Posted: February 4, 2013
The blackout during the third quarter of last night's Super Bowl was the one spontaneous event of the whole evening, and the one thing that brought out the best in social media.
Kicker David Akers of the San Francisco 49ers waits during a power outage that occurred in the third quarter that caused a 34-minute delay during Super Bowl XLVII. Ezra Shaw
The San Francisco 49ers mascot stands in the tunnel during the power outage. Please imagine his instructions: "Even in case of emergency, the foam head STAYS ON." Bruce Bennett
Great blackout last night, right?
It's been clear for some time that substantially more people watch the Super Bowl than have the slightest interest in watching the actual football game. That's why there's such hubbub over the halftime show and the commercials — it gives non-football types something to pay attention to instead of football.
But this year, Beyonce put on a perfectly polished but in no way surprising show at the half. The commercials and their familiar themes — animals behaving badly, ostensibly cute older people, and more schlubs bumping into gorgeous women than you'd find in Judd Apatow's Cecil B. DeMille Award retrospective — failed to pop. What's more, the game was lopsided, with the Baltimore Ravens leaping ahead of the San Francisco 49ers 28-6.
What were we all supposed to do now?
Fortunately, somebody plugged in one too many hair dryers (I'm assuming; that's what it means at my house), and the lights largely went out. And at that moment, social media ran into a phone booth, ripped off its Clark Kent three-piece suit, and emerged as Superman, here to save us all with the power of competitive worldwide banter. For one thing, the announcers vanished when the lights did, but the cameras kept running, meaning we were all looking at the darkened stadium, but weren't hearing anything about it. Except, of course, for everyone on Twitter who was saying, "Uh, did the power just go out? The power went out, right?"
The very first thing that happened once the situation became clear was the race to make the joke that this was clearly Bane (from The Dark Knight Rises) acting out his anti-football agenda. If you'd been following occurrences of the word "Bane" on Twitter, you'd have seen ... well, you wouldn't have seen anything, because your eyeballs would have been immediately overloaded. There was a slower, somewhat more tentative exploration of whether there was a Katrina-Superdome line of very dark humor to be tapped (as with Dave Weigel's "Fortunately, the bar for 'worst power outage at the Superdome is set really high"). Plenty of people imagined 49ers fans were to blame, or that PBS wanted you to switch to Downton Abbey.
It was a great example of social media as, essentially, boredom insurance. Without it, we'd have been sitting around listening to a bunch of football announcers who just exhausted everything they had to say about the first half during halftime and now had to come up with even more nothingness without really having any new material.
It brought to mind "The Cut Man Cometh," a fine episode of the fine Aaron Sorkin comedy Sports Night, in which anchors Dan and Casey have to fill an hour and a half after a big boxing match for which their network has allotted an evening of special coverage lasts seven seconds. They're stuck with a fill-in reporter on the scene who insists on being called "Cut Man" (he claims he was "a corner man for Rocky Marciano") and who, when he tries to fill, proves that he doesn't know how many states there are (he claims there are 52, counting Alaska and Rhode Island). The Cut Man is a disturbingly accurate imitator of much actual sports coverage ("one of these fighters is going to win this bout tonight, and the other will almost surely not"), and as they prepare to return to the air after the knockout, Dan despairs at Casey's call for analysis: "The fight lasted seven seconds, Casey, we're going to have to go back to counting states." Asked for his take on the fight, Cut Man offers, "First-round knockout, Dan." It's going to be a long hour and a half, clearly.
Much of the CBS scramble was very much like the Cut Man incident, as detailed by numerous writers this morning.
And really, it was a blessing. Think about it — if you went to a party and every last detail went off without a hitch, how many people would you tell? And if you went to a party and the sprinklers went off and all the food was ruined and everyone had to huddle in the bathroom, how many people would you tell? Everyone loves a fiasco, and the power outage was kind of a fiasco, not just because the power went out, but because it interrupted the choreography of commerce and left helpless many of the people who pour literally hilarious quantities of money into covering what is — let's remember — a game involving a bunch of dudes and a ball.
It was unplanned, it was different, and it revved up the social media commentary machine so people were doing more than just eye-rolling at all the woman-objectifying and trying to find something to say about Beyonce's outfit. Most Super Bowls are quickly forgotten unless they involve Janet Jackson's breast or your team is playing. This one will at least be memorable — "What was the one with the power outage?" is a question you can reasonably ask for years to come.
I can only hope it happens at the Oscars.
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