Hits and Histrionics at the Super Bowl

Who says America doesn’t have a natural aristocracy? From young Bar(r)on von Trump to Lady Gaga, this country has produced legions of men, women, ADD teens, and hypoallergenic designer dogs, who radiantly fulfill Thomas’s Jefferson belief, laid out in an 1813 letter to John Adams, that “the natural aristocracy … is the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts and government of society.”  The court pageant where these living testaments to inborn virtue and elevating talent are most abundantly on display is the Super Bowl: from dauntless Tom Brady down on the artificially-turfed battlefield to the milky-maned, sequin-girdled Baroness of Song up on the ramparts of energy-giant NRG Stadium.

Since the young Baron was sequestered in Palm Beach this past Sunday swilling Ritalin-laced Pepsi Zero Sugar while his teatotaling dad backwashed through his straw into a 64-ounce mega-cup of Dyspepsia, it was up to Lady G to instruct her nation and her world with the intrinsic gifts birthed and bred by this, her native land. The thirteen minutes of her Pepsi Zero Sugar Super Bowl Halftime Show will resound in the annals of the republic long after the Joanne World Tour it launched has run its gyrating course.

Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta into a far-from-impoverished Upper East Side family, Lady Gaga elevated herself to the natural nobility early in her youth. Indeed, she claims to have been planning her Super Bowl heroics since the age of a not-so-tender four. The hard work and preparation for great deeds reaped its reward on Sunday. The masque she and her courtiers staged was far more than a diverting entertainment.  It was utterly Jeffersonian in the message projected and the mission accomplished.

The peaceful transfer of presidential power that the fallen Democrats and ascendant Republicans have pontificated on ceaselessly since the November elections is sealed not on the Capitol Hill steps on January 20th, but in one American Coliseum or another two weeks later during the far more important ceremony that is the Super Bowl.  In this latest edition more than ever before, the rituals of the big game were charged with ensuring stability in turbulent times.

Symbols of continuity were everywhere to be seen, from tea-party Vice President Mike Spence hobnobbing with cocktail party politician James Baker III of the republican old guard up in one of the luxury boxes, down to the aged George Bush the Elder wheeled out for the coin toss at the fifty-yard line. Ironically, this was precisely the method that should have been used to decide the outcome of the 2000 presidential election that the black-robed refs in the Super Court awarded to his son.

That the aptly named Patriots and their pro-Trump principles and principals (QB Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick) were taking it in the teeth in the first half exerted a calming effect on stricken Democrats—Pepto-Bismol for the rancid buffet of Trump’s electoral victory and the stomach upset of his first two weeks. At least the bad guys would apparently lose on the gridiron even if they’d won in the voting booths.

Back in October Lady Gaga provided the entertainment for Obama’s final state dinner at the White House. With the nation since then descending into ever-greater divisiveness, her task on Sunday was far more vital to the United States’ political wellbeing.

Suited up like a sparkling Barbarella, she began her act from atop the cantilevered roof as if transported to earth from intergalactic space to entertain, to uplift, maybe even to arouse, but most crucially to heal the national wounds.

With the stars of the night sky twinkling behind her, she launched into Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, a patriotic hymn of the First World War and long a staple of America’s highest holy day, the Super Bowl.  The opening segment of her spectacle was pre-recorded, as was plain to see in the close-ups that betrayed the interventions of post-production.  This most solemn of American rites brooks no stutters, stumbles, or falls from the parapet, even onto the ample padding of biggy-sized fans below. The rest of her act was merely lip-synced.

“Stand beside her and guide her, through the night with light from above,” she sang (though not live, of course) while pointing up at the obviously fake mobile stars behind her. No, these lights weren’t actually coming heavenly bodies, but from Intel’s Shooting Star Drone Squad zipped over to Houston after a triumphant three-week stint at Disney World.

As Gaga gestured the stars went black, only to reappear in red and blue and begin scrambling about as the singer began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. She then segued into the opening “This Land is Your Land,” written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 as an antidote to Berlin’s bombastic hymn then swamping the airwaves in Kate Smith’s rendition.

On Sunday in Houston there was neither the time nor the inclination to deliver any of Guthrie’s subversive lyrics. Instead, the pile-up of Berlin, Gaga, and Guthrie made for the most lurid sonic threesome in a Super Bowl history already rich in proto-pornographic couplings (cf. Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz rendition of “I Kissed a Girl” at the 2015 halftime).

Having had her wicked way with This Land, Gaga gave Woody’s song one last lash of the bondage whip and brutal kick with the glittering S & M boot by returning to the flag salute: “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Woody moaned not in ecstasy, but pure agony.

Here was protest music forced against its will into the dark chamber of a patriotic dominatrix—a patriotrix!— while the symbol of Obama’s presidency, the drones, formed the red-white-and-blue of the American flag, as if the firmament itself were swearing allegiance to the Super Bowl Super Power.  The drones of Houston will be the enduring image of Obama’s tenure—his political casket wrapped in Old Glory in the ersatz night sky, hymned to those heavens by Lady Gaga’s throat and thighs.

The pricks of light also permanently sutured the Obama Presidency to the Trump regime for all the world to see and hear.

As the impatient new president heaved himself from his Palm Beach table and headed to the limo before the game got interesting, he probably thought to himself: Why bother with a wall when this drone squad could patrol the border with far more efficiency, spotting the invaders and bringing them down with GPS-locater tranquilizing darts, the stunned illegals to be scooped up by Apache helicopters like those that kept the NGS stadium safe from terror attack on Sunday and airlifted back to the beach at Club Med Cancun.

Much was made of what followed the drones’ display, especially Gaga’s full-throated rendition of the lyrics to her hit Born This Way: “No Matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgender life / I’m on the right track baby / I was born to survive.” In her song “Stay” she cuddled with on-field supernumerary fan of tawny complexion, this bit of mugging taken by the wishful to be a pointed political comment. Similarly, the pre-game trio of women from the Broadway cast of Hamilton—the show into which Mike Pence wandered soon after the November elections, only to be given a curtain-call talking-to by one of the actors—echoed America the Beautiful’s “brotherhood” with an interpolated “sisterhood.”

There were ads about immigrants, from unnamed Mexicans to Adolphus Busch, the father of Budweiser and the patron saint of the Super Bowl itself. The most cynical spot extolled the conscious-cleansing effects of hybrid SUVs—the modern day equivalent of papal indulgences, and about as effective a way to save the soul and the earth from the fury of environmental Armageddon. Predictably, these tepid ploys enraged Trumpites and Breitbarters.

After Gaga’s hits and histrionics had concluded, Team Trump and the Patriots were taking no chances. From his perch alongside James Baker III, Pence ordered the stadium’s retractable roof to be closed once again after Gaga’s exit in case rogue elements in the CIA loyal to the Clintons tried to hack into the drone team’s command center and direct one or more of these mechanized angels of death to take out Tom Brady. His field of operations thus secured, the Patriot quarterback went on to Make America Great Again by stealing the game in overtime from the underdog Falcons, the ill-fated and outsized darlings of the anti-Trump camp.

The pre-game hymns, the halftime extravaganza, the parade of commercials, the nail-biting on-field contest itself—none of the glitz and glitter and brain-rattling collisions, the precious words of inclusion, nor even the sight of and sound of Gaga in diamond briefs and football shoulder pads could dull the enduring image of the drones above.

The First Lady of Song and Dance was the one who conjured them into the consciousness of a nation in its hour of need at the start of the epic halftime enactment that found America’s team and its people on the brink of despair and defeat. With the night itself frowning down on the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, and with nature poised to show America who the real Super Power is, we need our natural aristocracy more than ever.

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical NotebooksHe can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com