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For a non native English speaker, the introductory part of today’s Washington Post article commenting on the flood of TV commercials during the Super Bowl contains a bunch of unfamiliar phrases and is quite a puzzle.

Can somebody explain me what ‘Have the color and consistency of old gum,’ ‘The cheese is baked into crust’ and ‘Tweet one’s delight that seven-layer dip has become nine,’ in the following sentence imply ?

Is a sentence studded with all-Greek-to-me the writer’s special style or just an ordinary pattern of newspaper article?

The effects of 45 (or XLV, if you must) direct slams to the head could be clearly seen Sunday night on that annual American CAT scan called the Super Bowl. Whole parts of our collective cerebellum now show up as having the color and consistency of old gum. Too many insipid Black Eyed Peas songs will do that to a civilization. The cheese really is baked into the crust. But willingly, like achy old pros, we returned to the holy rituals of this brutal game, this billion-dollar boondoggle, tweeting our delight that seven-layer dip has somehow become nine. Distraction is the real attraction, which gets a little more true each year.

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Wow.... What a mess of language that is. It's colorful but terribly confusing. As a native speaker, I find it quite difficult to follow. –  Andrew Flanagan Feb 8 '11 at 0:33
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Andrew. I got down as hell with a flood of unfamiliar expressions and lamented for lack of understanding of English wording when I came across this article. It gave me a slight relief to know this introduction has confused even a native speaker. Your remark is encouraging to me. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 8 '11 at 1:02
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The Super Bowl was last night? That would explain why the roads were so empty on my way home... –  Marthaª Feb 8 '11 at 1:03
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As a fellow non-native English speaker, I appreciate you asking. The answer has more to do with being immersed into American culture than English itself. –  ראובן Feb 8 '11 at 5:41
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Now there's a sports reporter that secretly wants to be a literary author, ;D. –  Cthulhu Feb 8 '11 at 15:51
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4 Answers 4

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Let's take this apart piece by piece.

The effects of 45 (or XLV, if you must) direct slams to the head could be clearly seen Sunday night on that annual American CAT scan called the Super Bowl.

The writer is talking about the Super Bowl and using brain-injury references ("direct slams to the head") that draw the comparison between the Super Bowl and a CAT scan (a type of scan used to determine the existence and extent of brain injuries).

Whole parts of our collective cerebellum now show up as ‘having the color and consistency of old gum.

That is, our metaphorical cerebellum has been battered beyond belief by this annual spectacle.

Too many insipid Black Eyed Peas songs will do that to a civilization.

The writer does not like the Black Eyed Peas in general, nor their Super Bowl performance in particular.

'The cheese really is baked into the crust.’

That's a line from some pizza commercial. Evidence of an assault on the brain.

But willingly, like achy old pros, we returned to the holy rituals of this brutal game, this billion-dollar boondoggle, ‘tweeting our delight that seven-layer dip has somehow become nine.’

We watch this brutal crap anyway, the writer explains, and we are such willing victims of mass culture that we extol the virtues of things promoted in Super Bowl commercials.

Distraction is the real attraction, which gets a little more true each year.

The writer opines that, in reality, the commercials are what people view the Super Bowl to see, not the game itself.

To which I can confidently add that this year's commercials were among the worst I have ever seen on the Super Bowl. I don't know what is getting the writer's knickers in a twist, though. Did he honestly expect to find something intellectually and culturally stimulating happening during the Super Bowl last night?

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+1 Excellent summary... –  Andrew Flanagan Feb 8 '11 at 0:42
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Robusto-san. Thanks a lot. I needed verbatim translation of English into English this time to fully get the message of this section. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 8 '11 at 1:57
    
Is it obvious to other non-native English speakers that "old gum" refers to chewing gum that has gone stale, or has been used and stuck somewhere? –  ראובן Feb 8 '11 at 5:42
    
Yes. Completely. Gum found under the desk in a 4th grade classroom. I personally LOVED the VW beetle commercials - I did not see the others, nor did I see the SB itself :) –  mplungjan Feb 8 '11 at 7:28
    
+1 I really had no idea until I read this what it was about. –  Matt Эллен Feb 8 '11 at 12:16
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Although Robusto has already written an excellent translation, I thought this may be a work that would benefit from multiple annotated translations, so here is another. :-)

Short translation: the author doesn't like (or claims not to like) the Super Bowl, but watched it anyway. [Aside: for comments in a different vein from someone who likes it even less, look here.]

The effects of 45 (or XLV, if you must) direct slams to the head could be clearly seen Sunday night on that annual American CAT scan called the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is the final game of an American football tournament, and watching it is an annual American ritual. There have been 45 Super Bowls so far, the latest being denoted Super Bowl XLV. The author parenthetically finds the use of Roman numerals somewhat unnecessary or pretentious. Then, he effectively says that each of the 45 has been a "direct slam to the head". This is both an implication that it is a head injury (affecting the collective intelligence of America) and a possible allusion to "direct slams to the head" that may occur during the course of the violent game. Anyway, the effect of these brain injuries, he says, could be seen on Sunday night when the Super Bowl was held, because (the author thinks for some reason) that the Super Bowl is a CAT scan (a scan that, among other things, is used to determine the extent of internal injuries) of America.

