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Why is the Superbowl commercial line-up, hailed as an achievement in advertising industry creativity, often so casually sexist, racist, and homophobic? Credit the watchful eye of the CBS Standards and Practices department, which ensures that Superbowl ads bring in millions of viewers looking to be shocked—-without offending the delicate sensibilities of the American people.
In order to achieve this difficult balance, ad-makers are forced to play within a very small range of acceptably “outrageous” topics. Since casual sexism, racism, and homophobia are main sources of shock-jock humor—-and since these attitudes are too pervasive to inspire true outrage in the average American—-companies compete to put the most creative twist on the lazy stereotyping without going too far off the deep end. And so: CBS bans an ad that shows two gay men kissing, but greenlights several commercials that play off “gay” stuff for laughs. It bans an ad that shows a guy’s head up his own ass, but lets fly a commercial that makes fun of those silly, backwards South Asians who answer your tech support calls (racism: officially less controversial than asses). Even the advertisement decried as the most “controversial” of the evening—-college football superstar Tim Tebow‘s anti-abortion ad—-concluded not with a politically controversial rallying call to life, but with Tebow totally sacking his own mother. That’s gotta sting!
Some advertisers choose to side-step this paradigm, of course, with varying success (See: Cute farm animals in love; everyone has T-Pain’s voice; coffin filled with Doritos). The ones that don’t end up being mildly but reliably offensive, and extremely boring.
This was one of the only Superbowl ads I noticed that featured people of color. The other was a Doritos ad where a black man walked into his date’s house, checked out her ass at length, and then received a firm slap in the face from his date’s small child. In Superbowl ads, people of color are never employed to, say, return an Orca to the ocean after a wild bachelor party; they’re just here to get some laughs out of racial stereotypes.
Welcome female sports superhero Danica Patrick, who stars in the most Meta Controversial ad of the night. In this series of commercials for GoDaddy.com, Patrick is going around living her normal life—-receiving massages, appearing on television news programs—-when she unwittingly finds herself at the center of a “controversial” Superbowl ad. Wherever she goes, blonde ladies are just itching to take down their hair, rip off their shirts, and become the next scandalously hot Superbowl GoDaddy girl. This ad could have been a clever subversion of standard Superbowl bodice-ripping if Patrick’s character had been allowed to point out how totally fucking weird this is. Instead, viewers are asked to head online to check out the even sexier action. Just a reminder that even women who excel in traditionally male fields (a girl who’s really good at driving!) are still forced into traditionally female representation (boobs!).
Ah yes: the “men have turned into demoralized, overly feminine wusses who can only be saved by big machines that go RRRRARRRR” category. This ad, for the Dodge Charger, really opened my eyes, you guys: It really sucks to be a man, especially one in a serious relationship with a woman! (Seriously, guys, if it’s this bad, just break up with us. We’re not worth it). I have one question, though: Why are you carrying my lip-balm? As a member of the gender generally expected to carry an expansive purse instead of utilizing her limited pant pockets to store items, I have often carried this proverbial lipbalm for my significant other. And it has never been so traumatizing that I’ve been forced to shell out $30k for a Dodge Charger to heal the pain. But then again, I don’t know what it’s like to be forced to carry lipbalm as a man. I’m sure it’s very tough.
Did you know that men are also extremely stupid? Men are only interested in beer, sports, and sex; women are from Venus.
This ad subscribes to the same theory of gender as the Dodge Charger ad, but this time men can only be saved from their spineless, overly feminine lifestyles if they buy a hand-held television. Bonus: this ad is even clearer in its assertion that men who do anything attributed to the mysterious realm of “female shit” aren’t true men. Change out of that skirt, Jason.
I believe that this Megan Fox ad contains the Superbowl’s sole same-sex couple: Two guys who slap each other with dramatically limp wrists when they discover that one of them has been checking out Megan’s sexy pix on the Internet. Apparently, gay men can only be represented in Superbowl ads in the pursuit of hilarity. We are truly living in a post-sexual-orientation America, people.
At first, this Careerbuilder.com ad was is headed firmly down the casual homophobia route: Naked dudes! Around other dudes! Touching their own nipples! But then a couple of underwear-clad female co-workers show up, and the ad refuses to go the aggressively heterosexual route with them. Careerbuilder.com actually reveals itself to be the rare Superbowl advertiser that doesn’t exploit boobs for faux “sexy” controversy. Ah, the complexity of Superbowl ad politics.