Super Bowl Halftime Show Response Reflects American Politics

Photo Credit: Robert Hernandez Villalta

Just like the Super Bowl itself represents two sides fighting against each other for triumph and glory, so is American politics. The two-party system has drawn previously friendly neighbors and loving family members into two crazed groups of fanatics blindly defending their team against all odds. No matter what might go wrong on the field, they’re still OURS, and so we will root for them until our throats are raw and our feet give out.

We love our team, whether we are Red or Blue, Right or Left — we are always correct.

Well, maybe not everyone. Just like there were die-hard fans on both sides of the 49ers and Chiefs game, many more attend just for the spectacle and guacamole. When you really move past the lifelong Democrats and Republicans, most people just show up for the party.

But even if you don’t know much about football, we all still like to have an opinion. “Bad throw! What was he thinking? He has ONE job!”

It’s easy to become a fan for a short while, just like most Americans like to chime in on their political choice during presidential voting years. But from one year to the next, it’s much easier to skip the games or just watch the highlights.

Even so, we each tend to drift toward a side, picking who to root for in the big game.

And so, we don’t have to look too far to see the ripple effects of this “us vs. them” fan-base mentality.

The recent responses to the Super Bowl LIV halftime show demonstrate how religiously we have clung to our team’s talking points and political beliefs.

One side was outraged. The other side cheered. One side saw semi-nude women performing sexual moves on a stage for millions. The other side saw physically fit dancers and singers confidently performing for the cheering crowd. One side was appalled by confusing tongue and hip gestures. The other side appreciated the diverse ethnic representation of cultural celebration. One side was offended by singing in Arabic and Spanish, because this is America, goddammit, and we only speak English. The other side embraced the multilingual performance as an inclusive representation of the various cultures that make up not only the US audience but also the ones watching across the globe. One side was shocked that a Puerto Rican flag was flashed alongside the American one. The other side was pleased that a performer was able to embrace both her cultures. One side saw an offensive female display of Latinx pride. The other side saw empowered Latina women representing themselves honestly on stage. One side was disgusted. The other side ecstatic.

I walk both sides of this line, politically and culturally. I was raised in an Evangelical Christian home where that certain type of dress, dance, and celebration of sexuality was not allowed, but rather shunned. But I also am half-Mexican, bilingual, and have chosen to live in México for the past two years. Until 2016, I had voted with the Republican party. So I understand the perspective of purity and family values.

But now, from the other side, I look back across at my family and friends who still sing the party line and I see the thinly veiled racism and sexism that is accepted and encouraged, even if they do so unwittingly, because it’s just part of their team cheer.

As a half-Mexican female Republican of the past, my former self would have fiercely denied the statements my present self is about to make. So I understand that many people will still feel appalled at my assertions.

Being offended by J.Lo and Shakira’s halftime show performance is a natural response from racist and sexist beliefs.

Some people say the costumes were inappropriate. Yet, the NFL cheerleaders dance and chant in very similar outfits. But their dancing is seen as “culturally white” and acceptable. The same outfits placed on Latina bodies with non-white rhythmic dancing is seen as “sexualizing”. There was nothing inherently wrong with the outfits and performance, yet offense was taken because of the type of body and the movements that were made.

Some people say the pole dancing and belly dancing crossed the line of a family-friendly show. But reflect on this — Was it the fact that brown-skinned women were able to perform these difficult and physically challenging movements at the ages of 43 and 50 that really got under their skin?

Some people say that women should be more conscious of their own representation at an event where human trafficking is rampant. They say women should display themselves with respect. If Americans were more open about the reality of sexuality and physical desire, perhaps that Puritan hang-up would loosen up to an acceptance and appreciation of the female and male body.

And perhaps, imagine with me, embracing our sexuality would even reduce the need to act out sexual fantasies with purchased human bodies. J.Lo and Shakira are not responsible for human trafficking. On the contrary, they are women with clear boundaries.

During their performance, they embraced their sexuality with the respectful and culturally appropriate expression of dance, which may understandably cause disgust in those who have not.

No matter what your response to the halftime show was, consider it through your political lens. Are you able to separate your political team from prime time entertainment? Are you able to see the perspective of the other side?

After all, the halftime show was just a 14-minute glimpse into our American soul. Where will we go from here?

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