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.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
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

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    PHP Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain