Halftime at the Super Bowl, once merely a forgettable 30 minutes to get another beer or join the line at the restroom, is more entertaining now. Halftime at the Super Bowl sometimes gets different reviews from different generations. But this year, everyone could find something to be dazzled by in Lady Gaga’s terrific patriotic pop.
She was a dazzling Peter Pan, a hip Mary Poppins, a sparkly Sponge Bob, floating through the air like the man on the flying trapeze, with shimmering drones illuminating an American flag in the night sky behind her. It was testimony to high-tech triumphalism to match the magic on stage, sky and field.
The lady who vamped Tony Bennett at his 90th birthday party with a seductive version of “The Lady is a Tramp,” who engages millennials with flamboyant, funky and freaky electronic fireworks, buzzed the stadium in radiant sequins of silver and steel, and she announced that she was simply there to “make you feel good.”
Not easy to do in a polarized political culture, but the tweets afterward were decidedly cross-generational, enthusiastic and even bipartisan. Joe Biden tweeted that his “good friend” gave an “incredible performance.” Ivanka Trump tweeted that “Lady Gaga crushed,” and Ellen DeGeneres liked “actual goddess bringing together all of America to celebrate being one nation under God, pop music & aerial acrobatics.” The goddess soars through the air courting the camera for fun, not miracles. Her drones don’t kill or deliver packages, but decorate the sky for dramatic effect.
Halftime at the Super Bowl is a fantasy world for everybody, whether they want to make America great again or nourish a post-November hangover for the ages. This year it called a truce, if only for a half-hour, in the Culture War. No sexual politics (or any other kind.) Hers was entertainment to match the heroics of Tom Brady’s astonishing comeback.
There was no wardrobe malfunction, as in 2004 when Janet Jackson’s black leather jacket popped open for a split-second, and out popped a boob. Nor did we have to endure a tribute to Black Panther cop-killers, which Beyonce came up with last year with a chorus in black berets, presumably as testimony to black power. Lady Gaga, by contrast, even gave a shout out to her parents. That’s as American as apple pie in the sky can get.
Vice President Mike Pence watched the show with two wounded warriors who flew with him to Houston on Air Force Two. One was wounded in Iraq in 2008, the other in Afghanistan last year. One rooted for the Patriots and the other for the Falcons. Nice touch.
Polarized politics slams in-your-face 24/7, and it’s in the eye of the beholder, like a cinder, relentlessly cultivating divisions, fissures and chasms. Several pundits and big talkers describe Lady Gaga as a stealth subversive. They accuse her of sending a double message by singing “This Land is Your Land,” because Woody Guthrie originally composed it to be an edgy protest in an America still suffering from the Depression. They miss the lady’s bigger point. This year Irving Berlin’s mighty “God Bless America,” together with Woody’s anthem as Lady Gaga sang it, brought the Super Bowl crowd together. Lady Gaga even added a few words from the Pledge of Allegiance. For the brief span of a game with its halftime show, Americans were divided only by competing loyalties to Patriots and Falcons. How refreshing is that?
Not everybody was thrilled, of course. Amanda Petrusich, writing in The New Yorker, scorned the men on the field as gladiators from the Roman Coliseum, “demolishing each other for the profit and entertainment of others.” Who took Grandma Grundy to the ballgame? But the scientific research on brain injuries on the gridiron are indeed scary. One study finds that a typical lineman absorbs each blow “with the average G-force of a car ramming into a wall at roughly 30 miles per hour.” Few club owners, coaches or players, reaching for the millions, protest that kind of wall.
There’s a caution in this for our sons and grandsons who dream of making the team. Lady Gaga says she started planning her halftime entertainment when she was only 4, and many little boys no older than that are dreaming of scoring the winning pass, run or field goal to win a Super Bowl years hence, and no G-force is powerful enough to snuff that dream. But evidence mounts that football is bad for the brain (and knees, shoulders and ankles, too).
Criticism of the sport sounds mean-spirited to anyone watching such skill and talent. Better to watch Lady Gaga catch a sparkling pigskin and disappear into that mysterious wonderland where talented performers and athletes go to dream their dreams. It makes the rest of us feel good, too. If only for the moment.
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.
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