Super Bowl Sunday is the undisputed champion of American mass rituals. No other single event encapsulates the national character like the NFL’s annual title game. Professional football, superstar culture, the greatest halftime show on earth, fireworks and fighter jet fly-overs, roaring crowds, exceptionalism in corporate advertising, media hype for weeks, everyone’s talking about it…it’s a definitive showcase of everything that puts the ‘merica in America.
Not everyone participates, though, so if you’re one of the few reliable holdouts who try to tune out, then maybe that’s because you can only stomach so much. But if you want an image that encapsulates a cultural milieu that enables the commercial success of Sunday’s big game, skip the sports page and take a look at these photos from the Super Bowl’s lesser-known, but just-as-indulgent cousin: they call it the “Wing Bowl,” and it happened on Friday in Philadelphia.
There you’ll not only get a taste of what you’re missing, you’ll also see more of what it means to ritualize the consumption of football culture in America. In a nod to the national cuisine of choice for game day, Wing Bowl competitors jockey to see who can stuff their face with the most chicken wings. So here’s the scoop: this year it was Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti whose 444 wings (thank you, 222 chickens, I guess) in thirty minutes earned him a championship ring.
What makes this photograph a near-perfect summation of America’s biggest sports event isn’t just its indictment of excess–though certainly the photo is doing that. What we’re looking at here is a poignant image of how America’s sporting culture, media spectatorship, and over-consumption reach a saturation point during Super Bowl weekend.
(photo: Mark Makela/Reuters. caption: Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti competes in the 23rd annual Wing Bowl a the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 30, 2015. The professional competitive eater from Chicago downed 444 chicken wings in 30 mintues at the 23rd annual Wing Bowl in Philadelphia, narrowly edging out his nearest rival and shattering the record of 363 wings set a year earlier.)