Twenty-first Century Ritual – “The Hunger Games” and Madonna at the Superbowl

March 31, 2012

At the recent 2012 Superbowl – it’s a big dumb game of American football; for the uninitiated, think Bill Hicks telling the good citizens of that fair country to go back to watching a bunch of pituitary retards bashing each other on television so that they don’t have to think – Madonna performed a medley of some of her hits for the halftime show. It was a mixture of a whole lot of mythic material that should put to rest forever the idea that modern society has foregone a connection with ritual. It’s funny, but I’ve been keeping this group of academics called the Cambridge Ritualists in my work for years, even though they are well out of favour; maybe far enough out that is time to bring them back into the mix? The Cambridge Ritualists – best known proponent Sir James Frazer of The Golden Bough fame, also Jessie L Weston (From Ritual to Romance, the other book on Kurtz’s compound floor in Apocalypse Now) and Jane Harrison – reckoned that ritual sat beneath the veneer of reason that had evolved over it, that it inspired much great art and literature and could still be found lying in wait just behind that great story of the hero or lover, that it was not so far away as the civilizing mission would have us believe. Of course it was the time for such calls to the primal, what with Freud gestating his theory of the id and Darwin’s recognition of the animal that humans are and came from. And yeah, they still believed we’d evolved beyond such primitive fascination – although Conrad, writing Heart of Darkness at around the same time (turn of the 20th century) had Marlow admit that the thing that really frightened him about the howls in the jungle wilderness was not the savagery but the recognition of remote kinship with it that he felt from his boat…

Anyway, my point that myth lives on in modern society is not that radical, or it shouldn’t be since Levi-Strauss defined it as the story upon which culture bases its other stories, or Northrop Frye as the infrastructure or framework of any civilization, or Hans Blumenberg as the kind of story that cannot die, that is reborn out of the death of the former myth, like Aphrodite from the foam of the castration of Uranus. And ritual? Madonna enters stage Superbowl with an army of Roman soldiers, dressed as an ancient goddess or demonic figure. Sure, it is just a show, and it is spectacular, impressive, powerful… all the things it is supposed to be. It is also a Dance of Veils, removed through the acts as the ritual goddess (if only it were a sacrifice) works her way towards a grand finale. For most us the first famous figure we’d think of in this context is Salome, gittin’ jiggy for daddy when she’s not having the heads of prophets served up on a platter. But in this instance, more importantly, our mythic reference is Inanna, because Maddie’s big exit happens to be down a hole, with an explosion of white smoke as she enters the underworld to do her dirty deal with the evil sis, Ereshkigal. What is the first thing anyone asks for when they get to cut this sort of action? Immortality. Be thankful it can’t be bestowed on mere mortals, dear reader…

‘Nyways. The other point of interest in these final stages is the lights front of stage. They form that classic image I’m often writing about, the lights of the planets cities at night, as if from space. But in an interesting piece of editing, they are made much more egalitarian than they really are; Africa and many other places completely underdeveloped in terms of the modernizing process that is so evident in the lights of the USA, Japan and western Europe are quite evenly lit in this version, even though a quick glance at the real image will show these areas are deserts of technology. This false equality is a sign that we should forget all those real, systemic inequalities in the real world, and that we should embrace the illusion that we are all in this world together, as one… sure enough, the lights dissolve and rearrange to read, wait for it, World Peace. At a Superbowl game. While Madonna goes down, in her goddess/demon outfit. Did I mention Bill Hicks?

Next item: The Hunger Games. Just beneath the surface, claimed the Cambridge Ritualists… waiting to reappear, I add, not as an evolutionary throwback, but as the savagery that is actually enacted every day as a way of keeping us first world internetters in oil, cash ‘n clothes, while the working class is sited offshore and paid a bowl of gruel per day, or forcibly removed so that their land can be mined. The heroes of the film come from Sector 12, out where the miners get dirty, and have to fight to redeem the memory of past insurrection. Sacrifice of 12-18 year olds – the classic virgin, I guess, if there are any left – in order to keep the peace with the gods. Who are? The rulers, from the capitol city, the overlords; just like it has been since Mesopotamia and Egypt and Rome, the rulers claiming to be born of the gods of light, keeping the darkness and the demons at bay… Now corporations enjoy a home in the clouds, supping on the never-ending feast while the poor starve, milking the tax breaks so they can keep on polluting the planet, sucking the profit up like black holes that break everything else but leave them untouched.

We’re already playing the hunger games with our children. Send ‘em on up the line, and tune in for the highlights later that night.




  1. Great response GB.

    hope everything is going well for you…from what i read, it is 😉


    • Cheers DC,
      Yeah, Ireland is certainly providing me with food for thought.
      Hope you are enjoying life post-degree…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: