Monday, February 8th, 2010
45

The "TV Event" As Bipartisanship, or, How the Super Bowl Helps Kill Health Care Reform

IN YOUR HOUSEIt was totally great that New Orleans got to celebrate last night. Now, are you ready for your Monday come-down? The Super Bowl–or more specifically, the way we watch it–is connected to the possibility that Democrats won't pass health care reform this year. Or that the two Democratically-controlled chambers of Congress that have already passed some version of health care reform might not manage to send a unified bill to a Democratic president's desk for his signature. The lessons, as always in America, are to be found in a reading of what happened on the teevee.

Think of it this way: the Super Bowl is the high-def broadcast embodiment of this political idea we call "bipartisanship." It's a "come together" moment in the culture, one when "real America" (which, to generalize, watches a lot of football) and "fake America" (which–again, speaking broadly–only tunes in for the big games) collude in the fiction that we are something resembling a coherent polity, all the members of which care to some appropriate degree about the other actors–even when we disagree. This is all perfectly false and has been for some time, in case you haven't noticed.

Remember, a recent poll found that fully two-thirds of Republicans either believe whole-heartedly or are "not sure" whether the "high crimes" clause in the constitution has been triggered and thus whether a president they merely happen to disagree with ought properly to be impeached. One-third of those Republicans sampled were fully in favor of secession from the union. I'm supposed to feel good about watching a game in common with these people? As a putatively "American" activity? Pass.

I'm starting to hope they'll make good on what I suspect is a cowardly inauthentic threat and just secede, already. After all, right now our TV bipartisanship is a lot like our political bipartisanship: it all takes place on the conservatives' turf. It's never a massive "come together" television event when the National Book Awards are announced. If you don't believe me, ask yourself why the prelude to yesterday's TV bipartisanship was the president getting on TV to assure the "liberal" Katie Couric about how there would be a lot more political bipartisanship to come before Congress even thinks of reconciling the two health care bills that its two chambers already passed. You could argue that this is smart politics, perhaps–or that it is a cunning way of seeming to act bipartisan while only enabling the process of reconciliation between House and Senate bills that has devolved into a "murky chaos"–but only if you ignore the fact that excessive fealty to the optics of bipartisanship is what swallowed up the entirety of Obama's first-year domestic agenda on behalf of a legislative priority whose odds, at present, look chancy at best. Sure, this strategy may yet bring results. But probably not fast enough, considering all the problems waiting patiently behind health care.

At any rate: if you like football and are really interested in the Super Bowl's outcome, then you don't need me to tell you to have watched it, no matter your politics. Enjoy the shit out of it! But if you only watch the Super Bowl because everyone else watches it and you feel like you ought to watch it, too, allow me to suggest that, next year, you give it a rest. If your interests have to do with anything other than sports or celebrities, at least know that the same courtesy of mass-interestedness will never be extended in your direction during peak moments of excitement related to whatever it is you care most about.

Meantime, there's no need to inflate the numbers of Super Bowl watchers–and no urgency to make its ad time all the more lucrative for the proponents of cheap chauvinism to trade in on–unless you really want to be there. Personally, while I'm quite content to pay higher taxes in New York so that the rural dudes I grew up with can have some sort of subsidized health care available to them while they are increasingly out of work, I confess I'm somewhat weary of simultaneously having to listen to cultural products aimed at my male cohort proffer the casual suggestion that I simply must be a sissified queer for paying attention to a girl instead of that game where a bunch of dudes play grab-ass. Just saying.

Because of this, I'll only ever watch football if I'm in the company of a friend whose excitement can have a cheering effect on me. And so it happens I didn't watch the Super Bowl yesterday. Not because I'm more interested in "proving a point" than I am in having fun, but because even more than I don't care about football, I don't care about supporting the ludicrously out of date notion that this country hangs together in any manner save for geographically (and even in that sense, obviously not completely). And it's not possible to pressure me into caring by suggesting that I should watch just so that I know what my fellow man is up to. I feel fully versed about "him," thanks. If I come into work on Monday and someone alerts me to the fact that some misogyny was detected in the vicinity of our national sports culture over the weekend, I am not shocked. It's times like these that we need an antonym for "breaking news."

Bipartisanship doesn't exist. Not politically in a de facto 60-vote Senate. And, culturally speaking, not in the world of TV, where anything remotely intelligent–even if it's a drama about people playing football!–struggles for viewers. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to learn to take what he or she can get, and stop thinking that playing nice or taking an interest in the other side will bring anything like reciprocity.

