It isn’t often that you know exactly what you were doing on any given day in the past. There are the biggies, of course: birthdays, anniversaries, a few memorable holidays here and there. But rarely more. The rest you have to rely on documentation, records, photos, and the like. The “date” may be off a bit but the “day” is dead on. I know what I was doing twenty-seven years ago today. This:
Yep! Mock if you must but I was on the field at Superbowl XX as part of the Up With People halftime show. I’m not sure which blip is me but I do remember I was down stage right (lower left hand corner of the field for those of you not familiar with theater jargon.) I just turned 19 and was about 3 weeks in to my theatre degree from FSU. It was the mid-eighties. Glasnost. Apartheid. The Challenger had just exploded. Iran-Contra was underway but not yet revealed. Wham and Aha played on the radio.
Lots of folks criticize that half time show, conveniently forgetting that’s what half-time shows used to be: large field spectaculars. Marching bands didn’t play Madonna; they played Souza. Without jumbotrons to show the itty-bitty superstar to the distant football fans — most of whom were in line for either the restroom or the beer — what superstar wanted to do them? What executive wanted to pay for them?
But, come on. We all know that isn’t the real reason the Up With People half-time shows are mocked and ridiculed. Go on. Say it. It’s because of the clean cut, feel good, happy-happy vibe of the whole thing, isn’t it? For some reason, nothing brings out the cynic or the snark faster and with more force than someone else’s joy or enthusiasm. Are the songs sappy? Maybe. But so if every country music ballad ever written. Are the ideas expressed those of peace and understanding? Sure. Michael Jackson, John Lennon, and many, many others made a fortune selling the same schtick. Ebony and Ivory? Imagine? It doesn’t mean they didn’t believe it nor does it mean peace and understanding isn’t a worthy goal even in an imperfect and complex world.
In the interest of full disclosure, even though I’m an alumni, I’m not a huge UWP cheerleader. There was a lot of good I experienced during my year (e.g.getting to know people from different cultures with different ideas about the world) but a lot that I call bullshit on today. The top of the list being that the appearance of “clean-cut” was superior to the reality of it. That the definition of clean-cut somehow included the absence of individuality, sexuality, and the wider array of reasonable human emotions like righteous anger and justifiable rage in the face of stupidity. That ambition itself — that which didn’t appear to involve promoting social justice — was evidence of an un-evolved mind rather than a legitimate expression of talent and ability.
I wish I could say I remember my day at Superbowl XX like it was yesterday, that I was so present in each moment that I seared them into my brain. But sadly, I have only snippets. The guy who asked if he could by my field pass. Running through the streets of New Orleans with UWP songwriter Pat Murphy in search of film. Unfortunately, it was for him, not me. I didn’t have a camera so I don’t have a single photo of being there. I also remember, later than night, after the game, making out with a very good looking guy named Mozon (sp?) from Carizozo, New Mexico before he got on his bus to continue his year in UWP. My year was over and I was on to my next phase.
Up With People’s bread and butter is pie-eyed optimism. I’ll soon be hosting a few cast members for a week and will watch several of them spit and sputter when I ask them how they plan to reconcile the lessons of current experience with the reality of the world. They’re still coached to make a good impression and to not give UWP a bad name. After all, UWP can’t operate without host families. But in the meantime, I hope they retain their enthusiasm for life and a belief that life/politics/justice/compassion/etc. can improve, even if only in minor increments, and that they are the result of hard work and ambitious goals. I hope they realize that within the notion that “there’s room for everyone” (lyrics from a song from my era) that everyone includes the warrior as much as the peacemaker, the fearful and angry as much as the brave and satisfied.
Cynicism, even over a half-time show, is for the lazy and the stupid. I prefer to live my life as enthusiastically pragmatic: joyous, sexy, fun, outrageous, hardworking, forward, upward, relaxed, adventurous,planned but not rigid, with goals but not grades, seat of the pants and skin of the teeth. I love that I was part of the Superbowl XX half-time show. I wish I would have paid better attention or had a camera. But I was there.