Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Spotlights

I write this post on Super Sunday, the day of "The Big Game" (as the Super Bowl is known when referenced by advertisers who do not pay a rights fee).  The Super Bowl has existed for longer than I've been alive, but relatively speaking, not much longer.  It started to become a cultural phenomenon that transcends sports about the time that I was born, and by the time I started paying attention to what was going on in the world, the Super Bowl was a full-on spectacle. 

For Christmas one year in the late 1980s, I got this VHS tape--an NFL Films history of the Super Bowl.  Naturally, I watched it enough that I practically memorized the narration.  I fancied myself a Super Bowl historian, and I recorded the results of every Super Bowl in a notebook (kids who grow up with Wikipedia have it so easy).

On one occasion I overheard a couple of "grown-ups" discussing a Super Bowl memory--they were recalling a particular Super Bowl Sunday several years prior in which they had consumed a copious amount of alcohol.  I was immediately intrigued--not by the alcohol consumption, but by the concept of a Super Bowl memory.  I interjected myself into the conversation (kind of hilarious in hindsight) by asking what Super Bowl and who was playing.  The adults got a confused look, and one of them said he couldn't recall (which is also kind of hilarious in hindsight).  I started to blurt out that I had a notebook with all of the Super Bowls recorded and that I would be glad to share it with them so they could figure out which Super Bowl they were talking about, but I never got the chance to, as the conversation continued and I was not afforded a word in edgewise (which is also kind of hilarious in hindsight).

Perhaps this incident was noteworthy because it was the start of my realization that many people watch the Super Bowl without paying attention to it.  I guess I knew even before that moment that other people didn't meticulously write down the result of every play in a notebook (not the same notebook that I used to record historic results).  But I kind of thought that people at least made a mental note of the result of other plays.  Since then, I've come to the realization that not only do most people's brains out all but the most indelible happenings, but that this is the case in almost all aspects of life.

I've come to the realization that the Super Bowl is an extreme illustration of what psychologists call The Spotlight Effect.  Quoting from the linked article:

We all are the center of our own universes. This is not to say we are arrogant, or value ourselves more than others, but rather, that our entire existence is from our own experiences and perspective. And we use those experiences to evaluate the world around us, including other people. But other people not only lack the knowledge of, for instance, the stain that you have, but they are the center of their own universes too, and in turn, are focused on other things!
Television viewing audiences for the Super Bowl now exceed 100 million people annually.  And yet, if you were to survey America tomorrow, how many could accurately name the two broadcasters?  Certainly some could, but I would be shocked if the majority of the audience would be able to.  At times during the game, over 100 million people will have their eyes focused on the referee.  How many would be able to pick him out of a lineup tomorrow?  Thinking back to a classic historical Super Bowl moment--how many people can name the player for the St. Louis Rams who made a championship saving tackle at the 1-yard line at the last second?  (For the record, I can, but I used to write down facts in notebooks, so I don't count).  For all the hype about Super Bowl commercials, how many will be remembered six months from now? 

There are certainly occasions when the spotlight really is on.  Bizarre or outlandish occurrences will stand out (so the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction will live on in infamy).  But for the most part, most of what will happen in the game today will be mostly forgotten by tomorrow, and a year from now even less will be remembered.  And we can take comfort that if the spectacle that is the Super Bowl weighs little in the thoughts and considerations of its viewers, the supposed spectacle that is our life weighs little in the thoughts and considerations of our "viewers." 

EDIT: This was written before the power outage in the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl.  This incident likely will be one that stands the test of memory.  How ironic that one of the things that focuses our attention is not the result of the spotlight's glare, but of the spotlight's extinguishing.


Post a Comment

<< Home