Rory Bremner: a week in America

A trip to the Super Bowl in Arizona this week with Channel 4. To immerse oneself in America is to experience a world blissfully unaware of irony; a curious mix of rampant commercialism and childlike innocence. I had resisted the charms of that great country until relatively recently, partly because of an irrational and, as it happens, unfounded impression of "mean streets" and partly because of a cheap prejudice that if I waited long enough, America would come over here.

Driving along the Interstate to Phoenix, you pass a sign saying "Arizona State Prison", immediately followed by one saying "Do not stop to pick up hitchhikers". To an English eye this seems screamingly funny in both its obviousness and the cartoon image of an arrowsuited desperado beaming winningly at passing motorists over a hastily-scribbled placard. Judging by the reaction of a fellow passenger on the flight home, though, the irony is lost on the average American. She obligingly greeted the tale with a laugh before agreeing, "Yeah, 'cos it would really slow you down, right?"

There is something faintly ludicrous, too, about the extent of their customer care. Phoning to order breakfast in her room, one of our group was floored by an eager receptionist who trilled, "Thank you, Miss Morris. And may I enquire how you first heard about our Room Service?"

Lest all this should sound sneery and bigoted, I should say that having left harbouring dark thoughts about the complicated rules and rituals of American football I am now showing worrying signs of being converted. The Super Bowl itself has become a symbol of America. It's big, brash and camp as a row of homosexuals; you cannot help but be impressed by its spectacle, not least the half-time entertainment, which has become an awesome logistical feat in itself. The crew have 10 minutes to assemble and dismantle a 32-ton stage without damaging the pitch. Diana Ross duly arrives on an impossibly high hydraulic lift, runs through a medley of hits involving four seamless costume changes (including a final outfit spun from 350 yards of equally seamless "liquid gold") and leaves by helicopter accompanied by a thousand-voice gospel choir. If that's not showbiz I don't know what is.

In Britain, of course, we get Gerry Marsden and a packet of cheese and onion. In 1988 the half-time show featured, predictably enough, 88 grand pianos. Leaving aside the question of "why?", I found myself wondering, if Douglas Hurd had asked the Americans to sort out Bosnia, relieve Somalia and bring peace to Rwanda, all during the break in the 1995 Super Bowl, they'd have found a way to do it. For Norman Schwarzkopf read Busby Berkeley.

The game is preceded by a huge garden party thrown by the National Football League for 6,000 of their closest friends. To say everything was laid on is illustrated by the tale of a Channel 4 executive who spent 20 minutes queuing for a hamburger only to find himself asked: "Would you like oil or talcum powder, sir?" He'd inadvertently joined the queue for a massage. With less modesty and more presence of mind, he should have asked if he could have ketchup.

The game itself is fascinating and addictive. Believe me. When you treat each 10-yard gain as a mini-try, and realise that the moves called by the quarter-back (a sort of scrum-half figure) are just some of the hundreds calculated by coaches, it becomes a sort of high-speed Australian-rules chess, with all the passion and physical power of our own rugby. The tactics themselves are minutely analysed by trainers who use Polaroid cameras to study formations.

But to play it properly, you still need a really silly name. As my friend Guy Jenkin (writer of Drop the Dead Donkey) observed, the crowd could follow the English example and chant "one Yancey Thigpen, there's only one Yancey Thigpen" in the sure knowledge that they were absolutely right.

Whenever I return to Britain from abroad my heart sinks at the sight of a row of English newspapers, their headlines screaming the latest inconsequential celebrity scandal or sleazy hyperbole. It's as if the anally retentive world of gossip, intolerance and spite seeps into the soul, just as the grubby newsprint rubs off on our fingers. Our obsessions, or rather those of our tabloid editors, seem so petty and joyless compared to the perspective of foreign cultures. The Sun, amongst others, at least has a sense of irony. But the Daily Mail's pious comment, "we declined to publish Diana's ['deeply personal'] remarks to Tiggy Legge-Bourke on the grounds of taste" seems odd considering their banner headline (and in colour, too), which modestly shouted "Revealed: what Diana said that reduced Tiggy to tears."

As Alan Bennett has pointed out in his beautifully observed Diaries, (page 191, since you ask) the Independent itself is not above a bit of sanctimony but in this case the Mail really takes the Bath Oliver.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

    Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

    Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

    C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition