How Cultural Icons Saved the Super Bowl From Colin Kaepernick
There were no players kneeling during the National Anthem at the Super Bowl this year. A super-sized iconic double team made sure of that. Here’s how.
First, you need to know that I like NFL football. It’s a standard in my household every fall. I got nothin’ against the game.
Just needed to say that….
As for the protests, they got squelched when a cultural icon was substituted for the issue under protest. The icon used was the American flag. Once the switch was made, the protests were over — to kneel was to desecrate one of the nation’s defining symbols — like the Hippies did in the 60’s.
Football field-sized flags have been around awhile, especially since 9–11. By now their place in American culture is fully cemented — along with military honor guards, flyovers, and coaches wearing camo fatigues during the entire month of November, not just around Veteran’s Day.
Remember that, for purposes of this blog, it’s ultimately not about football, flags, and flyovers. Here, we’re about cultural beliefs and institutions — how they’re created, and how they shape our perceptions and behavior. Here’s a quick summary of how that works:
- Culture is an inside job: it resides in neurological and biological wiring.
- That wiring is shared from one individual to another by implicit agreements that yes, this is the way things are.
- That shared wiring generates a shared belief system that promotes a common culture with its own characteristic view of reality and approach to life.
- Through the principle of emergence, the culture takes on a life of its own — becomes a separate, dynamic entity, fully supported by its insitutions.
- All of this satisfies the human need to get organized into groups for safety and identity, which in turn prevents life from being, as Thomas Hobbes said, ‘“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
- Conformity to the cultural belief system promotes individual peace of mind and communal harmony.
- Nonconformity creates conflict — internally in the brain, and externally in society.
When nonconformists like Kaepernick challenge cultural belief systems, the culture’s icons rise to their defence:
“Conflict between two groups, including war, may be defined as a battle between belief systems.
“Symbols emerge strongly in such conflicts: they may be revered objects as stones, writings, buildings, flags or badges; whatever they may be, they may symbolize the central core of belief system.
“When people become symbols, the real person may become obscured behind the projected symbolic image or person.” 
Belief systems at their highest level of development dehumanize and objectify conformists and nonconformists alike. They do so by turning the focus from the internal life of individuals to the external life of the culture, as maintained by its beliefs and institutions. Along the way, people and things become cultural icons, which then become the issue, replacing the actual point of conflict. Thus Kaepernick became an iconic nonconformist, pitted against an ultimate cultural icon, the U.S. flag.
Cultural leaders in particular carry out this practice, since they are responsible for maintaining the culture’s iconography. As a result, the ultimate conflict is over who has the power to control cultural beliefs and institutions in the first place:
“[P]eople fight not because of differences in religion and other beliefs; they fight to control the opportunity to create external structures that fit with their internal structures, and to prevent others from filling their environment with structures and stimulation that conflict with their internal structures.”
Say all you like about how it’s patriotic to protest, but that’s not going to fly in the face of entrenched cultural-neurology. Protest challenges status quo, and the alarm bells go off. Culture relies on conformity for its peace of mind. When it turns on the game, it wants football, not polarizing socio-political issues. The actual issues that gave rise to the Colin Kaepernick protests can persist if they like, just not on game days.
Of course, Colin Kaepernick wasn’t thinking about any of that when he took a knee. He was exercising his own social conscience during a period of disturbing and seemingly epidemic shootings and brutality of blacks by police officers. That was a big enough problem to tackle. But bring that issue to the NFL, which is a cultural icon in its own right, not to mention a multi-billion dollar growth industry, and then have to face the double-team of the NFL and the Stars and Stripes?
He never had a chance. He picked way too big a fight.
 Armistice Day commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954.
 See the posts in this blog’s category “How Belief Creates Culture, and How Culture Creates Reality.”
 Yale Medical School professor of psychiatry Bruce E. Wexler, in his landmark book Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change.
Originally published at iconoclast.blog on February 8, 2019.