This was supposed to be another post about good teachers because I was invited to speak to a class of 4th graders about writing public opinion pieces and that experience confirmed my recent assertion that to know if a teacher is good just watch and listen to the students.
The short version of that blog: the students were vibrant and smart—reflecting just how wonderful their teacher is.
During that visit, however, the teacher asked if we could have a brief debate so the students could think about how to pose their arguments. When a student asked what I was thinking about writing next, I mentioned the Super Bowl halftime show, specifically Beyoncé’s performance.
For several minutes, I was confronted by a classroom of children adamant that Beyoncé and her backup dancers were inappropriate for the show; their clothing and dancing, the children argued, were not appropriate for children watching on TV and attending the game.
I asked them to consider how we have different standards for how women dress and behave, and I asked about whether it was appropriate for children to watch the NFL, considering the violence of the sport, and the commercials, such as those for beer.
The children never budged, noting that children, in fact, play football (boys are just violent, they argued) and rambling into a very casual acceptance of children having guns and knives (for hunting).
But Beyoncé? Not appropriate for prime time (and the children).
Of course, these students were mostly voicing the opinion of their parents and other adults, highlighting, I think, the influence of every child’s home on who they are and how they think.
These students’ arguments also reflect something that almost no one is addressing about the Super Bowl: everything about the Super Bowl is political. Everything.
Those who criticize Beyoncé for her political performance and chastise the hoodied Cam Newton for over-celebrating throughout the season and his sulking post-Super Bowl defeat are silent during the NFL’s ritualistic flag waving and hiding behind the U.S. military—some of the many shields the NFL hopes mask the orgy of violence that is professional football; are somehow OK with Coldplay and Bruno Mars; and likely didn’t uttered a peep when All-American white hero straight out of Pleasantville, Peyton Manning, spouted a Gronk-like beer comment, pouted and didn’t shake hands after one of his Super Bowl defeats, and (like Cam, who was criticized) kept his helmet on while shaking hands with Russell Wilson, another Super Bowl defeat.
Just as every second of the Super Bowl is political, every moment of the gosh-darn industry that is Peyton Manning is political.
And Manning’s politics is aimed right at your red-white-and-blue bank account.
But the politics of capitalism and consumerism that buoy white male privilege in the U.S. is at least shielded, if not invisible, behind the confetti and celebration of yet another ascension to pinnacle by a Great White Quarterback (Beer and pizza, anyone!).
This is not about Beyoncé being political and Coldplay/Bruno Mars not being political.
This is not about Cam being political and Peyton not being political.
This is about the racialized notion of “political” (and “not appropriate for children”) and the very American and very ugly symbolism of the NFL shield.
Peyton, Coldplay/Bruno Mars (very safe and male pop music), and the NFL’s patriotic posturing are simply the shielded politics of those in power, of white privilege, of male privilege.
Beyoncé—along with her backup dancers and her song—and Cam are complicated elements in the politics of resistance (both real and perceived)—and of course, we can have none of that. You know, the children.