Super Ruminations

Later today over 100 million Americans will be mesmerized by that late-capitalist orgy of excess and jingoism known as the Super Bowl. It has to be the most loathsome, overproduced, over-hyped spectacle on earth. But if Katy Perry is your thing, then by all means do not miss the half-time show. In another world, one not beholden to fantasy and scripts, I would consider the Super Bowl a near perfect caricature of the larger culture, something like NASCAR but for a much bigger audience and cross-section of America. But in the “real” world, or the simulacra, the beat of commerce pounds without ironic distance or awareness. The play must go on and damn the critiques.

With this bit of cathartic cultural misanthropy out of the way, let’s look at some news nuggets from last week. The Guardian reported that one of the American evangelical kids (there are several) who purportedly “died,” went to the Christian version of heaven (no virgins unless they tragically died young), and wrote a best-selling book about it, has come clean and admitted that he lied about everything. His name, perfectly, is Alex Malarkey. Although well-founded rumors of Malarkey’s lie have been around for years, the millions of evangelicals who bought the book, and the bullshit, have steadfastly defended Malarkey and his story. Some of them continue to defend it and claim that Malarkey’s original story is true and his recent confession a lie. While I have never thought Freud’s wish-fulfillment theory of religion is particularly persuasive, it’s at times like these that I think it is the best explanatory theory going.

With Malarkey’s confession of lying out of the way, we might hope that Colton Burpo is next. But this seems unlikely given that his “died and went to heaven” book has sold over ten million copies (there are 13,200 reviews on Amazon). I’m guessing that all ten million of those hope-filled buyers will be religiously watching the Super Bowl today.

Over in Denmark, nothing is rotten and Shakespeare was wrong. This is the country, mind you, that usually ranks first in worldwide scores of health and happiness. I would have added liberty to this list, but as a red-blooded American I’m constitutionally unable to equate high taxes and social welfare with that sacred concept. So the liberty thing aside, Denmark is a great place to live. Or is it? As the Atlantic reports, some Danes have doubts:

A surprising number of Danes agree with me, though: They also think their homeland is stultifyingly dull. Newspaper columnist Anne Sophia Hermansen, of the broadsheet Berlingske, caused a small kerfuffle recently when she expressed her feelings about what she saw as Denmark’s suffocating monoculture: “It is so boring in Denmark. We wear the same clothes, shop in the same places, see the same TV, and struggle to know who to vote for because the parties are so alike. We are so alike it makes me weep.”

Another prominent newspaper commentator, Jyllands-Posten’s Niels Lillelund, pinpointed a more serious side effect of the Danes’ Jante Law mentality: “In Denmark we do not raise the inventive, the hardworking, the ones with initiative, the successful or the outstanding; we create hopelessness, helplessness, and the sacred, ordinary mediocrity.”

Even the usually ebullient Ove Kaj Perdsen, an economist at the Copenhagen Business School, was open to this line of criticism: “I like Denmark, but I like to work abroad. I pay my taxes with great honor because I know for a fact that whenever I need something it will be there … Every day I conclude the best place to live is Denmark, but for me this kind of social cohesion, these middle-class-oriented societies, do not present the kind of challenges I am looking for. I want to be in the best places, and you don’t find the best places in Denmark when it comes to elite research and education.

This is fascinating, even if it is insidiously preaching to the American choir. If those secular Danes would just get right with God, they’d be like us.

While I would like to share more cynicism for this Super Sunday, I’m in charge of the beer, wings, and pizza, so these good things, like all good things, must come to an end. Be well, my friends, and stay thirsty.

— Cris


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7 thoughts on “Super Ruminations

  1. Karyn

    As always, such a great read. Thanks for your ongoing insights, which have been very helpful for me re: a class I am developing/teaching elementary school-aged kids on the formation of religions.