My dad once told me about this episode of the TV show Dallas that he remembered watching a long time ago. I didn't know anything about the show except that it was about money and power and my home state of Texas, but that was enough for me to understand the anecdote as presented, in which one male instructed another male that "Nobody gives you real power. Real power is something you take." I'd take that clip, turn it into an ad, and show it to Congressional Democrats Clockwork Orange-style if I could afford to, but somehow I think they'd still manage to miss the point.



Seth Colter Walls writes for Newsweek.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

Alex Balk (#4)

How has Abe Sauer not commented on this yet?

Abe Sauer (#148)

OMG! I WAS JUST GETTING THERE.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Anyway, after thinking about what to say about this for a full ten minutes which is nine minutes longer than I should have thought about it my comment is that it takes stones big enough to carry in a dump truck for somebody who works for Newsweek to call out Katie Couric.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I'm just glad the Gopnik post still has no comments.

No reflection on the author. But those two tags — "Gopnik," "Sports" — broke my Venn diagram machine.

Wasn't calling out Couric, fwiw. Just noting that someone who is best known to Real America for being "liberal" still winds up talking to a Democratic president about the need for bipartisanship on TV.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Couric did the interview only because it was CBS and CBS had the game. And she isn't seen as "liberal" any more than any other MSM anchor. I'm not sure what "real america" you seem to reference….

A 2007 Gallup poll confirms your (obvious) broader point that all anchors take heat from conservatives. But Couric is viewed worst of all. In that poll, she still had a lower favorability rating than either Gibson (at the time) or Williams among self-identified conservatives. Her unfavorable rating was preciesly "at" the margin of error with respect to Williams's better showing, and was significantly lower than Gibson's.

I'll leave it to readers to conclude whether Couric's lower score among conservatives might have anything to do with Rush Limbaugh saying things like, "[w]omen look at things different. They have different interests, and they now have more positions of prominence in the news business than they used to have," when he decries the "chickification of the news."

Anyway, see "Network News Anchors' Ratings by Political Ideology, April 23-26, 2007" in this writeup:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/27442/top-news-anchors-rated-less-positively-republicans-than-democrats.aspx

Abe Sauer (#148)

But Couric's ratings on that poll are lowest amongst all party-affiliated viewers: "On a relative basis, Couric remains the most negatively evaluated of the three anchors across all political groups." Does that make her "liberal," or just "unliked?"

Possibly both! The broad trends can indicate that she is disliked more across the board, while it's also the case that–in that one cross-tab–conservatives give Couric *both* the lowest "approval" rating on the entire board, as well as the highest "disapproval" rating.

Surely you pulled a hammy while writing this post?

Zack (#2,609)

I believe "old news" would be the antonym you are looking for. As in, "getting uptight and insecure about not liking football. and tenuously connecting the game's largest event with current event "x" as an extension of that insecurity is old news."

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Oh shit. "Tenuously." You used up my word, now I cannot comment on this post. I was going to say all hook, no coathanger, or something like that.

Not sure it's any less novel than accusing someone who dares to object to a mass culture obsession for having acted out of "insecurity," but point taken.

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

Meh. Regionalism has become so passe in the past eighty years.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Darren Sharper told Leslie Visser (or someone wearing a Leslie Visser mask) that, if he could "Go back to any time in History," he wanted to go back to the Dark Ages.

So first I thought, "Oh. That would suck, goofball." Then I thought, "He's making fun of you, dumbass."

Leslie Visser may have looked perplexed. But she wasn't changing expression all that much, so I may have been wrong on that, too.

KarenUhOh (#19)

[Lesley, ding-dong.]

hockeymom (#143)

Darren Sharper gave my son an autograph once. Sharper asked him if he played sports and my son said yes, he was a hockey goalie.
He signed the photo "Keep Hitting those Slap-Shots!"
Sharper may or may not know history, but he sure as hell knows nothing about hockey.
(as an aside, incredibly good-looking)

HiredGoons (#603)

Bipartisanship only occurs when both parties agree that America is the best country anywhere, has always been the best since time immemorial, and will be the best forever and always and can never, ever, ever be wrong.

Which, of course, it is.

