The International Studies Association meeting is getting underway shortly in New Orleans. I’m not sure who’s very strange idea it was to combine academics and “Mardi Gras” – (I can’t wait to see the “Professors Gone Wild! Video…. Actually, I can… ) but we’re here and letting the bon temps rouler – as it were.

Of course this year’s Mardi Gras has a very important unofficial theme – the New Orleans Saints – who won the Superbowl this year. There are gold fleur de lis everywhere and on everything. I ran into a publisher last night who swore that he ran into a group of people who hadn’t stopped celebrating the victory since last Sunday.

Yet the joy of the Saints isn’t for New Orleans alone. It seemed that much of the Western world was cheering for them to win too (outside of Indianapolis, I guess.) Even in the UK, the Times posted a video (linked above) with their very posh writers saying “Who Dat?” to the camera.

I think this follows on my (slightly cranky) post this weekend which suggested that no one outside of North America was really interested in the Olympics, largely because Canada is boring (aside from other geopolitical considerations). Unlike the Beijing Olympics, there is no story behind the story.

But the same was not true for this year’s Superbowl, which NBC claims was the most watched TV event ever. (Although not everyone agrees.)Internationally, the Saints were so popular because they were seen as literally embodying New Orleans and its rise after Hurricane Katrina. The Superbowl in the UK was not just some strange American game broadcast on the BBC at 11pm. It was a highly symbolic match which represented a passionate American story… the kind the Europeans love to sink their teeth into.

The same thing could be argued about the New England Patriots when won the Superbowl in 2002. The nationalistically named team became symbolic of America’s rise after 9/11 and the imagery of that Superbowl was deliberately tied to 9/11. This may actually be a significant difference with the last Superbowl – that much of the linkage to Katrina was not as deliberate or politically motivated. Rather it this year it seems to have been done so by a media trying to push a story.

So, do we need stories behind the stories in order to better appreciate sports? Could the same be said about chess matches in the Cold War – where entire nations nervously bit their nails while uber-nerds of the superpowers battled it out? (I’m assuming that without the Cold War tensions that 99% of the attention to those matches probably wouldn’t have been there.)

I’m uncertain, but on the surface, it certainly seems to help.

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