Superbowl Ads: Give Us 30 Seconds and We Will Give You Warped Messages About Sex, Gender, and Relationships
I am not a football fan; I couldn’t even follow the game on TV until the advent of the computer-generated yellow line. (Oh, so that’s what they’re trying to do!) Still, I love the Super Bowl. I like the tradition of something that happens at the same time every year. I like the food (we always make chili and have recently added potato skins). Mostly, I like the thought that a significant number of people who I don’t know are doing the exact same thing that I’m doing at the same time–”event television” is rare in this age of DVRs.
Like many of those people, I pay more attention to the commercials than the game itself. In fact, I think it’s the only time I ever really watch commercials (as I mentioned, it is the age of the DVR). The problem is that as a sex educator and commentator, watching them kind of feels like work. I want to just enjoy them for the humor and the cleverness and marvel at how people came up with that idea, or alternatively complain about their lameness and failure to live up to the hype. But I spend so much of the rest of the year commenting on the warped messages society gives young people and adults about sex, gender, and relationships that each year, without fail, the Super Bowl ads serve up a microcosm of all these messages. For four million a pop, advertisers jam generations worth of bad messages into 30 seconds bits.
So as much as I want to sit back, acknowledge that advertisers have a product to sell (and that sex educators — with our insistence on appropriate messaging — would make lousy ad execs), I can’t. Like so many of my colleagues, I feel compelled to comment. The ads that set the sex education world all-a-twitter this year are pretty obvious and I am not the first to call them out.
There’s the Doritos ad where the daughter convinces her father to play “princess” with her instead of football with his friends by offering him a bag of the flavored chips. The gender messages in this one are pretty straight forward; girls like to play princesses while men prefer football (oh, and mom is out grocery shopping). Moreover, the humor in the commercial is based on the idea that men who wear dresses and make-up are inherently funny. To add to the effect, they cast stereotypically “manly” men — with beards and all. Jill McDevitt of thesexologist.org calls the ad “trans-phobic” because it suggests that men who put on dresses should “expect to be mocked.”
Go Daddy, the web hosting company that first burst onto the scene in 2005 with a Super Bowl ad featuring a large-busted actress in a very small tank top, had a Janet-Jackson-like wardrobe malfunction while testifying in front of a mock congressional committee about the ad she wants to air during the Super Bowl. The company has used sexy women in their advertisements ever since. Interestingly, race-car driver Danica Patrick serves as the company’s spokesperson — in another context, she might be seen as a role model for young girls wanting to break into male-dominated arenas.
Patrick is the narrator in this year’s commercial, “A Perfect Match,” in which super-model Bar Rafaeli makes out with a super-nerd. The audio is tweaked so high that the kiss sounds sloppy and gross. Afterwards, Rafaeli gives the camera a quick glance that seems to say: “I’m not pleased that I had to do that but I had to do that.” Put simply the commercial says that kissing anyone who doesn’t meet society’s standards of beauty is gross, and the idea that an ugly guy could get it on with a pretty girl is comically unrealistic.