Biden, Swift, the Super Bowl and the power of escapism

Super Bowl LVIII delivered a tight and exciting game between the 49ers and the Chiefs. Hilarious commercials included Kate McKinnon and a cat shilling Hellmann‘s mayo, and Ben Affleck dancing like an idiot for Dunkin’ Donuts. Usher delivered a halftime show … on roller skates.

Social media brimmed with a wide range of emotions triggered by Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s romance, many of the comments from adults still haunted by high school memories of worshiping and/or hating the untouchable Queen and King of the prom. I’d rather dance with a live rail than return to that tortuous chapter of life.

President Biden even jumped into the fray. A post popped up on his X account right after the Chiefs’ win. It’s a portrait of POTUS, eyes glowing like an alien, with the caption “Just like we drew it up.”

The well-timed joke was a response to the MAGA-verse conspiracy theory that the Democrats and the NFL were somehow in cahoots, and with the help of Swift, would rig the game in favor of Kelce’s Chiefs. By doing so, they’d throw the election to Biden come November.

If none of that makes sense, congratulations. You haven’t been indoctrinated. Yet.

In short, Sunday was a welcome day of escapism grounded in the safety of tradition, bolstered by permission to devour Doritos Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch, a food product that should be forbidden any other day of the year. It was a break from the everyday grind, and such respites feel few and far between these days.

Keeping up with the news or cultural churn is tantamount to placing one’s self in a torturous James Bond escape scenario — sealed in a room where the walls are closing in slowly, or strapped to a table as a hot laser advances toward your groin. But 007 always escapes these situations thanks to his tech genius, Q. The rest of us have to rely on other measures for escape, be it shutting down entirely or following wackadoo “insight” from another guy named Q.

Remaining consistently tuned in requires a constitution of steel, or sociopathic levels of disconnect amid the onslaught of news: the forthcoming election, climate change, Ukraine and a drought that never seems to be over no matter how much rain dumps on SoCal.

And let’s not get started on the staggering number of cases in courtrooms across the U.S. where the fate of democracy depends on nonpartisan judges deciding what’s best for the people, as opposed to the party or leader who gave them the job.

It’s no wonder why “taking a break from the news” has become such a common refrain among friends and family.

Consider events that have unfolded since Sunday’s kickoff: At least 67 more people were killed by Israeli forces in Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians have fled to escape the bombardment across the rest of Gaza. Two hostages were recovered by the IDF, according to Israeli forces, but more than 100 are still being held by Hamas after they were kidnapped during the group’s Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that left 1,200 people dead. The death toll in the Palestinian territory has surpassed 28,000 souls, according Gaza’s Health Ministry.

In Super Bowl terms, that’s nearly half the capacity crowd at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.

There’s no judgment here on those who need to step away from soul-crushing updates in the name of self-preservation. I do it too … when I can. There’s only so much I can take before becoming mentally immobilized by what I see as an overwhelming lack of humanity, reason and fairness. But that withdrawal comes with pangs of guilt for being privileged and safe enough to mentally disengage, unlike innocent civilians in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine or dozens of other spots where folks are suffering. The U.S.-Mexico border comes to mind.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that at least 85 journalists and media workers have been killed covering the Hamas-Israeli war. That’s more journalists lost in 128 days than were killed during the entirety of the Vietnam War.

Sorry to bring such brutal reality into a column that kicked off with the promise of discussing football, pop stars and junk food. But nothing exists in a vacuum, even if we wish that were the case.

Which poses a question: At what point does avoiding bad news become apathy, or worse, buying into baseless conspiracies to avoid unpleasant facts?

If I knew, I wouldn’t be struggling with the answer in front of your reading eyes. But one thing is sure: It’s OK to step back when it all becomes too much. Even if that means indulging in the Hallmark romance of a singer and sports star. Just don’t stay there too long.

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