I didn’t watch the Super Bowl this year. Not out of protest, not because my team didn’t make it, not because the commercials have sucked the past few years, but because I was simply too busy catching up on the mounds of homework I’d let pile up.
As you might have gathered, I’m an awful procrastinator and not much of a football fan. But it was still a big deal for me to miss out on the big game. Despite the fact that I rarely, if ever and certainly never of my own volition, watch a football game during the regular pro season, this is the first Super Bowl I have any memory of skipping.
The Super Bowl represents a unique moment in American culture. For most of the rest of the year, the country is divided into little subcultures that watch different movies and TV shows, listen to different music and approach life from different directions. For example, you’ve probably heard of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things. You may have even watched it. If you did, you are truly unique. Four million people, or roughly one percent of the total U.S. population, watched each episode. One percent! And it’s considered a hit show! In comparison, the Super Bowl attracted an audience of 103.4 million viewers, or a whopping 32 percent of the US population.
The Super Bowl unites the American people like nothing else. It doesn’t put Americans on the same side, mind you, Patriots fans and Eagles fans weren’t exactly rooting for the same outcome after all, but it gives us a common experience, something we can all talk about at the water cooler the next day. The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event year after year, and even people like me who didn’t watch it hear about the game and commercials, and take part by proxy.
Much has been written about our increasingly splintering culture. During our parents’ youth there were only a handful of TV channels and shows to pick from, now we have hundreds of options.
The same holds true for other aspects of our culture as well. Music, movies and now even news can be chosen selectively based on one’s interests. While this does have its benefits (more options=more competition=higher quality), we’ve lost the benefits of having a common culture. Pieces of common culture provide a foundation for relationships, through which a mutual understanding and trust is formed. Political party affiliation didn’t matter to Eagles fans as they trashed Philadelphia, only that those flipping cars with them shared a — would it be editorializing too much to say “insane?”— devotion to their team.
If we can’t discuss and bond over relatively benign areas of our culture, we’re unlikely to try to discuss the more serious issues we’re facing as a nation. But if we have something in common with “the other side,” it’s all the easier to make friends outside our political bubbles and tackle difficult subjects with civility.
We don’t have many pieces of common culture left. Let’s cherish and preserve what we do still have.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.