COLUMN: We Watch For The Ads

A week has passed since the Super Bowl. In all matters concerning the game, its players, and the sport in general, it was pretty lame and uneventful. One team dominated impressively. Peyton Manning’s legacy is basically intact. Richard Sherman was badly smashed in some way or another and didn’t finish the game and talk. There hasn’t been much made about the sport in the media aside from ESPN’s almost obligatory sentimental season-in-review montages, the live interviews with these poor players answering horrifyingly vague questions like, “How does it feel to be Super Bowl champs?” Good? Even the sporting world has moved on from the lackluster sporting. For everyone else, viewers looking for spectacle, the sport committed the original televisual sin of being boring, and as if attentions weren’t pulled enough from the actual point of this all already, production value for everything else was extraordinarily high. Sports had no chance. So we all pretended to watch boring football while actually, all excitement for spectacle was transferred to the everything else, the gaudy in-stadium fireworks, Bruno Mars, and, predominately, commercials. I’m not naive or an idealist. I know Super Bowl commercials are a thing and people have discussed them like the main event for the past few years and this is nothing new, but this was the first time in this hypermedia era that the game was actually bad, borderline unwatchable. And we all still watched.

We knew it already, but this latest Super Bowl experience proved definitively that everything else is far more important than the sport. Even when the sport derails, the Super Bowl thunders on. Obviously, the players didn’t choose to have it this way-companies that realized the advertorial potential did. And it is so clear now that advertisement is the true raison d’etre of the Super Bowl. Advertisement as spectacle with a pinch of football is what we watched. So what did they look like?

Anheuser-Busch had us watch Lieutenant Chuck Nadd come home to a “hero’s welcome.” We watch, at a distance that suggests candidness, as Chuck, decked in his army digs, runs into the arms of his wife-fiancee-girlfriend person. We get a shot of the back of a truck heading toward his home with Chuck’s quiet, nervous voice playing over saying, “It feels good to be home.” Then he’s out of the truck, sheepishly saluting to what looks like the entire town gathering to welcome him, and then he’s driving down the central road of his town on a horse-drawn carriage (the director of the commercial makes it a point to obscure the “Budweiser” painted large and white on the side, and then, in a brilliantly subliminal way, gives us a distant shot of the crowd the carriage crosses in front of just briefly enough to show us “Bud”-and then it cuts) to see his mom. It’s a weepy affair, rice and confetti is thrown, and the commercial wraps up with the Budweiser red and bowtie and #Saluteahero.

Coca-Cola had us watch a montage of racially diverse Americans do what I guess is diverse American stuff like ride a white stallion through a majestic forest/mountain scene, blow a gum bubble, blow sand into the air just to watch it happen, surf at daybreak, and break dance at night, all while “America the Beautiful” is sung in different languages. A few Coke bottles are subtly spread throughout, but it isn’t until one of the final, brief shots (in which a family plays a classic game of pick-Coca-Cola-bottle-caps-off-the-bottom-of-your-pool) that we see clearly a Coke product.
They don’t call it a commercial (they call it a tradition), but Fox ran a commercial for their Super Bowl coverage called: Watch people you might recognize as American heroes for one reason or another read the Declaration of Independence.

These commercials, and they are some of the most memorable, have one crucial thing in common: they appropriate patriotism for profit. Do not forget that these three powerful commercials would not exist unless it was a surefire way to make money. And with 114 million people watching, many who love football, who consider their participation in game day the best expression of their American-ness, such commercials are better than surefire.

So this is what we watched the Super Bowl to see. This is the spectacle. We watched companies flatter us, convince us that, by watching football, we celebrate freedom; by buying Coke, we become more tolerant; by drinking Budweiser, we become respectful of those who have died for us. See the verbs? Watch, buy, drink. Consume, consume, consume. By consuming, we become patriotic, better Americans. Of course, nothing could be less true. By consuming, we feed a system that wants nothing but our money, and will commodify the Declaration of Independence and pride, and sell us our American souls to get it. It’s deeply perverse. And what does it say about our country that we all sat down and consumed? It tells us who and what dictates our country. It’s not patriots or patriotism.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.