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Yes, a lot of people watched the Super Bowl, but the monoculture is still a myth

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Yes, a lot of people watched the Super Bowl, but the monoculture is still a myth

Kansas City Chiefs fans gather for a Super Bowl watch party in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday. Viewership data show that 200 million people saw at least some part of the game.

Peter Aiken/AP


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Peter Aiken/AP


Kansas City Chiefs fans gather for a Super Bowl watch party in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday. Viewership data show that 200 million people saw at least some part of the game.

Peter Aiken/AP

Announcements that networks make about viewership are like announcements that rich people make about the gold coins they swim in every night: kinda true, but fuzzy at the edges. Even so, viewership data suggests a huge audience saw Sunday’s Super Bowl — 200 million people watched at least some part of it.

Most TV programming has seen audiences melt away like a witch under a bucket of water. Broadcast shows, cable shows, and special events like the Oscars and Emmys* are not what they once were.** But the Super Bowl seems to be immune. There is still this one old-school mass-viewership experience, the storied water-cooler topic (which is now, maybe, the “refill your Stanley tumbler” topic). Despite the ad-filled spectacle (and the spectacle-filled ads) and the growing queasiness, so many people have about CTE and off-the-field violence and exploitation of labor, this one thing is hanging on.

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It’s tempting to feel nostalgic about the myth of the monoculture, the idea you sometimes see that at one time “we all” watched certain TV shows, or “we all” shared touchstones. And there are moments, smaller ones than the Super Bowl, where the charms of cultural commonality do press themselves forward. One came just last week after Tracy Chapman duetted with Luke Combs on “Fast Car” at the Grammys. While Twitter is a desiccated husk of what it once was, there were still social spaces where people could share a swell of appreciation for her. For her smile, for her eyes, for the unique texture of her voice, and for the memory of how fresh and different that song felt when it shared space on the pop charts in 1988 with “Simply Irresistible” and “Nobody’s Fool (Theme From Caddyshack II).”

But that’s not really what the Super Bowl is; it doesn’t lend itself to that brand of nostalgia, even when shared. Unless you’re a fan of a team, who was invested in the outcome itself such that you retell the stories of greatness or defeat over and over while happily or miserably drunk, the likelihood of a game becoming part of your library of references in the same way “Fast Car” was, or the M*A*S*H finale was, seems small. Instead, it’s about the moment when an extra point is missed or Patrick Mahomes runs the ball himself on fourth and short. It’s all real, but Tracy Chapman is indelible, while that stuff is ephemeral.

Besides, cultural commonality doesn’t come from the enormous size of an audience but from the ability to find the people in it. Once upon a time, sheer audience mass was the easiest way to increase your odds of colliding with someone else who saw what you saw. After all, no matter how many people were watching Dallas, any person would only ever talk to a few of them. And you still can! The water cooler was just a place where you bumped into generally thirsty people; now, you can find specifically thirsty people by looking online for them. In fact, one of the ways Twitter got desiccated-husk-ified in the first place is that algorithms made it harder and harder to choose what you saw and to find your targets.

The monoculture was always bogus anyway. Everybody did not watch Seinfeld. Everybody did not watch Friends. In fact, some “everybodies” pointed out that it owed an awful lot to Living Single.

We don’t really need mass consumption of the same cultural work, just smart and connected consumption. And not just with television, either. There’s an extraordinary novel out today called The Book of Love by Kelly Link. It’s almost 700 pages long. It’s fantasy, full of magic and wizards and goddesses, but it’s also about high school and has a sensitive Freaks and Geeks/My So-Called Life vibe. I don’t need everybody to read it. I need to be able to find people who read it, with whom I can share my extensive theories about it. Is this too much to ask?

Sure, it’s impressive — or at least surprising — that the Super Bowl continues to defy so many viewership trends. But past a certain point, what has value isn’t mustering enormous audiences; it’s connecting smart ones who know how to find each other. That is enough to give you those “remember this song?” moments and “remember this episode?” moments, all that you’ll ever need.

* I regret to inform you that according to the Chicago Tribune, 69 million people watched the Miss America pageant in 1961.

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** This was literally the very first thing I ever wrote about for the blog I started for NPR in 2008!

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Trial begins for Vietnamese property tycoon accused of $12bn fraud

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Trial begins for Vietnamese property tycoon accused of $12bn fraud

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The fraud trial of a Vietnamese real estate tycoon who allegedly misappropriated $12bn started on Tuesday, as part of the country’s largest corruption case that has also ensnared officials from the central bank and government.

Truong My Lan faces a death sentence or imprisonment if found guilty in the graft case, which has rocked the property and corporate bond markets of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

The graft case is part of a corruption crackdown launched by Vietnam’s Communist party that has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of senior government officials, including cabinet ministers. Lan, developer Van Thinh Phat Group’s chair, is the most prominent businessperson to face graft allegations.

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Vietnam has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of manufacturers seeking to diversify their supply chains beyond China as geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing rise. However, the Vietnamese economy grew 5.05 per cent in 2023, missing the government’s official target, as overseas demand slowed.

The anti-corruption campaign has slowed down project approvals by the government, and more state scrutiny of private businesses could hurt investor confidence, analysts said.

Lan, 67, comes from one of Vietnam’s richest families who made their fortune in property. She has been charged with bribery, embezzlement, abuse of power and “lack of responsibility causing serious consequences”, according to state media.

