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What’s So Super About Being Super?

Have you voted today?

You did? That’s “super”!

Wait, you didn’t? You forgot? Again?

Eh, that’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Well, not really.

Ironically, “super” is the worst adjective in the dictionary. Its various definitions are simply too diverse to be sloppily thrown into one word. For instance, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “super” can mean that something is (1) “of high grade or quality”, (2) “very large or powerful”, or (3) “exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree.”

Anyone who has ever stayed at a Super 8 motel can attest that not everything advertised as “super” is “of high quality.” In fact, most things that appear powerful or excessive are not top grade. Just ask the Titanic’s captain, the Hindenburg’s pilot, or anyone who has ever listened to Paris Hilton sing. Often “super” really isn’t that hot.

Even though “super” has vastly different meanings, Americans cast the word around without hesitation. For example, two of America’s most “super” events are the Super Bowl and Super Tuesday (my apologies to the Super Giant Slalom). The question is though: is either the Super Bowl or Super Tuesday really “super” for America ?

While I love American football, it is nowhere near as beautiful as “the beautiful game”, soccer. Sure, sometimes the Super Bowl is “of high grade or quality”, featuring superstars with seemingly superhuman abilities. It’s also “large and powerful”, both economically and culturally. And yes, there is no American event that better “exhibits the characteristics of its type to an extreme degree”.

But, like I said, it’s not soccer. It’s not the World Cup. It’s good and it’s fun, but it ain’t that “super”.

Today isn’t really Super Tuesday, which technically only occurs on years presidents are elected (and even then, it’s during primary season when the nominees are picked), but I like to think of every election day as a “Super” Tuesday. Like the Super Bowl, today will also be “powerful” as people will be elected to posts of public trust. Today will also “exhibit the characteristics of its type to an extreme degree”, as the media will incessantly gossip about the candidates, who in turn will blather about why they represent change, hope or whatever buzzword they are incessantly parroting.

But the events of November 3, 2009 will not be “of high quality” because they will be, as they always are (and have been), more like a circus act than a real civic debate. Politicians will make speeches. Partisans will wave signs. Folks will clap and stomp the floor when cued by the political parties’ PR reps. But, we (the people) will likely learn nothing new and our apathy will continue to envelop us.

Eugene McCarthy, who was an expert on failed presidential campaigns, once sagely said, “Being in politics is like being a football coach, you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.” His comparison between American politics and American football was apt and can be furthered.

They both involve complex strategies aimed at brutalizing opponents. They both are played almost exclusively by men. Both have heroes, parties and cheerleaders (though at least politics spares us the sight of pundits with pom-poms). Both are definitely misunderstood by the international community.

Oh yeah, and watching either one for an extended period of time requires the consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Lastly, in both American politics and football, when someone finally does best their rival to win the title, they retreat to a fantasy land. For the Super Bowl Champs, it’s off to Disneyland. For today’s victors? Washington D.C.

I – for one – refuse to accept McCarthy’s idea that politics lack inherent importance. Politics may also be a “game” to some, but there is a lot more riding on the outcome for us all.  Although America is still a “superpower”, we will never be an America “of high quality” again until we stop shirking our civic duty to stay informed and vote.

As the true superintendents of this nation, we are responsible for its maintenance and we must repair the damage it has suffered. But instead of supervising, we seem to be opting for supersizing. We are frivolously filling up with super unleaded gas, taking the superhighway to the supermarket, getting trims at Supercuts while listening to Supertramp, etc. 

We have all been blinded by the supposedly “super” stuff all around us, as well as our own feelings of superiority. It’s time to abandon our excesses and embrace our civic duties. I am not saying we need to give up the pigskin, but maybe we should care as much about politics as we do about football. Over 150 million Americans tuned in to the 2004 Super Bowl, while only 122 million voted in that year’s presidential election. Super? No.

Superficial? You bet.