Halftime at the Super Bowl, once merely a forgettable 30 minutes to get another beer or join the line at the restroom, is now more entertaining. It sometimes gets different reviews from different generations. But this year, everyone could find something to be dazzled by in Lady Gaga's terrific patriotic pop.
She was a dazzling Peter Pan, a hip Mary Poppins, a sparkly SpongeBob SquarePants, floating through the air like the man on the flying trapeze, shimmering drones illuminating an American flag in the night sky behind her. It was testimony to high-tech triumphalism to match the magic on the stage, sky and field.
The lady who vamped Tony Bennett at his 90th birthday party with a seductive version of "The Lady is a Tramp" and engages millennials with flamboyant, funky and freaky electronic fireworks buzzed the stadium in radiant sequins of silver and steel. She announced that she was simply there to "make you feel good."
That's not easy to do in a polarized political culture, but the tweets afterward were decidedly cross-generational, enthusiastic and even bipartisan. Former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted that his "good friend" continues to amaze him. Ivanka Trump tweeted, "Incredible performance." And Tyler Oakley tweeted, "actual goddess bringing together all of America to celebrate being one nation under God, pop music & aerial acrobatics." The goddess soars through the air, courting the camera for fun, not miracles. Her drones do not kill or deliver packages; they decorate the sky for dramatic effect.
Super Bowl halftime is a fantasy world for everybody, whether they want to make America great again or nourish a post-November hangover for the ages. This year it called a truce in the culture war, if only for a half-hour. There were no sexual politics (or any other kind). Hers was entertainment to match the heroics of Tom Brady's astonishing comeback.
There was no wardrobe malfunction, as in 2004 when Janet Jackson's black leather jacket popped open for a split second and out popped her boob. Nor did we have to endure a tribute to Black Panther cop killers, which Beyonce came up with last year with a chorus in black berets, presumably as testimony to black power. Lady Gaga, by contrast, even gave a shoutout to her parents. That's as American as apple pie in the sky can get.
Vice President Mike Pence watched the show with two wounded warriors who flew with him to Houston on Air Force Two. One was wounded in Iraq in 2008, the other in Afghanistan last year. One rooted for the New England Patriots, the other for the Atlanta Falcons. Nice touch.
Polarized politics slam in your face 24/7, and they're in the eye of the beholder like a cinder, relentlessly cultivating divisions, fissures and chasms. Several pundits and big talkers describe Lady Gaga as a stealth subversive. They accuse her of sending a double message by singing "This Land Is Your Land" because Woody Guthrie originally composed it to be an edgy protest in an America still suffering from the Depression. They miss the lady's bigger point. Her rendition of Irving Berlin's mighty "G0D Bless America" and Guthrie's anthem brought the Super Bowl crowd together. She even added a few words from the Pledge of Allegiance. For a brief span of the game, Americans were divided only by competing loyalties to the Patriots and the Falcons. How refreshing is that?
Not everybody was thrilled, of course. Amanda Petrusich, writing in The New Yorker, scorned the men on the field as gladiators fighting at the Coliseum, "demolishing each other for the profit and entertainment of others." Who took Grandma Grundy to the ball game? That said, the scientific research on brain injuries on the gridiron is indeed scary. One study observing an offensive lineman in a game found that 10 hits he accrued had "the average G-Force of a car ramming into a wall at roughly thirty miles per hour." Few club owners, coaches or players protest that kind of wall when reaching for the millions.
There's a caution in this for our sons and grandsons who dream of making the team. Lady Gaga says she started planning her halftime entertainment when she was only 4 years old, and many little boys no older than that are dreaming of scoring the winning pass, run or field goal to win a Super Bowl years hence. No G-force is powerful enough to snuff that dream. But evidence mounts that football is bad for the brain (and the knees, shoulders and ankles).
Criticism of the sport sounds mean-spirited to anyone watching such skill and talent. Better to watch Lady Gaga catch a sparkling pigskin and disappear into that mysterious wonderland where talented performers and athletes go to dream their dreams. It makes the rest of us feel good, too, if only for the moment.