Critics Wrong on Super Bowl City

by on February 8, 2016

Free Friday Night Concert at Super Bowl City

San Francisco has a serious gentrification problem. But not everything that happens within the city’s 49 square miles is part of a narrative of gentrification and displacement.

Critics of Super Bowl City, however, felt otherwise. And that led them to invent their own reality for Super Bowl 50. For example, a story in the February 4 New York Times (“Super Bowl 50 Divides San Francisco”) argued that Super Bowl 50 exposed divisions between “those benefiting from the economic boom here and those who are being priced out.” It claimed that  “the cost of hosting the Super Bowl — estimated at about $5 million for the city — has unleashed a storm of anger among residents already resentful of the influx of expensive restaurants, high-end stores and rich, young tech workers who have snapped up apartments in historically low-income neighborhoods.”

But the thousands of people who flocked to Super Bowl City for free concert performances, fireworks and other events refute such conclusions. Far from being angry, they seemed really happy and even thrilled to see performers like Alicia Keys for no charge.

Gentrification in San Francisco is real. I’ve worked for over 35 years to preserve the city’s low-income housing and my organization represents most tenants facing Ellis evictions, so I see the victims of displacement first hand.

But the notion that the Super Bowl divided the city’s haves and have not’s is utter nonsense. These weren’t serial Ellis Act evictors out enjoying the free Super Bowl 50 events while their tenant victims seethed outside the ropes. And for all of Supervisor Jane Kim’s talk about the city subsidizing a party for “billionaires,” the thousands waiting in long lines to see free public concerts were not rich people but working and middle-class residents eager to see top recording artists whose regular concerts they might not be able to afford.

National media came to San Francisco eager to reaffirm the city’s class divide, and proceeded to do so despite it having nothing to do with who was enjoying Super Bowl 50. This media did not cover the happiness of the thousands attending free Super Bowl 50 events because it did not fit their narrative, which was that the happening was part of the city elite’s screwing over most residents.

It’s hard to reach that conclusion when Super Bowl 50’s free concerts, fireworks shows and other events gave lower income San Franciscans and other Bay Area residents access to entertainment they otherwise might not be able to afford.

Since such a widely democratic activity undermined the narrative of those who believe San Francisco only cares about the rich, critics doubled down by framing the response to Super Bowl 50 as reflecting the city’s economic divide. They missed that Super Bowl 50’s public events, like the Giants victory parades,  were unifying, not divisive and could be enjoyed by people of all income levels.

The Media’s Cultural Superiority

The real San Francisco divide involving Super Bowl City was between those who like to consume what the events offered and those who don’t. Yet instead of recognizing that different people can like different things, some in the media saw the activities of Super Bowl 50 as an affront to their notions of what San Francisco is supposed to be about. They then justified their damaged sensibilities in class terms, as if the reason they were offended was because the events were controlled and driven by billionaires, who were also false labeled as the beneficiaries of the city investment in Super Bowl 50.

Lamar Anderson in SF Magazine described her feelings in an editorial,  “The Super Bowl Is Making San Franciscans Feel Like Strangers in Their Own Town.”  She wrote, “the worst part about hosting a Super Bowl isn’t the prevalence of $8 crap beer, the Rambo-style security, the hokey corporate booths, the garish black-and-gold bunting detracting from our terracotta-and-stucco facades, or even the giant football made out of Bud Light cans. The worst part is being forced, as a city, to don the alien exurban drag of mediocrity—and, while we’re at it, pay for the privilege. “ Anderson went on to describe Super Bowl 50 as  “a total urbanist nightmare.”

Those who enjoy San Francisco’s Sightglass coffee, microbreweries, and independent cafes serving avocado toast didn’t like a small part of their city being taken over by corporate brands popular with the masses. And they expressed resentment despite so many people coming for the free events that BART set ridership records.

Anderson and other critics made no serious effort to explain the incredible popularity of the Super Bowl 50 events. To do so might indicate that they and the negative viewpoints of those they selected to interview do not reflect the views of the majority of San Franciscans who are not deeply offended by corporate America (Tim Redmond described Super Bowl City as “utterly stupid and boring,” an interesting message to all of the low-income and working class people who thronged to the area and had a great time).

I had no interest in visiting Super Bowl 50 but am very glad that thousands who like that type of event got to go. My younger daughter, a San Francisco public school teacher, loved The Band Perry concert on Thursday night. So many sought to come to the  free Saturday night concert by Alicia Keys that the 18,000 person limit was reached hours before the concert was set to begin. Tickets for these performers regular shows can cost as much as $100, yet at Super Bowl City nobody was priced out.

Super Bowl 50 reminded us again that San Francisco is not a monolith. Many residents freely patronize Starbucks or choose to drink Budweiser beer. Critics eager to cast judgment on those who do not share their cultural values fail to understand the broader vision of acceptance upon which San Francisco was built.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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