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.