It’s being called the greatest Super Bowl in history: the only one to have run into overtime, the one with the most passing yards, the greatest point deficit ever overcome in any Super Bowl, and all adding up to a nail-biting conclusion that stunned the world.
I would say the same thing about the jaw-dropping halftime show. Lady Gaga’s performance struck all the right notes, put her awesome talent on display, and illustrated the mighty power of technology and art in the digital age. I would even go further and say that the show contained a subversively true message: despite all that is being tweeted from the Oval Office, it is music, art, technology, and consumer culture that make America great.
This was the most awesome message of the show, one that served as a subtle rebuke to the political obsessions that afflict the culture today.
Consider how much value her art brings to the world. It is international and not merely national. Here music flows over borders without tariffs or claims of parasitism. Her greatness is not based on executive orders, threats, vote counts, promises of or belligerent attacks on the media. It depends not on acquiring and exercising power but rather on delighting consumers, staying fashionable, reinventing herself again and again, all in the service of others who are in a position to approve or disapprove the absence of threat or compulsion.
The delightful feature of pop music is its inseparability from the audience response. In fact, one of Gaga’s many contributions to art is fully to realize and celebrate that true art is not just about the performer. It can live in isolation but only in a truncated form: it becomes a mere abstraction with only intellectual value. The fullness of art is realized when the audience response is regarded as integral to the creative experience itself. Thus the title and theme of her album Artpop. The popularity becomes the art itself, as both a test and an illustration of its value.
Social and aesthetic value are inseparable, says she. It is the creed she lives by, and it has served her and us well. But while the theory has been explicit in her work, the idea is implicit in the whole of the experience of mass consumer culture.
And indeed, America has distinguished itself over more than 100 years in being a world leader in film, music, dance, and all the arts, precisely because of the embrace of the theory of art that Gaga represents: the unity of performer and audience in a single experience.
It’s a thesis that would have caused Romantics of the 19th century — elites who seethed in disgust at the rise of consumer culture — to gasp in horror. Surely, they said, capitalism would destroy art and replace it with what T.S. Eliot summed up as a “wasteland.” But that in fact is not what we see. Eliot’s nightmare never came to pass. The opposite is true: the more ordinary consumers (rather than empowered elites) are in control, the more art and production in general approaches the ideal of universal human service.
What happened at this halftime? She demonstrated that her art is capable of achieving what politics cannot. Beginning with patriotic themes, she gradually moved toward universalist themes centered on individualism, human achievement, and freedom itself.
And all of this followed an eye-popping display of a drone army in the sky, dancing in formation and forming a beautiful American flag. To pull it off even required special approval from the FAA!
How does all this fit in with the Super Bowl? On the field during the game, we observed a different kind of mastery but equally brilliant. We delighted with every completed pass, every long run, every kick, and felt the tension and pressure rise as the clock ticked to overtime and the stakes grew higher and higher. Yes, one team won, but for the rest of us, they were all winners.
And the biggest winners of all were those of us who sat on the sofa with our clickers, chicken wings, and beers, and consumed it all either for free or for a few bucks. What an astonishing indulgence! Millions of people worked together to bring us these delights, people we do not know, people we will never meet, people we can never thank, and yet they are there every day, working for us, sweating it out to improve our lives. They come from everywhere, work in every sector, specializing in as many diverse talents as the people involved.
Obedience or Invitations?
In the election, we were constantly promised that blessings will flow to us from a mighty hand who wields immense power with great intelligence. Our role is only to vote, pay, obey, and be grateful.
But in the Super Bowl, both in the game and the halftime show, we were shown a different model of social organization, one based not on commands to obey but invitations to enjoy. This was exactly the reminder we all needed right now. Here is the way forward for humanity, peace, and prosperity.
Intellectuals Right and Left give us a million reasons to abandon the system of freedom of choice, market productivity, and mass consumer culture. What 160 million people around the world saw on Super Bowl Sunday is one solid, compelling reason to never turn back.
Jeffrey Tucker is director of digital development for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also the founder of Liberty.me, a research fellow at the Acton Institute and a policy adviser of the Heartland Institute.