As scholars we take media seriously but the Möbius folds of our reality—what Jean Baudrillard correctly called hyperreality—illustrate how messages, agendas, persuasion and propaganda get tucked within an event we describe as real.
But the mixture of hyped reality with hilarity creates a relarity.
Take the Super Bowl as an example.
Purpose of the football game is to pit the best of the contenders against each other to compete for the title of winner.
But the Super Bowl is more than the reality of the competition: it is a relarity of sports, advertising, news, ferocity, promotion, performance, entertainment, gluttony, masculinity and music.
News reports inform us that, calorie-for-calorie, Americans stuff themselves more during the Super Bowl than at Thanksgiving.
The Super Bowl addresses us, Baudrillard would lament, as consumers—not mere sports fans.
Capital wraps around the Super Bowl like the many arms of the Hindu goddess Durga, infusing the economic structure with enough revenue to stem poverty and curb hunger: literally billions of dollars in cash for players’ salaries, coaches’ salaries, ticket sales, taxes, endorsements, gambling bets and, of course, advertising.
Just one 30-second advertisement cost $4.5 million. According to one source, NBC garnered a whopping $75 million from ad sales this year.
The advertisements live a second, third—indeed, countless lives—shown on social media before the Super Bowl, during the game, and afterward on Twitter, Facebook, in college classrooms, and endlessly on the news.
But what is the central point of the popular discourse?
Not the outrageous revenues generated by the hype.
We wring our hands over which ad sucked and which ad soared.
Headlines read: Super Bowl ads that nailed it, The problem with those feminist Super Bowl ads, Budweiser lost dog finds its way and Nationwide ad provokes.
Commercials give pundits and bloggers a chance to gripe. We decry one ad for being a downer because it highlighted childhood deaths due to accidents.
We praise another for elevating girlhood: empowertising.
We give life to the ads by weaving them in our daily discourse.
But at its root, the purpose is to sell us beer and tampons.