Here’s Shales’ hilariously sarcastic review of the embarrassing promotional and advertising extravaganza the NFL was permitted to stage on the Mall last week:
American bad taste is the most powerful bad taste in the world. That seems to be what was really being celebrated on the Mall last night at an excruciating 55-minute rock concert ostensibly convened to herald the new pro football season and televised live on the struggling ABC network.
The event was deemed so auspicious that George W. Bush took yet more time off from fighting the war on terrorism to appear, via videotape, at the end of the concert and just before the game, in the manner of a TV huckster. He tried to make some connection between football and “the spirit that guides the brave men and women” of the military, much as the concert had done.
He also said pro football “celebrates the values that make our country so strong.” Like what, violence and greed?
Then, in intense close-up, the leader of the Free World asked the trademarked rhetorical question, “Are you ready for some football?”
Some bureaucrat whose thinking cap had blown off authorized lending the once-solemn, or at least dignified, Mall to this very raucous and very commercial event. The show was a collaboration between the NFL, apparently trying to lure younger viewers to football, and, as the announcer said, “New Pepsi Vanilla and Diet Pepsi Vanilla, the Not-So-Vanilla Vanilla.”
The not-so-musical music included a performance by bouncy sex bunny Britney Spears, whose vocalizing was clearly prerecorded and badly lip-synced — but then who knew what the heck she was singing about anyway? Spears depended heavily on elaborate pyrotechnics and on manic aerobic-erotic choreography during her two numbers; dancers hurled themselves, cartwheeled, tumbled and even crawled across the stage.
At one point, she gamboled about amid, literally, great balls of fire — apparently forgetting that Michael Jackson’s hair was once set ablaze while he was filming a Pepsi commercial.
There was also, as part of the alleged dancing, what’s commonly referred to as “some girl-on-girl action” (Spears and Madonna kissed on the lips on a recent MTV special), as well as writhing onstage costume changes. When they weren’t being groped or fondled by her, dancers helped Spears strip her pants off, revealing a bikini-like black bottom for the second number. They even helped straighten out the little pixie’s shorty shorts so that they didn’t reveal too much. Or maybe so that they did.
Spears just kept singing, singing, singing. Or rather syncing, syncing, syncing. But the feeling some of us at home were having would be better described as sinking, sinking, sinking.
… A closing credit, “Paid for by the NFL,” suggested the football league bought the time outright from ABC and then sold the commercial minutes. Many of the ads were, of course, for new Pepsi Vanilla and Diet Pepsi Vanilla, the Not-So-Vanilla Vanilla (when will they come out with not-so-chocolate chocolate?), but there was also a super-kinetic blitz of a commercial for Reebok Vector shoes, scored to the opening chorus from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” one of the most frequently appropriated pieces of 20th-century classical music.
When Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini included a bit of “Carmina Burana” in his borderline-obscene film “Salo,” he explained he did so because he considered it “fascist music.” We just note that in passing.
Each musical act was introduced by a former NFL star — Joe Theismann and Joe Namath opened the show together — teamed with a member of the armed forces. Theismann said of the concert, “It’s a national moment of remembrance,” which really seems preposterous in light of what followed. A woman representing the Coast Guard said, “I’m proud to be an American” before introducing Aerosmith.
…While the sun still shone, the beautiful U.S. Capitol provided an unlikely and, it seemed, reluctant backdrop for the acts. When night came, and the dome was lit up, it appeared to recede a bit into the distance, as if in shame.
Perhaps the Mall will be available now to every American for weddings, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. No, probably not. You’ll have to be a giant corporation to take over this precious public space and, in effect, spill a ton of garbage all over it.