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Big game, big drama

Culture | How the Super Bowl is becoming a cultural battleground
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/01/19, 03:12 pm

Some celebrities are shunning Super Bowl LIII—which pits the New England Patriots against the Los Angeles Rams—amid controversy over the National Football League’s policy on player protests.

A number of artists, including Jay-Z, Pink, and Rihanna, reportedly declined invitations to perform in the big game’s halftime show Sunday in Atlanta, and comedian Amy Schumer refused to appear in a commercial during the game.

Gerald Griggs, vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, said the group asked artists to reconsider performing at Super Bowl week events “until the league changes their policy and supports players’ constitutional right to protest.”

In the more than two years since then–San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” igniting a national debate about patriotism and social justice, the NFL has bobbled, and in many people’s minds botched, its response. Last May, the league announced players in the upcoming season had to either stand during the national anthem or stay in the locker room. The players union balked, and the league put the policy on hold, but the NFL had already alienated those who supported Kaepernick.

“Everybody check your soul at the Super Bowl,” actress Jenifer Lewis said on Instagram in a video in which she implored players, “You want a standing ovation? Take a knee for the next generation.”

The side-taking has put artists in some awkward positions. When the band Maroon 5, which is headlining the halftime show, canceled its pregame news conference, many people assumed they didn’t want to face questions about the controversy. But lead singer Adam Levine told Entertainment Tonight on Thursday that the NFL canceled the event and defended the band’s inclusive halftime show.

“I’ve never been more excited in my life to present this to the people, because I believe it’s a representation of all of us,” Levine said. “We are going to keep doing what we are doing, hopefully without becoming politicians to make people understand, we got you.” Maroon 5 joined the NFL and Interscope Records in making a $500,000 donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to ease the tension, while fellow halftime performer, Travis Scott, donated to the social justice organization Dream Corps.

Other celebrities are also trying to overcome the Super Bowl stigma by turning their shows into statements. When hip-hop artist Jermaine Dupri, who is hosting several free concerts in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park before the game, was accused of selling out, he responded by allowing the loved ones of some who died from police brutality to speak on stage.

“If we were to completely turn our head to what’s happening Super Bowl weekend and have nothing to do with it, and stand with Kaepernick and completely boycott, what about our love and our craft that we care so much about?” Dupri asked. “It’s a rough situation, because you want to support both sides.”

Many consider Atlanta the birthplace of the civil rights movement, so it makes sense that issues of race and equality would come up at a Super Bowl hosted there. And though football fans might not like activists co-opting the big game, the Super Bowl has for years been so much more than a sporting event. It’s possibly the largest mass marketing platform still standing in the internet age and is therefore a mirror on American culture. And if the culture is obsessed with political and racial dividing lines, then the Super Bowl will reflect that.

Associated Press/Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision Associated Press/Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision Jussie Smollett at the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 10

Under attack

Police are investigating a suspicious attack Empire actor Jussie Smollett said occurred early Tuesday morning in downtown Chicago. Smollett, who is African-American and openly homosexual, claims two men shouted racist and anti-gay slurs at him, struck him in the face, doused him with an unknown substance, and wrapped a rope around his neck. Smollett reportedly told police that his attackers also told him he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Smollett, 36, was treated at the hospital and discharged. He said he plans to perform at a concert in Los Angeles this weekend.

Meanwhile, detectives are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. So far, after reviewing surveillance footage, they have not identified any witnesses or found any video of the attack, according to Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. On Wednesday night, Guglielmi tweeted photos of two silhouetted figures, calling them potential “people of interest.” He also noted that the FBI was investigating a threatening letter sent to Smollett at the Fox broadcast studio in Chicago last week.

Smollett is known for his LGBT advocacy and plays an openly gay character on the Fox show Empire. Earlier this month, he tweeted a profanity-laced message to the president, calling him a “dumpster full of hate.”

Some have questioned the veracity of Smollett’s story, noting the police have not yet found video of the attack, which occurred in a part of town with numerous surveillance cameras. The actor’s family released a statement defending him Thursday, saying he was a victim of an inhumane act of domestic terrorism. When asked at a Thursday news conference about the attack on Smollett, Trump expressed sympathy, saying, “That, I can tell you, is horrible. I’ve seen it. Last night. It’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse.” —Mary Jackson

Associated Press/Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision Associated Press/Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision The premiere of Leaving Neverland at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, last Friday

Serious at Sundance

A new documentary set to air on HBO in April delivers chilling accounts from two men who claim Michael Jackson sexually molested them as children.

Leaving Neverland premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival to stunned reactions and a solemn standing ovation. The four-hour film, directed by Dan Reed, recounts with explicit detail how the late King of Pop allegedly groomed Wade Robson and James Safechuck, at ages 7 and 10, respectively, to molest them.

The documentary also addresses why Robson and Safechuck, who are now in their late 30s and early 40s, respectively, previously defended Jackson with sworn testimony when the singer faced charges of child sexual abuse. They said Jackson threatened them and it took them years to mentally process the abuse. Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005. Both Robson and Safechuck leveled separate charges against Jackson after his death in 2009, but in each case a judge dismissed their claims.

Jackson’s family members and estate have since released multiple strongly worded statements condemning Robson and Safechuck’s accusations. Jackson’s family called the film a “public lynching” by “two perjurers.”

