Monday, February 8, 2016

Superbowl half-time entertainment and Rammstein

The last ten minutes of the first half in this Spring's Greatest Game in the World reminds me why I don't waste my time watching professional football.  Obviously, the bookies in Vegas and the sponsors needed parity, or something close to it, at the end of the 2nd quarter -- if one team pulls away from the other, a risk exists that consumers might start switching stations and, thus, forsaking million-dollar a second commercials.  And, so, the fix was radioed to the teams and they spent ten minutes of game time haplessly throwing the ball away, dropping passes that would ordinarily be easily caught, committing infractions to stall their advances, and, when necessary, simply pitching the ball to the ground in a series of scarcely simulated fumbles.  It was obvious to anyone watching that this part of the game was as scripted as pro-wrestling if rather ineptly and obviously.  After about the third fumble, it was clear that one or the other of the teams was still moving the ball successfully on the ground -- it was impossible for me to tell which team was which.  Accordingly, Payton Manning, a famous quarterback with unerring aim, had to throw an interception in order to reverse his team's momentum -- the whole spectacle was disheartening and pathetic.  Whenever football teams take to the air -- that is, throw lots of passes -- they are doing the bidding of their masters, the bookies and odds-makers:  it is much easier to fix a game by manipulating forward passes than by running.  (After all, some of these players are speedy and it looks foolish for them to slow down so that their much less fleet adversaries can bring them to ground.)

After a cavalcade of car commercials and ads for junkfood and prescription medication, Chris Martin took the stage for the half-time show, hopping around on a weird platform shaped like a four-leaf clover.  Martin is the lead singer in Cold Play and he bounced up and down enthusiastically while the platform beneath him changed colors -- nothing too psychedelic, but rather whirling arrays of pastels the color of different types of bubble-gum.  Crowds of Middle School girls sawed at their violins in ranks around the stage and, then, marching bands emerged from the sidelines flanked by dancers whirling like dervishes under pink and green and aquamarine blossom-shaped parasols.  The Game was played on the West Coast and the half-time show had the distinct disadvantage of being performed in broad daylight, without glamorous mists of spotlight-pierced dry-ice vapor, and so, I'm afraid, the whole spectacle was more than a little prosaic.  While Cold Play was still performing Bruno Mars appeared out of nowhere -- at least, the spectacle was edited in that way -- with a cadre of dancers all wearing black vinyl butcher-boy suits.  He danced around and crooned  and, then, the tall and shapely Beyoncé arrived at the party as well, leading a phalanx of dancers with identical bodies and hair-dos -- each girl had her Afro teased out into two buns at the side of her head, thus giving the dancing girls the general appearance of Mickey Mouse.  The folks who effectively film the football game from every possible vantage, cutting together the action to create suspenseful micro-narratives (will the team get a first in ten?  why does the coach look so distressed?  is the field-goal kicker up to the task?), seemed to have no concept how to film this show.  Clearly Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were located somewhere on the same platform and, from their feral snarling and mating displays, one could conclude that the two tribes of dancers were approaching one another -- but the cameramen never drew back into a long shot to show the relationship between the opposing groups of dancers.  It was an obvious defect and one that left a huge hollow in the presentation -- Mars and Beyoncé cut together as if dancing on different planets when, in fact, the entire micro-narrative operative in this part of the show was their gradual coming together, their coalescence into one packed group of dancers.  Ultimately, the union between the two groups occurred and the dancers collided, more or less, and the regimented troops of child fiddlers and plumed marching bands and spinning-top daisies and daffodils, all crowded around the platform, moving rhythmically after the manner of a patriotic North Korean spectacle while the lobes of the platform flashed out images from past Superbowl shows, all of them (with the exception of the jetpack guy who looked like the Duff beer guy on The Simpsons) regrettably better than this presentation, and, then, the directors of this show pulled out one of the oldest chestnuts in the repertoire, necessary in this case because the sun resolutely refused to set so as to impart any glamor to the proceedings, the old trick of members of the audience flashing cards in unison to blink out a message to the heavens, spelling out in house-high cards something about love. 

The night before I watched another spectacle, probably not much more edifying, but far more dramatic.  This was a DVD of Rammstein performing at Madison Square Garden in 2010.  Before the intermission, Till Lindeman, the band's singer hopped on a pink cannon the size of a front-end loader and ejaculated immense quantities of some kind of white foam into the audience -- this was the climax of a humble little ditty called "Pussy."  In the second half of the show, Till squatted on stage rhythmically hammering away at his knee while a dozen yards behind him the impish Flocka mimicked him, all of this occurring within a dense industrial haze of smoke and fire and puddles of leaking oil.  Flocka jumped on a treadmill and marched in place while playing his keyboard and, then, Till appeared in the polluted fog wearing a carapace of iron wings, the scaffolding of tubes and pipes and valves about ten or twelve feet tall.  Till spread his wings and, then, fire billowed out of their tips and, from hidden spigots in the floor, more fire fountained up in orange pillars and, in the audience, 50,000 kids in black leather bellowed German words that they could not understand in the slightest.  Rammstein performs without subtitles and the DVD didn't translate the lyrics -- Till purports to consider the words to his songs as mere noise and, therefore, says that he doesn't care if the audience understands what is being sung.  This is unfortunate because Till, is, in fact, a talented German lyric poet, a writer on the order of Trakl or Stefan Georg and, when he is not engaging in naked provocation, his verses are well-constructed, rhyme neatly, and contain lines (and, even, whole stanzas) that would not be out of place in Goethe's Erlkoenig.  It is hard to exactly articulate the appeal of Rammstein's noisy industrial pyrotechnics, but the band has a presence that is impossible to ignore.  I hope that they will be invited to perform at the Super Bowl soon.

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