Like millions of other Americans who have recently acquired large screen high definition televisions, I am hosting a Super Bowl party today. Like even more millions, I feel the odd compulsion of offer tortilla chips, guacamole, and at least 2 variants of salsa (pico de gallo and mango salsa, in my case) to my guests. I am no expert on the matter, but it would seem from the checkout lines and shelves at grocery stores that Mexican cuisine plays a prominent role in the relatively young tradition of Super Bowl Sunday as a major national social event. It may not be Christmas or Thnaksgiving dinner, but SBS has acquired a set of culinary expectations of its own.
I have personal ties to both Indianapolis and Chicago, and consequently nothing but good will toward both teams. I wish fans in both cities could experience a win. Guests will include partisans of both teams. The best possible outcome would be a game in the mould of the incredible battle between Boise State and the University of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl this year, hard fought until the last seconds, with comeback following comeback.
Honestly, I have to admit that the television commercials are of nearly equal interest. Some of my guests have made it clear that they do not want to be interrupted during the first run of each new commercial, and would prefer calls for refills of various substances liquid and solid, take place during actual play. This may be a minority opinion, but it is a significant one.
The manner in which Super Bowl traditions have emerged and found a place in our lives is quite remarkable, and I think the process says a lot about our collective culture. First and foremost, this is a commercial event. The NFL is one of the shrewdest business enterprises on the face of the earth. I mention this not as a slam on commercialism, but in admiration for the way in which basic human impulses can be satisfied while some smart people make a lot of money.
I celebrate the fact that for many of us, the creativity shown in the television commercials is a central point of interest. We have almost no common experiences in this era of fragmented communications media. This gives us a common references point. No NEA grants are necessary to provide this, either. The marketplace and the nearly universal solvent of sport combine to unite the nation in watching the most creative minds in television arts working to get us to log onto a website, send a package or (most of all) choose a beer or a car.
I also love the visible evidence of American flexibility, openness, and pragmatism evident in the way that Mexican influences have worked their way into the culinary aspect of the holiday. Our Americanized version of Northern Mexican food has truly entered the national cuisine. I am old enough to remember both the first Super Bowl and my first meal at a Mexican restaurant, both of which happened within a couple of years of each other. Growing up in 1950s Minneapolis, there was one rather expensive Mexican restaurant downtown, and that was it. I never ate there, and so had to go to California for my first Mexican meal in 1969.
Having raised 3 California children who have gone on to live and travel abroad, I can report that for them Mexican food is what they miss when living overseas. One may be able to get McDonald's and KFC in Beijing or London, but Taco Bell has so far not found much of a niche in the global fast food business. At a higher level of cuisine, one can get great French, Chinese, or Italian food in virtually every major city of the world, but good luck finding a capable chicken with molé sauce.
When my kids got off their planes from around the world coming home after an extended absence, they could not wait for some good nachos or enchiladas. The taste of home.
Viva Super Bowl Sunday!