Archive - Feb 2, 2013

A Super Bowl Etymological Palimpsest

The Super Bowl's tomorrow. I look out the window at the brown leaves and small patches of ferns, still green, on the hillside beside our house, where the snow ought to be. Yeah, I'll watch the game tomorrow. Like many of my friends who love words more than sports, I'll watch the plays and the score, but I'm more interested in the ads.

Young men and women in ad agencies across the country have struggled to put as much meaning and creativity into these ads as possible. I've spent time trying to pick out the details of the ads I've seen so far, sympathy for the devil, being happy as Priscilla and her friends seek Coke.

It makes me think about the stories that have led to this moment, when Cæcilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, was granted 12 million acres in the New world.. Lord Baltimore came from Baile an Tí Mhóir, the town with the big house, in good old Catholic Ireland. They named the new colony after Henrietta Maria, the Queen Consort, another good Catholic.

One of my best friends from college grew up a good Catholic in Cleveland. I suspect he'll be rooting for the 49ers after his beloved Browns slipped out of town to become the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens, how'd they come up with that name? Was it from that great poet who lived his final days in Baltimore? "Once upon a midnight dreary…"

The Raven, one of several larger-bodied members of the genus Corvus. This genus includes the crow, which, in Irish mythology is associated with Morrigan, the goddess of war and death. "Nevermore…"

Then, there is the city named after St. Francis of Assisi and the team named after prospectors who came to that city a hundred and sixty years ago and the more interestingly named state, California.

The name California is most commonly believed to have derived from The Adventures of Esplandián written back in 1510, describing a place inhabited by black Amazons and ruled by Queen Calafia. Queen Calafia was a pagan who led an army of women warriors and a large flock of trained griffins in a Muslim battle against the Christians who were defending Constantinople; not Istanbul, but Constantinople. The Christians had a good defense, blocking several Muslim field goals. As the clock ran out, Queen Calafia's team is defeated. She became a free agent, converted to Christianity and got married. Yet the name is still relates back to the Arabic khalifa, or religious state leader.

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights
In armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.

We've come a long way from the black Amazons, through the gold diggers, to the football players of today. Perhaps, some centuries hence, people will try to understand what this American gladiatorial event was all about, the way people today read Edgar Allen Poe or Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. This blog post will probably be long lost, which is perhaps just as well since it only captures a small part of the etymological palimpsest that the game will be played against.

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Super Bowl Ad Semiotics

Last night, I watched Coke's Super Bowl ad with my eleven year old daughter. Before I brought up the ad, however, I showed her clips from Lawrence of Arabia, Blazing Saddles, Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. She would have appreciated the ad anyway, but knowing those four movies helped.

We also watched the VW ad, and listened to some Bob Marley and a little bit of the Partridge family. It provided a context to understand the ad within. We also listened to the Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil".

This morning, I saw the Smilow Cancer Center ad. Fiona is well acquainted with flash mobs, knows the inside of the train station in New Haven, so she picked up most of what was going on and simply needed to know the song Closer to Free by the Bodeans. We also talked a little bit about Party of Five.

We also watched the Samsung ad which apparently Breaking Bad fans should appreciate. However, I've never seen Breaking Bad and it really didn't mean much to me.

It made me wonder, what other symbols are embedded in the Super Bowl adds that I'm missing? For that matter, what other ads have been pre-released that are worth watching and have an interesting story?

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