Let us take a moment to celebrate something about last week’s Super Bowl halftime show. In some small way, I took it as a confirmation of some meaningful cultural progress. At the end of the 1980s, as hip-hop entered mainstream consciousness, adults (especially white adults) across the country were in a state of moral panic: their innocent young children were going to be corrupted and gangsterized by groups like NWA. There was an unexpected connection to the NFL: with LA rappers proudly repping their teams, items like Raiders hats and jerseys became hot commodities for kids across the country. By the early 1990s, as some readers will likely remember, schools across the country rushed to ban the Raiders logo (and a few other teams logos as well, but mostly the Raiders). The NFL announced a symposium with rappers like MC Hammer and KRS-One to address gang violence. As far as I can tell, it never happened. Predictably, the demand for the merchandise soared. Today, these bans are still in place in many school districts across the country. I imagine they’ve just stayed on the books for 30 years, but you’ll find them in unexpected places, like rural Wyoming (I’m not making this up).
So, in about three decades, we’ve gone from moral panic surrounding an artform and its associations to celebrating the same art form on one of America’s biggest stages. Snoop Dogg even crip-walked a bit. During the Super Bowl! On some level, this is hard to deny as cultural progress. But in the context of the NFL’s continued issues and failures on race (from Colin Kaepernick to the current Brian Flores lawsuit), it all feels a bit shallow. Or maybe we just need to contextualize the NFL within the broader US, where black cultural products and signifiers are no longer marginalized, but much of the black population still is.
All of that noted, I kinda hated the show.
From my less-than-rigorous research, it seems that most people really liked the hip hop performances on display during the halftime show. A small, but vocal minority on the American right disagreed, lamenting that these hoodlums shouldn’t be celebrated. This latter view is, scientifically speaking, stupid. But I also don’t agree with the former either. I thought it was super cheesy. I realize I’m in the minority here, but I just cringe at performances by artists whose entire thing was youthful, rebellious aggression trotting out decades old songs as they approach AARP eligibility. I think what really killed it for me was Dre “playing” the fake sound board. But I guess he couldn’t just stand around?
Yes, this makes me sound like a gatekeeping, crusty old fart. Fair, I guess. Super Bowl halftime shows are ridiculous anyway, so we should probably reserve them for grandiose performers like Prince and Lady Gaga. The last 3 decades have rightfully legitimized rap in the mainstream and we didn’t really gain much culturally from this performance. No one said, “ah, finally, rap has arrived.” If anything, we’ve kicked off mid-life crises for millennials who now realize that the vital music of their youth is canonical and safe for the sponsors, while giving the NFL another pass.