Super Sunday: The Day Masculinity Dug its Own Grave

Super Sunday: The Day Masculinity Dug its Own Grave February 8, 2010

One of the oddest days in the U.S., Super Sunday, can seem like some sort of cultural bizarro world. Those who dislike sports not only put up with it for several hours, but often get invested in a football game of which they had no knowledge or interest beforehand, which speaks to the power of the social event and the shared experience. Even more odd, and perhaps more sinister, is the fact that a huge majority of people who watch the Super Bowl also look forward to the commercials. Something which is often viewed as a nuisance, frustration, and an opportunity to run to the restroom or get a snack is now viewed as must-see TV.

People watch these ads because they know that the companies who pay huge amounts of money to have them played during the Super Bowl will do anything to take advantage of that opportunity. We are quite literally seeing the best they’ve got. Beyond simply spending money on well-known celebrities or incredible special effects, they want to produce something that will be memorable and persuasive. More than anything, they want to disarm the viewer and speak to them on a gut level. By definition this almost always means appealing to either the best or the worst in us.

This played out quite clearly this year. Lesser ads harped continuously on a prominent theme, that men everywhere are suffocating and stifled, and dying to be free of the shackles and chains of marriage, society’s expectations, and responsibility. This viewpoint is demonstrated most succinctly and most frighteningly in Chrysler’s Dodge Charger ad, in which an exasperated, frustrated and demanding voice details the various ways in which his life is maddening and miserable. The resentful tinge in his voice when he says things like “I will be civil to your mother,” and “I will carry your lip balm,” made me glad I’m not going to be around that guy on the day that he snaps. But of course, he’s not going to snap, because he has acquired that which he is apparently entitled to: a fancy car.

It’s a truly dismaying thought that anyone watching this ad might find it persuasive, even on a subconscious level, and yet there it is, being vouched for with the millions of dollars that were paid to produce and air it. It’s safe to say that it resonated with someone. Sure, I feel bad for their wife and kids, but even more than that, I feel bad for them, because the one thing they have to live for is the right to own something. It’s the right to receive their dues.

Give me my stuff, or give me death.

The Bridgestone tire commercial makes a “hilarious” joke out of this concept by showing us a guy who would rather give up his wife than his car’s tires. What a guy. The commercial is set in the future because if it were set in the present it would just seem ludicrous and mean-spirited. Of course, it should still seem such to thinking people.

And there’s plenty more where that came from. Commercial after commercial convinced us that life is about the product, told us that we are entitled to something, or merely sought to get our attention by dangling half-naked ladies in front of our faces.

If this is what it means to be a man, I want no part of it.

Of course, our culture has gone a long time without any real sense of what it means to be a man. It’s probably true that many of us are too weak or ill-prepared to do physical labor. It’s probably accurate to say most of us these days are pansies. These setbacks deserve a cultural response. But real manliness isn’t being distracted by Megan Fox, lured to GoDaddy’s site for “exclusive uncensored content”, resentful of our wives or frustrated by our responsibilities. It’s not claiming what’s rightfully ours.

One refreshing twist, and the commercial that gave me hope in humanity makes this clear, not by providing a direct answer to these ads, but by simply telling a story of the life and experiences of a real man, was Google’s “Search On.”

Ambition, drive, sincerity, thoughtfulness, determination, commitment, initiative, and the ultimate embrace of responsibility. That’s what we see in that man’s search queries, and what I hope someone would see in mine.

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  • Agreed! The Dodge Charger commercial aired during a lull in the conversation and games we were playing at my house. Our crowd last night was myself, my wife, one other married couple, and 5 girls from our youth group. So this commercial aired, and we were all sitting there waiting on the punchline. Then it came, and all of us just sat there. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t touching… It was just there. And none of us liked or agreed with the message.

  • Is there more than one version of the Google ad? The one I found on youtube ends in “how to hire a divorce attorney”, instead of “how to assemble a crib”. I wonder if that was a different version, or just a parody…

  • Wow! That sounds very much like a parody.

  • A pretty depressing parody, if you ask me…

  • Great article Rich–you summarized my frustration with the commercials. I didn’t watch all of the commercials, but I did see both the Bridgestone and the Charger commercial. Like you I was disappointed in their portrayal of masculinity, but more so, I found it very sad that marriage was portrayed as stifling and joy-killing.

    I was reminded how powerful the allure of possessions continues to be in our culture and how confused our culture is about masculinity as well.

    I also thought the google ad was brilliant.

    Isn’t it crazy that now we can review just about any Superbowl commercial online the day after the Superbowl. I remember the day when if you missed the Superbowl, you never saw those commercials again!

  • Teresa Hauck

    Good thoughts, Rich. I know that football is traditionally a “guy thing,” but there are thousands of women that watch the Super Bowl. Of the people I know, it’s nearly equal viewership, so it’s insulting that they know we’re watching and purposely degrade women to our faces. It’s like they’re saying, “If you’re not Megan Fox or some scantily clad equivalent, then your husband/boyfriend resents you.”

  • Matt

    I was watching with a big group and not one person laughed or even grinned at the punchline of the Bridgestone ad. And I was glad.

    Google ad was definitely the best for me.

  • I did like the look on the guy with glasses on the Bridgestone commercial: *whimper* Tires. We wanted tires.

    I also like how the subliminal message is that gearheads are either homosexual or made asexual by their passion for steel-belted radials. It’s a very acute message that incisively peels at the inherit homosexual subtext of events like the Super Bowl.

    I’ve only seen the three ads you’ve provided here, but the first one along with being dumb was actually just boring. If I were watching tv or the Super Bowl or whatever, I wouldn’t have made it to the punchline. Which, of course, was not worth the payoff.

  • Nathanael Snow

    I liked the Charger ad. If we are not willing to recognize that marriage is a sacrifice, that it is not perfect bliss, that it is not frequently domesticating in an emasculating way, then we are not being honest.
    Of course, I wonder why people bother to get married at all under these circumstances, except that it is a mutual exchange sort of contract for convenience.
    As believers, marriage is a mutual giving, rather than exchange, but we cannot expect this perspective to show up in popular culture. I guess what I am saying is that marriage is a raw deal for most unbelieving men, and this ad captures one of the small ways men compensate (superficially) for their position.

  • How is domestication emasculating?

    I will, however, agree that marriage is a proposal of diminishing returns for most unbelieving men—those who will continue to be able to parley themselves as attractive to their sex of choice. For those who will not be able to continue to attract women as they age, marriage is an arrangement of security.

  • Good thoughts, Richard. I touched on (Can I say that?) the masculinity point yesterday and spent my free Grand Slam breakfast this morning discussing the topic with friends.

    As for the Charger ad, at least he was doing all of those domestic things. Kinda like the guy in Dove’s Men+Care ad.

  • I actually kind of liked the subversion of the Dove ad. You’ve got this guy doing all the stuff of everyday life. He’s a good member of society, doing what is required and expected of him, having good times along the way, living a life that a goodly number of his audience can relate to. And then the audience who is already relating to this guy, who is probably used to yelling at a guy on tv for blowing a pass—this largely-male, football-loving audience is shown that this guy, who they can relate to (who they can respect), is tied overtly to not just a bar of soap but a bar of soap that is gentle, soft, and is intimately associated with an immediately feminine term like care.

    Out of all the commercials I’ve seen so far, the Dove one was my favourite.

  • I agree, The Dane. I really liked the Dove commercial. A whole different animal from the Dodge Charger ad in my opinion.