All civilizations fall. That's what "they" say, and who can argue? Even from the vantage point of the American Superpower, the historic record -- from Greece to Rome, from Mongols to Moguls, from the Age of Spain to Pax Britannica -- looks less than encouraging, particularly when you consider society's nasty self-destructive streak.
But if the end is clear -- let's hope it's not near -- the causes will drive historians of the future crazy. I can hear them now: "They had unprecedented freedom. They had massive nukes. They had great lawns and a thousand different kinds of potato chips. What went wrong?" Solving the riddle won't be easy. But some day, when historians wonder about the decline and fall of, well, us, I hope they examine Super Bowl XLI in the year 2007. It marked a crucial turning point.
How can that be? Nothing happened on the field or on screen to cause our sunken but stable culture of idolized thuggishness, bad pop stars and crude commercialism to spin out of control and plummet to the ground. There wasn't a wardrobe malfunction in sight. What historians will need to examine instead is something that didn't materialize on game day.
That something is a recruitment ad for the U.S. Border Patrol that the National Football League refused to print in-game programs distributed at the stadium and over the Internet because it was "controversial."
There is a hefty chunk of symbolism to ponder here, beginning with the staggering concept that a recruitment effort on behalf of the U.S. Border Patrol can be considered "controversial" by any American organization. More alarming still is that the organization here is professional football, hobbyhorse to redmeat America, the kind of people -- the kind of men -- who are stereotypically supposed to have retained their atavistic reflexes when it comes to defending hearth and home.
The Border Patrol ad in question lists an agent's prospective duties in protecting that last line of defense for the United States -- our border. By any measure, this is an affirmative mission that should have a salutary effect on any civilization with even halfway healthy reflexes. The first duty listed in the ad is to "prevent the entry of terrorists and their weapons into the United States." Next, to "help detect and prevent the unlawful entry of undocumented aliens ... and apprehend violators of our immigration laws." And finally, to "play a role in stopping drug smuggling along our borders." This is controversial? The answer is yes, if the NFL is talking. As NFL spokesman Greg Aiello put it to The Washington Times, "The ad that the department submitted was specific to Border Patrol, and it mentioned terrorism. We were not comfortable with that."