  2. Steve Lawrence

    Super American worship has e-de-volved to 300 pounders pursuing and defending a large pigskin egg. From that egg hatches ad creativity and all-American marketing, fueling American capitalism. What finer religious experience? With Chip, Dip and Bud, think about it. 😉

  3. jaap

    Hi Cris! Nice post! Can I ruminate along for a bit?
    The Superbowl we can look down on as ‘education of the masses’: ‘they’ don’t know any better, but they must have their share of what is part of ‘their’ intellectual itinerary. Looked at this this way we might call it ’emancipation’, or even ‘democracy’. Which Hitler was very contemptuous of, as you know. Or ‘evolution’, a sort of inevitable stage in ‘their’ spiritual yourney. Or we might view this thing as a ‘caricature of commercialism’, a rather dark and pessimistic view of a bubbling event. There you pay a price for taking the moral high-ground. For if you can’t really pinpoint the source of evil, who is it then that you’re despising? And then again the Superbowl may be not there at all in essence: some inner projection, or shadow, or shade that puzzles you. Interesting to a scientist! Reality plays with us in all sorts of ways …
    Malarkey! Loved that bit! Hadn’t picked up on it. Can one lie the truth? I’m not much of a believer, but reading your post I remember being not at all interested when people showed Casteneda to be a fake. I had suspected that long before, but just went on reading him as though he were not. Here I get some reassurance: I’m not the only crackpot! Whole-heartedly! Yeah, I belong somewhere!
    Finally, Denmark. Don’t know much about Denmark. But if there’s any Irish blood in you, you will know: Shakespeare was a poet, he can’t be wrong! Something’s very rotten in the state of Denmark.

  4. Gyrus

    Morris Berman has an excellent discussion of the ‘boringness’ of egalitarian societies – in The Wandering God, I think. He applies research undertaken on kibbutzes to hunter-gatherer societies. Of course, there’s no ‘objective’ take on this. If Denmark wasn’t surrounded by societies where more overall ‘excitingness’ is bought at the price of greater overall suffering, it’s unlikely you’d hear Dane’s talking in the way quoted above.

    Stil… ‘We wear the same clothes, shop in the same places, see the same TV, and struggle to know who to vote for because the parties are so alike. We are so alike it makes me weep.’ As someone writing this in the heart of one of the most ‘exciting’ cities in the world, this ironically sounds hauntingly familiar 😉 Exactly how much real ‘excitingness’ is being gained for the suffering costs?

  5. Gyrus

    I should add, I don’t mean to entirely dismiss ‘excitingness’, even if it’s not ‘real’. Clearly a huge amount of this is to do with fantasy, in the broad psychological sense. It just seems important to consider the fantasies that positively inspire people in identifying with a community and its values, and the fantasies that are mere illusions (e.g. the idea that there’s any substantial political choice in most developed consumer societies).

  6. Dominik Lukes

    I’m a bit surprised you don’t find the Superbowl a more interesting subject of study. You’ve got a real live Bakhtinian carnival going on here. All sorts of rituals of gender, national belonging, friendship, etc. being played out on a fascinating tapestry of customs, habits and beliefs. And above all the fascinating feedback loop between the carnivalesque and the various institutions that feed it, develop it and benefit from it.

  7. jaap

    I like to imagine that in these Bakhtinian carivals everyone got his due right in the middle. Maybe they didn’t. But I just like to imagine they did … I’m sure it’s different now! When all the guys are glued to the TV-set, who will pay attention to what the wife is doing in the kitchen? She’s got two hours of near-perfect freedom to play with! If she doesn’t complain about that incredibly boring Superbowl, that probably means she welcomes that freedom … Maybe she’s making apple-pie, who knows?
    Is it then about room? Space? Boredom? I can see Gyrus is a bit out of his depths about this, down to his grammar as wel as his spelling … ‘Gyrus’. That’s the ‘connector’ in the brain, isn’t it? And this leads me to think the whole Superbowl thing is about ‘belonging’. Or is that just my take? I dropped that word already, didn’t I? It doesn’t really seem ro bother Cris, as he’ll take charge of the beer: he’ll be alright. But not all of us get away so lightly …

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