But in the #MeToo era, it is unlikely that the public will readily dismiss the documentary. Slate reporter Sam Adams called it devastating, writing, “Leaving Neverland is not merely a film about enduring child sexual abuse. It is a film about surviving it, and the decades it can take to reckon with that trauma.” —M.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision (file) Associated Press/Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision (file) Peter Jackson

In the studio

Filmmaker Peter Jackson announced this week that he plans to remake the Beatles’ farewell documentary Let It Be, giving fans a fresh glimpse into the interactions of the band as it worked on what turned out to be its final studio album release.

The Lord of the Rings director will pull from 55 hours of “never-before-seen footage“ shot in January 1969, showing the band recording a back-to-the-roots album that was initially shelved and eventually released as Let It Be nearly a year and a half later.

“This movie will be the ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about,” Jackson said in a statement. He plans to restore footage using the same techniques he and his producers used in the making of his recent WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old. —M.J.

A diva in the kingdom

Mariah Carey gave a concert Thursday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, despite terror threats from Islamic State (ISIS) and criticism from human rights activists. She is the first international female artist to perform in the kingdom. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • VISTA48
    Posted: Fri, 02/01/2019 05:23 pm

    I used to enjoy a good Sunday football game, until our flag and anthem became political footballs. I haven't watched a game in three years now, and don't even miss it. I began to lose interest years ago because of the thuggish, unsportsmanlike conduct by many of the players. It seems the NFL is on a steady march towards irrelevance. 

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Sat, 02/02/2019 11:52 am

    Ditto Vista48! What he said!

    Our interest is hanging by the thinnest thread - after 50+ years inviting the NFL into our home - and if the knee comes back, we are gone.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 02/01/2019 09:18 pm

    I understand why people want to support the football players' desire to protest, but I'm not sure where they get the idea that they have a right to. When they're out on the field, they're working--doing what they're paid to do. If they decide to use their work time to protest rather than follow the instructions given by their employer, then they can be fired for that. Right? They might have more of a case if the players were being forced to participate in something they disagree with, but I think they've generally been offered the option to sit out the anthem in the locker room, if they'd rather.

  • Xion's picture
    Posted: Sat, 02/02/2019 04:01 pm

    The NFL controversy is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  It is based on nothing and accomplishes nothing.  It was started by a washed up quarterback who wanted to stay in the spotlight.  He is protesting something that doesn't exist, namely institutionalized racist violence by police.  Nameless celebrities and media acolytes are fanning the flames for fame and fortune.

    Police make mistakes and there are bad cops, but to say that police departments which employ significant minorities target people based on race is without evidence.  Police go where the crime is. Politics corrupts everything it touches and everything is now being politicized.  Everything good about America is being turned into a cultural war zone.

  • Bob R
    Posted: Sun, 02/03/2019 04:01 pm

    Great comments; what's sad is that those who have concerns about our judicial system have gotten caught up in Kaepernick's hatred of America.  It’s not accidental that he focused his "protest" around the Flag and National Anthem.  Justice in America is not perfect, but I would challenge anyone to find a more "just" system in the world.

    The evidence that we are NOT a racist nation should be obvious; anytime a police action results in harm to a minority, it becomes a national crisis.  In a truly racist culture, such occurrences are business as usual, and public scrutiny prohibited.  The controversy itself shows that Americans believe all men are created equal. 

    I’m afraid Martin Luther King’s dream, (that his children would be judged solely on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin), has become just that; a dream.  In recent years, we seem to be moving further away from a truly “color-blind” society rather than closer. 

    If we as a nation can’t find a way to counteract the forces seeking to separate us into a collection of subgroups, I’m afraid we will no longer exist as a nation.


  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Sun, 02/03/2019 10:17 pm

    I spent this evening, while the Super Bowl was playing out in Atlanta, spending a quiet evening out with the wife, and watching something else on PBS, and have no concern or even care what the result of this spectacle is anymore.  It's not anger, or hatred, or racism, or kneeling, or protests, or whatever, that has snuffed out my interest in this absurd spectacle, but frankly it's irrelevance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it's purely secular purpose that has distracted the vast majority of our culture away from Jesus Christ.

    Perhaps I am naive or obtuse in my worldview, but a football game, or a protest, or lack of a protest are not going to win hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.  Living a Biblical, counter-cultural life of love of Christ is the only thing that matters in life, and regardless of whether the NFL lives or does, has no meaning or relevance to the glory of the Kingdom of God.

  • Elizabeth
    Posted: Tue, 02/05/2019 10:17 pm

    Thank you for your comments, phillipW. Finally, a voice of reason. Why Christians or anyone should care about a sport that glorifies vastly overpaid celeb players and prostitute-like cheerleaders who are an affront to the modesty we are called to,  is something that no pastor at the podium promoting the church SuperBowl party has made clear to me.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Wed, 02/06/2019 05:40 am

    We don't watch pro football anymore.  Simple.  My wife was a fan and I used to enjoy sleeping through the last three quarters of every game but we have been done with it for a couple of years.  There is a lot more to our avoidance of it than a short term boycott over some fellow trying to get attention.  Not watching feels good.  It seems right.  Think of the advantages.  To watch, at best, it seems to be a very expensive trip into an unhealthy fantasy.         Great comments!

    "I didn't have the skill set to do useless things for large amounts of money so I was forced to do useful things for much less money.  I have no regrets." 

  • Xion's picture
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 01:35 am

    It is interesting how these stories are linked.  Collin Kaepernick created a fake racial controversy.  Smollett created a racist firestorm involving a fake lynching that the media repeated ad nauseum.  And the Jackson family uses the term "public lynching" to describe any criticism of Michaels alleged pedophilia.  False victimhood by the overly advantaged has become the new religion of the left.