Like me, millions of fellow red-blooded American men are gearing up for the veritable apex of manliness: Super Bowl Sunday. I’ve long been dreaming of the countless buffalo wings to be dismantled, burgers to be charred, bets to be won, and kegs to be pumped. I’m also thinking about baking some kale chips.
Something strange has happened to the American man. In recent years, much ink has been devoted to shattering the conventional image of what adult males are like. And with each passing moment, we continue to be exposed for who really are. Last week, a far-reaching survey released by Esquire magazine produced more surprising results. Of over 1,000 American men polled, almost 70 percent confessed that they don’t really like going to strip clubs. Nearly half of those surveyed also admitted that they enjoy shopping for new clothes.
This revelation came as a relief because I've been going to bachelor parties for years and judging from the vacant looks on my friends' faces at gentlemen’s clubs, I've suspected they'd rather be checking out the racks at J. Crew instead. Maybe now we can all talk about it openly.
This new profile of the American man might not be what you'd expect: Of course, the guys will still be guys, but they are also golf-adverse, constantly moisturizing men who are more blasé about sports and say “I love you” all the time. As I read on, I started to worry that a massive cultural transition had completely passed me by. Sure, like over 70 percent of men, I love to cook dinner for my family and friends, but am I some kind of savage because I haven't cried in the last month like almost 40 percent of men? What's next? Pizza with a knife and fork?
It’s easy to think the fabric is unraveling. Pick-up basketball games are being swapped out for Zumba at an alarming rate and steakhouses are no longer a match for dimly-lit rooms with well-reviewed shared plates. It’s only a matter of months before doctors discover that the constitution of the average American man is comprised of at least four percent fennel and two percent hand sanitizer.
Football, once a safe space for unbridled masculinity, hasn’t been spared either. Super Bowl Sunday is no longer an event that’s strictly catered to the boys. Over the course of the past five years, female viewership for the Super Bowl has more than doubled. In 2012, over 50 million women tuned in for the Super Bowl, more than twice the number that watched the Academy Awards, the Emmys, or the Grammys. And while the popular HBO series Girls will still air on the same night as the Academy Awards in March, tonight's episode of the show actually aired last night to avoid clashing with the game.
The latest episode of @girlsHBO airs tonight at 10pm because tomorrow there is some kind of sports thing, I guess?— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) February 1, 2014
Advertisers are taking note and adjusting their campaigns accordingly. A montage of commercials from the past few Super Bowls would make for a mind-altering hellscape of babies talking stocks, search engines and internet dating sites peddling meet-cutes, and meek animals of all stripes begging your compliance—all mixed in with provocative spots designed to make the water-cooler conversation.
The dynamic of football fandom has also evolved. Crowds that once howled like the ancient Romans in amphitheaters are now focusing on the safety of the game and the political correctness of the team nicknames. Ahead of tonight, the most dominant Super Bowl story lines are only tangentially related to football.
The big game should have it all. A young, explosive Seattle team with a stellar defense squaring off against Denver and Peyton Manning, a 37-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback on his twilight quest for glory. But instead of hearing about that, much of the attention has been exhausted on overly boastful comments made by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman after a game nearly two weeks ago. The rest of talk was a collective fret about the weather forecast for the game, the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors in a cold-weather venue. (After all the hemming and hawing, the forecast for tonight is pretty nice.)
The football world seems to be pushing back. After being asked for the thousandth time about fears that it might be too cold for football on Sunday, last week NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took the extraordinarily manly step of vowing to the sit outdoors in the stands for the big game, come rain, sleet, or snow. Even more impressively, this week Denver Broncos safety Mike Adams told the Denver Post that should his team prevail on Sunday, Adams plans to walk the ten miles from the MetLife Stadium to his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey in his helmet and pads. How’s that for rugged?
For long-time fans, the game is starting to resemble a different sport. Rule changes meant to protect the players and enable high scoring games have ignited debate about whether football is getting better or not. Purists will always pine for the days when the game seemed tougher, but years from now, it seems likely many will also look at Super Sunday, the game’s crown jewel, and wonder what happened to their favorite spectacle.
Gone are the days of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and The Who as the Super Bowl halftime entertainment. After the Black-Eyed Peas, Madonna, and Beyonce in three consecutive years, this year’s halftime headliner will finally be a guy with a guitar again—Hawaiian pop heartthrob Bruno Mars. I’ll probably be in the kitchen layering the dip.