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.