Madonna’s half-time show reflected back the nature of the event and, in a naked way, the expectations of the audience. We expected spectacle, so Madonna, her choreographers, backup singers, and all the other obscured players provided at least the form of spectacle. This is perhaps a case of circular influence, with Madonna following the lead of an Italian-American pop singer who has often been accused of merely copying her. I am, of course, talking about Lady Gaga who, as Kate Durbin and Meghan Vicks (co-editors of Gaga Stigmata) have observed
has fashioned herself as a mirror, or as a direct reflection of the person before her (e.g. Gaga styled herself as Larry King for her interview with him; she dressed up as a queen when she performed for the Queen), or even (like in the video for “Born This Way”) as an infinite reflection of herself (recall the mirror placed at her birthing vagina in that film).
If Madonna’s 53-year old body, made the center of this reflective spectacle by the nature of her celebrity (and, as the peripheral parts played by Nicki Minaj and M.I.A would seem to suggest, by the whiteness of her womanhood), could not keep up then that echoes the nature of one of the other parts of the night’s spectacle. How many men left the field of play injured? Their athletic bodies could not keep up with the forces applied to them, the wear-and-tear of a whole season and post-season. Neither could Madonna’s gym-and-yoga-toned body keep up with her backup dancers, who had to carry or otherwise support her.
She entered transported upon an imposing golden throne, part of an imperial procession entirely appropriate for an American spectacle in a USA that continues to send and station soldiers around the world. She danced with cheerleaders and the drumline portions of a few marching bands, bringing in elements associated with football that have nothing to do with the game itself and everything to do with building it up as spectacle. (The first two Super Bowls had only marching bands at half time.)
The last song of Madonna’s performance was “Like a Prayer” performed with a choir in robes. The hints of religion in any year would have touched on the idea of sport as a secular equivalent to religion, but after a season in which Tim Tebow’s on-field prayers became infamous, they had extra resonance.
Finally, the lights went out except those spelling out the tacked-on message of “World Peace.” The words were meaningless, but of course they would have been even had been fully integrated into the show. We want our celebrities to do good works, to say important things (so long a they are not challenging), so Madonna gave us what we want and, as long as we pretend that little phrase somehow meant something in the wider context, we can leave with our warm fuzzies.
We don’t have to ask just why Roman soldiers were so appropriate at the literal center of our greatest American spectacle.
- Madonna Superbowl Half Time Show (mademoisellerobot.com)
- Super Bowl XLVI 2012: regal Madonna dazzles with half-time show (telegraph.co.uk)
- Watch: Madonna’s Super Bowl performance! (popbytes.com)
- Madonna’s Glittering Super Bowl Spectacle (rollingstone.com)