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6 Feb

Super Monday – Tomorrow morning I will get up, cook myself a nice American breakfast of fried eggs, toast, hash browns, and some form of meat, I suppose. I think we might have some bacon lying around somewhere. Then I will pour myself a glass of orange juice, or maybe that grapefruit juice in the box (imported from Australia!) that we picked up from Costco. And at 08:00 I will turn on the television and watch the Philadelphia Eagles play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl (insert a bunch of Xs here).

“Cultural events divorced from their culture lose most, if not all, of their meaning.”

It’s actually not very exciting watching the Super Bowl here in Korea. For one, I’ll be sitting at home by myself. The game also starts at 08:00, so I can’t very well make nachos and crack open a beer. The commercial hype is non-existent as well—the military channel here can’t run commercials, as they would then have to pay the commercial rate for programming, which is apparently really expensive. Instead, they run military-oriented public service announcements (including explanations of why they don’t run commercials) that can be very repetitive and irritating. It’s almost enough to make me flip over to a Korean channel—I’m pretty sure SBS sports will show the game—but I just can’t bring myself to listen to Korean announcers covering an American football game.

In other words, the Super Bowl will be stripped of all the hype and frills that you would get in the States, and it will be just another American football game. I don’t even like either of the two teams playing—if it were one of the teams playing against just about any another team, I would probably support the other team. It almost makes me wonder why I’m planning on watching the game.

It’s interesting how events like this become utterly meaningless when stripped of their cultural context. I vaguely remember that the Super Bowl was a pretty big deal in the States, but here most people don’t even know it exists and could really care less. I would have forgotten about it as well if it weren’t for the internet. But it’s kind of hard to miss these things if you visit enough American and/or English-language sites.

Actually, I was planning on writing a similar entry a little over a month ago, around Christmas. Christmas has too many connotations of family for me, though, and all my attempts to write about it met with frustrating failure. The Super Bowl, though, doesn’t have the same emotional baggage, so it’s a lot easier for me to write about. It may seem silly to compare a sports match with a major holiday, but ultimately the same principles apply.

Take Thanksgiving, for example. For obvious reasons, Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated anywhere outside the United States. Other cultures may have harvest festivals or similar holidays, but they are not the American Thanksgiving. Thus it’s very easy to forget what was a significant holiday when I was growing up in the States. I still remember getting a phone call from my mother a number of years ago. She called to wish me a happy Thanksgiving, and I replied, “Um....” She said, “Surely you didn’t forget that it was Thanksgiving?” Me: “Um....” In fact, that one, handy syllable made up most of my part of the conversation. I think she’s come to grips with the fact that I forget holidays like Thanksgiving and... well, pretty much everything except Christmas and Easter. I can’t even remember what the major holidays are in the States anymore. Oh yeah, the fourth of July. You would think it would be hard to forget that one, since the name of the holiday is the date, but most years I’ll look at the calendar halfway through July and think, “Oh, fourth of July, right.”

It might be hard to imagine if you’ve lived never lived outside your native culture for any length of time, but it is so easy to forget these holidays that it can be unnerving at first. I used to love Thanksgiving when I was a kid—it meant lots of food and hanging out with all my cousins. Yet only a few months after I came to Korea (I arrived on the last day of August), Thanksgiving completely slipped my mind. Something that had been so important to me didn’t even merit a stray thought.

Like I said, it may be hard to imagine, but it should be easy enough to understand. Holidays (and major sporting events) are cultural events, and they are nothing without a culture to support them. Even if I did remember Thanksgiving, what good would it do me? Would it mean anything if sat down to a dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes and corn and gravy and all that good stuff? Some of the foreigners that attend my church get together every year for Thanksgiving dinner, and when I first came to Korea they invited me, but I declined. Honestly, it seemed kind of silly to me without my family and without the whole culture of Thanksgiving. I just think it would feel... fake.

And yet, I don’t think I have become any less American because I do not celebrate Thanksgiving. I don’t think missing the Bud Light commercials tomorrow will make me any less of an American either. To be perfectly honest, I’m not really watching the game because it’s the Super Bowl and it has some cultural significance for me. I’m watching the game because I happen to like watching American football, and I don’t get too many chances to do that outside of Tuesday night football every now and then.

This is a bit frustrating. I thought that I would be able to write a more coherent entry on this idea without all the emotional baggage of Christmas, but I find myself wandering around in circles. I think I know what I want to say, but then when I actually get around to saying it I realize that I’m not really sure I know what I’m talking about. It’s a simple idea—that cultural events divorced from their culture lose most, if not all, of their meaning—but it’s surprisingly difficult to talk about. I guess part of the problem is that I’m not trying to write an academic paper here, I’m trying to discuss my own experiences and feelings. There’s a different mindset involved in each task. In an academic paper, I would maintain a certain emotional distance from the subject, but in a journal entry I’m very emotionally involved in the subject. It’s like reporting on a hurricane. The people who really know what’s going on with the storm are the ones sitting in the weather center, poring over the latest radar imagery. The poor sap in the yellow raincoat and holding a microphone doesn’t know jack about the storm—except that he just almost got flattened by a flying tree.

Anyway, I really don’t feel like writing an academic paper, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to read one, so I guess we’re stuck in the middle of the hurricane. I read somewhere that, for a writer, one good informant is worth far more than personal experience in a field. I suppose that’s because the informant allows you to maintain objectivity, while actual personal experience might cloud your vision of the bigger picture. I wonder if it is even possible for me to write an academic paper on something that I live every day. But that’s a question for another day, and I’m rambling now.

I think that all these thoughts flying around in my head are orbiting one central idea. Yes, it’s pretty obvious that cultural events lose their meaning when divorced from their culture, but what does that say about me? I said above that me not celebrating Thanksgiving or watching the Bud Light commercials (I just realized that Bud Light commercials may not even be the mainstay of the Super Bowl anymore) doesn’t make me any less American. Is that how I really feel, or am I projecting my fears? Being American has to be more than just a matter of place of birth—what is it that makes me American? The fact that I have an American passport.

I don’t think I’m ready to go there today. It’s getting late, I’m getting tired, and I can feel myself going around in circles. I think I’ve identified the questions, but I don’t think I can attempt to answer them right now. I’m sure I will come back to this later, but right now I just need time to think and organize my thoughts. In the meantime, I’m going to put this on the back burner of my mind, go get some sleep, and then wake up tomorrow and cheer on the Eagles (the lesser of two evils for me) in what will hopefully be a victory over the Patriots. Not that it’s going to make that much of a difference in my life one way or the other, of course—after all the hype, it is still just a game.

Post-Super Bowl note: Congratulations to the Eagles on the worst clock management I have ever seen.

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