There is a bit of a mixed metaphor here: is the Super Bowl itself both a slam to the head and a CAT scan? Perhaps the 45 injuries are the 45 championships (tournaments), with a part of them—the final, the Super Bowl—a CAT scan?

Whole parts of our collective cerebellum now show up as having the color and consistency of old gum.

When chewing gum gets chewed too long, it loses its color, and its consistency turns into a uniform pulp. He believes that much of the American brain ("collective cerebellum") has now been turned into the same consistency. (This seems to be a comment on the state of the American brain in general.)

Too many insipid Black Eyed Peas songs will do that to a civilization.

Black Eyed Peas is a band which performed during the Super Bowl. The link is to a fellow author who found the Black Eyed Peas performance underwhelming. Our author takes it further, saying that they have had "too many" songs, and that they have been bad for the civilization as a whole.

There is another confusion of metaphors here: is the cause of the battered American brain those 45 slams as earlier stated, or too many songs by Black Eyed Peas? Apparently the author thinks it's both.

The cheese really is baked into the crust.

The cheese (cerebellum) has become baked into the crust (skull). A further description of the brain injury. (Robusto has the further insight that it's a line from a pizza ad.)

Of course, cheese baked into the crust doesn't really have the color and consistency of old gum.

But willingly, like achy old pros, we returned to the holy rituals of this brutal game, this billion-dollar boondoggle, tweeting our delight that seven-layer dip has somehow become nine.

Despite all the "ache" (of the head injury, probably) caused by the Super Bowl, we (meaning "I") willingly returned to the game. The game is a holy ritual, is brutal, involves billions of dollars in costs and revenue, and is a "boondoggle" (a project that's a waste of time and money). Seven-layer dip is a dish that is typically consumed as part of the Super Bowl ritual. People tweet about it during the Super Bowl, and some are delighed that the scope of the dish has been expanded to include nine layers. Apparently the author thinks this is too frivolous a topic to be posting on Twitter about (in which case he misunderstands Twitter).

Distraction is the real attraction, which gets a little more true each year.

The Super Bowl spectacle includes not just the game, but also musical performances and special made-for-the-occasion commercials. Some people claim to be watching the event for these "distractions", hence they are the true attraction. (Aside: One must marvel at the marketing genius that manages to turn ads into attractions, but that's another story.) He also thinks it "gets a little more true each year", perhaps because the sideshows are getting grander in scale and on their way to eclipsing the actual game.

And that's just the first paragraph. An enormous amount of cultural context can be encoded in a few sentences. :-)

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Only with you and Robost-san’s help and detailed discourses of words and phrases tightly geared up with American culture - pop and sports culture, I was barely able to get across what the writer is saying. Without your verbatim translation I wouldn’t be able to follow the sentence at all. It rarely happen readers feel such difficulty in understanding the gist of newspaper articles unless they are dealing with complex issue such as financial analysis and scientific discourse in our country. This article was very different from the one I uses to contact in either English or local news papers. –  Yoichi Oishi Feb 8 '11 at 5:34
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+1, this is an excellent dissection. I (British) found the text pretty hard to understand, and certainly had no-idea what seven-layer dip was about. I would agree that he means that the SuperBowl is both a cause of brain injury, and proof of brain injury (in that people keep coming back for more). –  Benjol Feb 8 '11 at 7:11
    
Thanks for the additional translations and especially links to why BEP was underwhelming. Now I am off to find "Aquilera's Anthem Flub" –  mplungjan Feb 8 '11 at 7:33
    
@Benjol perhaps the article itself is meant as proof of brain injury? –  jk. Feb 8 '11 at 13:27
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Just adding to the general chorus: I suspect those quotes are from ads that actually ran during the superbowl. It's well-known that some of the "best" (most creative and/or funny) ads are being broadcast then.

As Howard Tayler tweeted:

Just watched the top 10 superbowl ads from 2011. Saved four hours and 2,000 calories by not bothering with the actual game. #whowon #me

The "2,000 calories" remark refers to both Howard's attempts to lose weight, and to the fact that usually lots of snacks are consumed while watching the game (with friends, of course).

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An additional aside, and probably worthy of a question in its own right:

A CAT scan is normally only called "cat" when spoken. I personally only see it written as CT scan when referred to by medical professionals. It is true that CT stands for computed axial tomography, but as all computed tomography used in conventional medicine is axial in nature, and as all reconstructive computer programs only apply transformations to the axial data, the nature of it being axial is often omitted when the name is used fully.

So if you wanted to sound like a more educated person, you would write CT, even though you may say "cat".

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