Study Guide

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk The Halftime Show

By Ben Fountain

The Halftime Show

The halftime show in Billy Lynn is a garish, consumerist, gloriously tasteless send-up of some of the worst aspects of American pop culture—and it's even based on the real 2004 Halftime Show.

Seriously, folks: it's so bad it even starts to remind Billy, who's bewildered by the chaos all around him, of the orgy scene from Crack's Conan the Barbarian DVDs:

How many dozens of times has Bravo watched Crack's Conan DVDs, many dozens, they know every line by heart, and out of all the streamings and veerings of his over-amped brain Billy flashes on the palace orgy scene, James Earl Jones as the snake king sitting on his throne while his stoned minions sprawl about the floor, slurping and licking and humping in glassy-eyed bliss. It creeps him, the overlay of that sludgy sex scene on what he sees before him now, the complete and utter weirdness of the halftime show and the fact that everybody seems okay with it. The stands are packed, the fans are on their feet and everyone is cheering, everything makes them happy today. (Raped.38)

Yeah, it's creepy, folks. Basically, it's total drugged-out excess, with nothing meaningful about it. Billy himself, like the rest of Bravo, is just being used as a prop: nobody in charge of this stuff really cares about him—he's just a bunch of dollar signs and a good piece of marketing. Strangest of all, at least to Billy, is that nobody else seems to notice this.

The unreality of everything happening around Billy is brought home by the way Fountain blurs the boundaries between football and warfare:

On this final walk through the stadium no one stops to thank the Bravos for their service, to harry them for autographs or cell phone snaps. Cowboys nation is in full retreat; cold, wet, tired, whipped, they are bent on getting home as fast as possible, the hell with geostrategy and defending freedoms. (Proud.99)

The football game is probably the main frame of reference the American public in this novel has for understanding warfare—which means they don't understand warfare. It's a patriotic spectacle they're completely removed from: all they really understand is spectacle, patriotic slogans, a few comments they might see on the news. But it's all unreal, and Billy feels it.

And the scene is made even weirder by the way Billy experiences Texas Stadium itself. He compares it to the people lining up to get in: "There's a slumpiness, a middle-aged sag to the thing that suggests soft paunches and mushy prostates, gravity-slugged masses of beach whaleness" (Thing Begins.56).

Ouch, right? We mean, sure, a lot of the people Billy encounters are the ones with money, so they're taut and tanned and spackled into immaculate condition despite their age. But the people who are actually coming to watch the game? That's another story. Billy keeps noticing that the spectators are unaware of the reality around them, and it's almost as if this ignorance has dulled their bodies into this "beach whaleness."