She has denied wrongdoing, state media reported. Lawyers for Lan, who was arrested in 2022, did not respond to a request for comment.

Lan is accused by Vietnamese authorities of using Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB), in which she owns a controlling stake of about 90 per cent, to funnel 304tn dong ($12.3bn) to her real estate company Van Thinh Phat.

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Loans worth more than $44bn were given by SCB to Van Thinh Phat and related companies between 2012 and 2022, accounting for 93 per cent of the total loans disbursed by the bank.

Authorities also said Van Thinh Phat used allegedly fake companies to sell corporate bonds through SCB to the bank’s depositors.

In addition to Lan, 85 people — including 15 officials from Vietnam’s central bank — are charged in connection with the case. The central bank officials are accused of receiving bribes from Lan to cover up the alleged fraud.

“The trial is important in terms of scale and because it signals that the [Communist] party is willing to expand its anti-corruption campaign to the private sector despite potential risks that it might have on the economy,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

He said Lan’s corruption case had dented the confidence of some private businesses in Vietnam worried about the risks of operating in the country and the state companies they work with.

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The anti-corruption campaign has also made government officials hesitant to approve projects, he added, out of fear that they could be implicated in graft.

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FAA audit faults Boeing for 'multiple instances' of quality control shortcomings

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FAA audit faults Boeing for 'multiple instances' of quality control shortcomings

Boeing workers at the Renton Municipal Airport in Washington finalize assembly of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max jet on Feb. 27. An FAA audit faulted Boeing for “multiple instances” of quality control shortcomings.

Jovelle Tamayo for NPR


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Boeing workers at the Renton Municipal Airport in Washington finalize assembly of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max jet on Feb. 27. An FAA audit faulted Boeing for “multiple instances” of quality control shortcomings.

Jovelle Tamayo for NPR

WASHINGTON — After a six-week audit of Boeing, federal regulators say they found quality control problems at Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, one of its top suppliers.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it found “multiple instances” of Boeing and Spirit failing to “comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”

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The FAA launched the audit of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, which builds the fuselage for the Boeing 737 Max, after a door plug panel blew out in midair during an Alaska Airlines flight on Jan. 5.

No one was seriously hurt when the plug came off as the new jet climbed through 14,000 feet after departing Portland, Ore. It returned to make an emergency landing as winds whipped through a hole in the fuselage.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that four key bolts that were supposed to hold the door plug in place were missing when the plane left Boeing’s factory.

The audit found problems in “Boeing’s manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control,” the FAA said in a statement.

The agency says FAA administrator Mike Whitaker discussed the findings with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun last week, when the agency gave Boeing 90 days to come up with a plan of action to address its quality control problems.

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The FAA says it provided both companies with a summary of the audit findings. But the agency declined to share those details with NPR, citing its ongoing investigation.

Auditors visited Boeing’s factory in Renton, Wash., and Spirit’s plant in Wichita, Kan.

Boeing confirmed Friday that it is in talks to buy Spirit AeroSystems.

“We believe that the reintegration of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems’ manufacturing operations would further strengthen aviation safety, improve quality and serve the interests of our customers, employees, and shareholders,” said Jessica Kowal, Boeing’s director of media relations, in a statement.

That would be a change of strategy for Boeing, which nearly two decades ago sold off the assets that are now part of Spirit.

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But the supplier has had several costly and embarrassing problems with quality control in recent years as it pushed to keep up with Boeing’s ambitious production schedule.

NPR’s Joel Rose reported from Washington, D.C., and Russell Lewis from Birmingham, Ala.

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Read the Decision in the Trump Colorado Ballot Case

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Read the Decision in the Trump Colorado Ballot Case

Cite as: 601 U. S.

Per Curiam

(2024)

5

a wide array of offices-rather than by granting rights to all. It is therefore necessary, as Chief Justice Chase concluded and the Colorado Supreme Court itself recognized, to “ascertain[] what particular individuals are embraced”” by the provision. App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a (quoting Griffin’s Case, 11 F. Cas. 7, 26 (No. 5,815) (CC Va. 1869) (Chase, Circuit Justice)). Chase went on to explain that “[t]o accomplish this ascertainment and ensure effective results, proceedings, evidence, decisions, and enforcements of decisions, more or less formal, are indispensable.” Id., at 26. For its part, the Colorado Supreme Court also concluded that there must be some kind of “determination” that Section 3 applies to a particular person “before the disqualification holds meaning.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a.

The Constitution empowers Congress to prescribe how those determinations should be made. The relevant provision is Section 5, which enables Congress, subject of course to judicial review, to pass “appropriate legislation” to “enforce” the Fourteenth Amendment. See City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U. S. 507, 536 (1997). Or as Senator Howard put it at the time the Amendment was framed, Section 5 “casts upon Congress the responsibility of seeing to it, for the future, that all the sections of the amendment are carried out in good faith.” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 2768.

Congress’s Section 5 power is critical when it comes to Section 3. Indeed, during a debate on enforcement legislation less than a year after ratification, Sen. Trumbull noted that “notwithstanding [Section 3] … hundreds of men [were] holding office” in violation of its terms. Cong. Globe, 41st Cong., 1st Sess., at 626. The Constitution, Trumbull noted, “provide[d] no means for enforcing” the disqualification, necessitating a “bill to give effect to the fundamental law embraced in the Constitution.” Ibid. The enforcement mechanism Trumbull championed was later enacted as part of the Enforcement Act of 1870, “pursuant to the power

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