Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Robber Barons In the Sky

An NFL owner explains the wildcat offense to his second wife.
I've been a casual NFL fan for quite a while, but it's only in the last ten years or so that I've noticed a regular feature of every televised game. At some point a camera will angle upwards and give us a shot of the owner's private box. Typically, the spacious, discreetly-lit oasis far above the braying crowds is lightly populated by the owner, his spouse, and a scattering of adult children and grandchildren. The men are in suits, the women are dressed for church or a late afternoon reception, and the kids look uncomfortable and bored no matter what they're wearing.

The play-by-play man and his colour commentator sidekick will then lower their voices as though in the presence of royalty and announce that Mr Silverspoon and his lovely wife June (if she's the first wife) or Tiffany (if she's the second/trophy wife) are here and enjoying the game. There's never any visual proof that they're enjoying the game; the owner is usually glaring down at the field while his wife talks to a fractious child or taps distractedly on an iPhone. Meanwhile, the adult heir to the gridiron throne lurks in the background, often sitting right behind dad and helpfully offering him various artery-clogging snacks. The TV announcers will then give us the following: a brief history of Silverspoon's inspired ownership of the team since inheriting it; a sepia-tinged recollection of how Silverspoon's father, Thaddeus Silverspoon, bought the team in 1934 using the profits from his orphan-crushing factory; and, finally, we're treated to a description of Mrs Silverspoon's charitable endeavours, particularly her fine work in bringing toddler beauty pageants to inner city neighborhoods. All this information in delivered in the same reverential tone that one hears in documentaries about endangered species or dead statesmen.

What's interesting here is that the networks feel the need, or are required to, pay obeisance to billionaires on a regular basis. Does a shot of a team's owner paired with some fawning commentary represent added value for the TV viewer? It doesn't add to our understanding of what's taking place, and in terms of visual appeal most watchers would probably opt for another look at the cheerleaders, or even a beauty shot from the Goodyear blimp. The NFL is in some many the ways one of the prime expressions of US wealth and power, and it would seem that 31 billionaires have made it known that they want to be seen on every telecast, a visual reminder that they've made it to the top of the plutocratic heap, or at least had the good sense to be born there. Billionaires usually shun the limelight, but once a week a select few of them like to be seen enjoying their Sauron's-eye view of the most coveted toy in the prize chest of American wealth.

Related posts:

Peanuts, Popcorn & Anti-Capitalism 

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