Your Cares Beguile: Songs and Sonatas from Baroque London”, has just been released by Musica Omnia. He can be reached at dgy2@cornell.edu

More articles by:

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

October 22, 2018
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail