This Sunday is one of our national feast days. In fact, there are two in February?#34;the Super Bowl and the Oscars. Feast days aren’t really holidays?#34;although Thanksgiving qualifies as both. And I’m borrowing the term “feast day” from my Catholic roots, though the term is pretty much obsolete in that context since whatever “feasting” was done on “feast days” has long since lapsed (like many Catholics for that matter).
National feast days of the secular variety are communal occasions and single events that a large segment of the American population shares. This is not an official designation. Many people get together for the Super Bowl, even if their interest in the game is marginal. A lot of people are sports fans and specifically football fans, so we have that “in common” though the game is usually a dog (but not the past two), the commercials are getting worse every year and the halftime show is always pretty much the same (just insert an interchangeable rock legend).
So the Super Bowl doesn’t hold up as well as it used to as a defined “event,” but Americans go through the motions anyway because we enjoy communal celebrations, i.e. get-togethers where we know lots of our fellow Americans are doing pretty much the same thing all over the country.
Jan. 1 used to be one of those days. The tail end of “the holidays,” it was the perfect day to waste watching football all day long and chowing down. The national championship would, effectively, be decided by the end of the day, so it meant something if you’re a football fan. The games took place at venues across the country, usually in balmy weather, so you felt the scope of the nation as you channeled from one bowl to the next.
Now the BCS system has destroyed all that. You can still watch football all day long if you really want to, but the significance is gone. New Year’s Day, therefore, is no longer a national feast day.
The Oscars, however, still qualify. It’s just as culturally embarassing as the Super Bowl (people in other countries judge us by these spectacles), but movies are one of the great shared experiences in American life?#34;one of the few things Americans genuinely have in common. We love movies. We love celebrities. We love large numbers of beautiful women clustered in one glitzy location wearing extravagant or revealing dresses. We love glamour and excessive displays of wealth. The values on display ain’t exactly edifying, but a few worthwhile values sometimes find their way into the films, so we all have our favorites and root for them. Most of the time, of course, the members of the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts, etc.) seem to select the wrong winners. Often they nominate the wrong movies, but we still watch. Why isn’t completely clear, but it has to do with this feast day thing. We know a whole lot of other people are watching too, so we’re sharing an experience, and it’s better to watch with company because then you can share the wisecracks.
This Sunday, may the best picture win.