Abe Sauer (#148)

NOW that I think about it: "the Super Bowl is the high-def broadcast embodiment of this political idea we call "bipartisanship." It's a "come together" moment in the culture, one when "real America" (which, to generalize, watches a lot of football) and "fake America" (which-again, speaking broadly-only tunes in for the big games) collude in the fiction that we are something resembling a coherent polity, all the members of which care to some appropriate degree about the other actors-even when we disagree. This is all perfectly false and has been for some time, in case you haven't noticed."
How can tat be false when it doesn't make any sense? What are they disagreeing about? In fact, I would argue that the Suepr Bowl IS in fact one of America's rare true polities, where Alex Balk appreciates the events just as much as Adam Gopnik just as much as Todd Palin, without any of them pretending to do so. Or are you suggesting they collude in a polity? But ow is that a fiction if, in fact, they are actually all enjoying the game together. Or are you suggesting "real" football fans dislike fans who just watch the big game? Because honestly, as a "real" football fan, I don't really care and I doubt many others do either. Or maybe you meant something else…

And, anyway, I think you could have just as easily taken all the mentions of Super Bowl out of this and exchange them for Academy Awards. In fact, I think you;d have a better argument of it.

PLus: "If your interests have to do with anything other than sports or celebrities, at least know that the same courtesy of mass-interestedness will never be extended in your direction during peak moments of excitement related to whatever it is you care most about."

WHAT?

Some people certainly do pretend to care about the SB–or they at least feel a certain pressure to watch it in order to feel culturally literate–and it's to them that I counsel feeling fine about not caring. As for people who legitimately enjoy it, from Balk to Gopnik or anyone else, I obviously say fine, go ahead (not that you even need me to say it).

Abe Sauer (#148)

See, now, isn't it easier to say "If you don't want to watch football, don't feel bad about it" than "I confess I'm somewhat weary of simultaneously having to listen to cultural products aimed at my male cohort proffer the casual suggestion that I simply must be a sissified queer for paying attention to a girl instead of that game where a bunch of dudes play grab-as?"

HiredGoons (#603)

dudes playing grab-ass is the only part of football I LIKE.

Wow, Abe. I did say that, directly, elsewhere in the piece. It's right before the part you selectively quoted earlier. It's also a different point from the one in the later sentence that is longer than you'd strictly prefer to read, and thus haven't.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh, no, trust me. I read it.

Neopythia (#353)

And of course you have the issue where the ads directed at "real america" are being (mostly) created by "fake america" reinforcing stereotypes or inventing new ones or some such nonsense. Eventualy, the whole thing collapses in on itself and maybe we realize we're not all that different after all?

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

Bravo, SWC! I guess I'm not an 'American' because I don't give a shit about the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards.

Dave Bry (#422)

I really like this. A lot. But it strikes me as a bit fatalistic. I understand the frustration with the "excessive fealty to the optics of bipartisanship [that] swallowed up the entirety of Obama's first-year domestic agenda." I know lots of folks, and i sometimes feel that maybe he, and all the democrats, should have done more down-throat-ramming, and I know taking that high-road isn't worth much when you don't get anywhere. But what about this: Obama, maybe has not entirely given up on the idea of one America-remember that's what his original rise was based on? The speech at the convention in 2004. This is an idea that, I think, is very important to him. As pie-in-the-sky as it may seem, I like the fact that he tries. The alternative, the "Dallas" approach of TAKING real power, seems like just the kind-for-today, burn-down-the-future stuff that the republicans have been wielding so effectively. It's not always better to fight fire with fire. Reality may turn out to be just that depressing. In my mind, the jury's still out. But accepting that the "two Americas" will forever be at war, with no common ground, is it's own kind of giving up.

I think it depends. In some eras, bipartisanship is possible. Historically, roll call votes in Congress have been more bipartisan in times where there's been less strict party discipline/control. We're headed in the opposite direction, and the roll call votes reflect that. Outside of a major structural shift in our politics, I'm not convinced that we'll see meaningful bipartisanship. So the extent to which the president seems committed to this beautiful idea is occasionally troublesome to me, even though I also appreciate it's nice that he's trying.

LondonLee (#922)

It isnice that he's trying but what do you do when, as Ezra Klein pointed out recently, the healthcare bill contains every item the Republicans included in their own proposal and they still all voted against it?

The word "Sysephian" come to mind, assuming I spelt it right.

"If I come into work on Monday and someone alerts me to the fact that some misogyny was detected in the vicinity of our national sports culture over the weekend, I am not shocked."

As someone who spent four years watching ads on ESPN and other channels of that ilk for professional reasons (and who is also a lady), I have to say that I was sorta shocked — perhaps not by the casual misogyny and male triumphalism that ran throughout most of them, which is pretty dog-bites-man in the sports world, but by said attitudes' utter rancidness. That Dodge ad (which I rewatched this AM) in particular was pretty horrifying, going way past the dopey "see Danica Patrick topless on the Internet" standards of recent guy-pandering SB ads and into something pretty dead-eyed.

At more than one point during the evening, I found myself wishing for the taste and regard for women offered by a couple of ads I was constantly bombarded with during my MLB.com days — the ones for Viagra and Cialis and Enzyte.

(And maybe you and the ad people are on the same page after all. Isn't "women be emasculatin'" just another way of saying that bipartisanship is never going to work, in the grand scheme of things?)

Moff (#28)

The missus — who has long watched a lot more football than I ever have — was kinda shocked, too. I dunno — it just seemed like a more recurrent theme this year, and like you say, dead-eyed instead of boys-will-be-boys-y. And it probably didn't help that there just weren't many, like, plain old funny ads to temper it.

HiredGoons (#603)

My mother, a tiny little Jewish woman who tawks like Fran Drescher, is the most rabid football fanatic YOU WILL EVER MEET.

They take weekend trips to watch the Giants PRACTICE in Albany, and on game day you'd better believe it's head-to-toe Giants stuff (socks, earrings, those terrible pants) and before I could drive I DID NOT GO ANYWHERE ON SUNDAYS.

HiredGoons (#603)

I'm talking some Anjelica Huston in 'Buffalo '66' shit.

And most of the Giants players know her as 'that teacher from Vermont.'

HiredGoons (#603)

(this was supposed to have something to do with misogyny)

This is the info I needed to finally track you down.

ProfessorBen (#1,254)

This was awesome.

kneetoe (#1,881)

I more or less disagree with the political premise here. It's nice to say the Dems should have thrown off bipartisanship and raced ahead, except that the Senate passed its version of health care with the minimum number of votes–and now they don't even have the 60. So in the Senate the challenge was, obviously, finding something the Dems could even agree on. This was difficult because centrist Democrats don't want the exact same thing as liberal ones (substitute whatever terms you want for centrist/liberal.

In the House, the opposition to health care was somewhat bi-partisan: all republicans but also quite a few democrats voted against it. This was also true of cap-and-trade. Most who voted against are centrists (or whatever)/members from Republican-leaning districts.

So, it's nice to think that the Dems should get all partisan on their asses, but I think that's an over-simplification of the reality of American politics. (Ok, now I'm gonna go back up and see if you said what I say you said).

nadie (#807)

It's kind of hard to "throw off" bipartisanship that was never really there – like LondonLee said (what Ezra Klein said), republicans were never going to vote for the senate bill (which contains virtually everything they want and which excludes major things that liberals want, like the public option) because they've always thought it's more politically profitable not to. The point of this upcoming thingy is to call their bluff, highlight all the substantively bipartisan content of the existing bills (mostly the senate bill) and, as others have phrased it, set up the endgame in which a modified senate bill could pass the house. And to, if we're lucky, point out glaring hypocrisies such as the republican alternative "health care reform" proposal's reliance on privatization of and major, indiscriminate cuts to Medicare, after months of their blabbering about how removing subsidies for private insurers in Medicare = death panels. Fun times!

kneetoe (#1,881)

I don't disagree at all. More and more I think they'll break health care up into passable pieces and, well, pass those pieces. If they do that, my guess is that, instead of calling bluffs, they might find some important health care legislation that draws some bipartisan support. It won't go as far as many people, myself included, would want, but it still could improve health care in this country significantly. The political obstacle to this will come from the so called left (and, don't get me wrong, I won't blame them for fighting it–I'll just disagree with them).

Tulletilsynet (#333)

The Super Bowl does not exist.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

So relax, boys.

Ronit (#1,557)

Wow, this article was utter horseshit.

Ronit (#1,557)

After all, right now our TV bipartisanship is a lot like our political bipartisanship: it all takes place on the conservatives' turf. It's never a massive "come together" television event when the National Book Awards are announced.

I mean, seriously, WTF? This reads like a parody of a liberal columnist.

Democrats seemed to enjoy the cover that College Football brought when they were having all those "unusual" Saturday congressional votes that seemed to be coming week after week. When you have a vote on a Saturday, you have roughly 48 hours before the world starts to pay attention and the financial markets start to react to their misguided machinations.

This is my first time posting here, so I will be polite and keep it short.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Well hello!

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