The Might of the American Empire Was on Full Display at Super Bowl 50: A Bizarre War Spectacle Extraordinaire
From the fighter jets soaring overhead to the armed troops patrolling Levi Stadium, Super Bowl 50 was a highly militarized event, its 70,000 spectators and millions of television viewers subject to a showcase of war propaganda and heavy security crackdown.
To much fanfare, the Armed Forces Chorus, comprised of 50 men and women from the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force, kicked off the massive sports event by singing "America the Beautiful” from the field. CBS’ broadcast of the song cut away to footage of uniformed troops standing at attention, with text on the screen reading, “United States Forces Afghanistan.” The clip was a nod to a brutal war and occupation, now stretching into its 15th year, as top generals press for an even slower withdrawal.
Following the national anthem, the U.S. Navy flew its signature Blue Angels Delta formation over the cheering stadium, located in Santa Clara, Calif. The Navy is open about the propaganda purposes of such flights, stating in a press release they are intended to demonstrate “pride” in the military. In a country that dropped 23,144 bombs on Muslim-majority countries in 2015 alone, the war planes are not just symbolic.
The heavy-handed display follows revelations that some NFL teams have long been accepting payment from the Department of Defense to honor and celebrate the military and its service members.
Some were open about their profiteering aims. Military weaponry was also displayed off the field on Sunday, when the arms giant Northrop Grumman released a 30-second television advertisement for a terrifying and futuristic fighter jet complete with lasers.
Meanwhile, at the stadium and in surrounding communities, a real crackdown took place. The Super Bowl was determined by Homeland Security to be a “level one” security event, prompting a massive deployment of police and troops. Service members in uniform carried automatic rifles as they patrolled the stadium, and camouflaged Humvee vehicles with roof gun mounts were seen throughout the area.
According to SF Gate writer Al Saracevic, “At one point, near the media entrance to the event, a column of military personnel could be seen marching into the interior of the stadium security zone, boots clomping, weapons in hand.”
The crackdown extended far beyond the event itself. In the leadup to the Super Bowl, authorities in nearby San Francisco began clearing homeless encampments in anticipation of a large influx of tourists, prompting protests. In a city already beset with dramatic inequality and displacement, the sweeps prompted the campaign Not So Super SF, demanding a moratorium on the criminalization of homeless people.
The buildup to the event saw a heavy surveillance and law enforcement crackdown, in a city with powerful movements demanding an end to police killings and recognition that Black Lives Matter.
“In the leadup to the Super Bowl, we've seen high-tech surveillance cameras go up with zero public input or protections, a black protestor arrested just for taking photos, and homeless people harassed, displaced, and saddled with unpayable citations,” Abdi Soltani, the executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, warned days ahead of the Super Bowl.
Amid the militarized spectacle of the Super Bowl, there was some recognition from the field of the issues nearby communities are struggling with. In a powerful homage to the ongoing legacies of women in the Black Panthers movement, dancers accompanying BeyoncÃ©’s halftime performance of "Formation" held a sign demanding “Justice for Mario Woods.” African-American man Woods, 26, was killed by San Francisco police on December 2.