Sunday, February 3, 2008

"SpyGate" and the Super Bowl

by Norman Markowitz

This is Superbowl Sunday and all records are going to be broken the cost of a minute of commercial air time. The best and the brightest are writing the commercials for the game.

In the 1960s, critics of U.S. capitalism liked to mention that more money was spent on all forms of advertising at all levels (TV, radio, print, flyers, billboards, everything) than on public education and today that trend is worse. C. Wright Mills, the radical sociologist who died way to soon in the early 1960s, contended that the "permanent war economy" had created a situation in which the best paid intellectual workers were in military related research and policy planning and in survey research for advertising anything and everything, including politics. After a generation of public sector cutbacks, that may still be true, although the present military budget, even though it is more than 10 times what it was when Mills was making that statement (then it was more than 40 times what it had been before WWII) hasn't shown that military policy has been "brilliant" and successful.

When Mills was writing, those who criticized this conservative culture were accused of being Communists, "fellow travelers," or "dupes." Behind those assertions were recent memories of political show trials about "Soviet Espionage," with microfilm hidden in pumpkins, torn Jell-o boxes, and other gimmicks to peak public interest. Out of all of this, Joe McCarthy arose, scavenging in it as he drank himself to death in the 1950s. Actually, an alcoholic borderline crazy with no capacity for either empathy or sympathy was the perfect person to become the symbolic front man for the persecution of Communists and those who refused to inform on and denounce Communists. Sobriety, reason, and some understanding of diversity of political ideas was counter-productive to the cold war and the permanent war economy in the U.S. which served as its economic foundation.

What does this have to do with the Superbowl? Senator Arlen Spector, Republican of Pennsylvania, has gone after the New England Patriots about their alleged taping of Philadelphia Eagles signals in the 2005 Superbowl, which the Eagles lost. Even though I was rooting for the Eagles in that Superbowl (among other things, their brilliant quarterback, Donovan McNabb had been slandered by Rush Limbaugh, which led to Limbaugh's removal from Monday Night Football commentary, a position that ABC had given him). I have been a supporter of the Giants since 1954, even though the Giants continue to call themselves the New York Giants while they have played in New Jersey for many years, not as long as I have lived in New Jersey, but long enough to show more respect for the state. But I must raise my voice against this foolishness.

Why did the NFL destroy tapes, Spector asks? (What was the Truman administration hiding, McCarthy asked, with smug nods from the Republican leadership, until he turned on the Eisenhower administration and set the stage for his own downfall.)

Athletes and sports reporters make the point that this sort of signal stealing is and has long been common and rarely is that important in determining the outcome of games, the way serious students of espionage have for a very long time seen it as a well established business of governments and one where the practitioners pretty much do the same thing, a great deal of intelligence is untrustworthy, not listened to be people in power when it contradicts what they want to believe, and professional agents try to gain brownie points in the bureaucracy by claiming as their own any prominent person who may have some sympathies with the position they are trying to advance.

But Spector, who hasn't exactly been in the forefront of defending the civil liberties of Americans from the Patriot Act or actively questioning how the Bush administration has misused and distorted U.S. Intelligence, is insistent on carrying this forward.

Are the Superbowl victories of the Patriots the result of signal stealing spies? Will there be a New England Eleven as there was once a Hollywood Ten if Tom Brady and his offensive team stand on their first amendment rights? Will former Patriots be called as friendly witnesses? Finally, will Spector, drunk with power, not drunk with alcohol and power as Joe McCarthy was more than half a century ago, turn on his own teams, and demand that the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers be investigated, not to mention the 1960 Philadelphia Eagles, who won the NFL championship in a year that the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane over their territory (who stole the U-2's signals).

In any case, I will continue to root for the Giants and hope that Spector's silliness does not inspire what is already an outstanding Patriots team to take things out on the Giants in the game. I will also root for the next Congress to launch serious investigations of corporate and government abuse of workers rights, civil rights, and civil liberties.


Anonymous said...

Signal stealing is par for the course-- it's officially considered cheating and the Patriots have been busted for this before. This is a humorous article but it reminds us that big sports is big business and what ever was left of good clean sporting values has been long gone from the NFL. Professional sports sucks, true sports lovers would rather spend their time watching good clean amateur games where there is still left some of the spirit of true athleticism. The Super Bowl is the last thing I plan to be watching tonight.

normanmarkowitz said...

You have a point, although as a lifelong follower of professional sports(where I came from in the South Bronx, college sports were as non existent as most peoples belief that they would go to college) I think it should be dealt with because it is a powerful cultural institution, primarily for males of all backgrounds in the U.S. and of course many other countries.