Super Bowl Ads – Same Old Sexism for Sale

By Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

What might a television viewer have learned from this year’s Super Bowl ads? Let’s see…

– Women and men are really, really different. Men are obsessed with beer and junk food, while woman are preoccupied with shopping and cleanliness. How will we ever get along?

– Which brings us to sex. Men are not afraid to make feeble attempts at hitting on women. But they don’t really need to try that hard because lots of women are apparently eager to tear their shirts off or jump into a hot tub with a violin-playing beaver or a giant teddy bear.

– There are way more men than women in the world — the ratio must be something like 75-25. Seriously! Unless you count chickens, that is.

– It’s hilarious when people get unexpectedly tackled to the ground, especially when they are women or old people. And they often pop right back up, unharmed.

– Smart-talking babies and little kids are funny, especially if they are saying lines that reinforce gender stereotypes.

– Seeing people in their underwear is a hoot. Especially if they’re not model thin or buff.

Sadly, none of these lessons are even remotely new. As usual, Super Bowl ads exist in a land virtually untouched by social progress, a world where woman and men are hostile strangers and old people and other groups exist to be punch lines. Ok, so it’s a lot like that in the real world, too. But Super Bowl ad-land is far more juvenile and jaded. It’s a place where the “battle of the sexes” will wage on way past its expiration date, because it’s just too darn easy to write commitment-phobic guy vs. needy chick jokes.

That said, here are my picks for worst ads of the night:

1. Dodge – I cannot adequately express how much this ad disgusted me. A male voice-over drones on while close ups are shown of various sad-sack men, stunned by the relentless awfulness of their daily lives. The voice relays all the tedious things these men will do to get through the day — and what are these terrible things? “I will clean the sink after I shave . . . say yes when you want me to say yes . . . be quiet when you don’t want to hear me say no . . . listen to your opinion of my friends . . . be civil to your mother . . . put the seat down . . . carry your lip balm . . . watch your vampire TV shows with you . . . put my underwear in the basket.” The ad ends with the man saying, “and because I do this, I will drive the car I want to drive. Charger. Man’s. Last. Stand.” The hostility in this ad is astounding. So, for all you men who despise living with women and are on the verge of becoming a serial killer, this car’s for you!

2. Flo TV – Real-life sportscaster Jim Nantz comments on poor “Jason” whose girlfriend has removed his spine, leaving him incapable of watching the game. Jason is seen being dragged by his girlfriend through the rigors of bra and candle shopping. The last line from Nantz: “Change out of that skirt, Jason.” Message received loud and clear: women want to do stupid things like lingerie shopping, unlike the serious pursuit of sports watching. Making men participate in activities associated with being female is funny because men are supposed to be macho. But it’s also sad and emasculating, so men need to do carry around a mini TV to confirm their manhood.

3. Doritos – A man comes to pick up a woman for a date. A shot of the woman from behind is meant to tell us that she’s hot, and her date approves. The woman’s very young son sees the man checking out his mom, and then the man tries to eat some of the boy’s Doritos. The boy slaps the man across the face and then lays down the law: “Keep your hands off my mama. Keep your hands off my Doritos.” At first the ad seems cute, because kids saying and doing out-of-the-ordinary, adult-like things triggers some sort of giggle reflex. But this is yet another ad where the woman is a secondary character, an object for one man to objectify and the other (a little boy) to protect.

4. E-Trade – Ugh. The talking babies again. This time the baby boy neglected to call the baby girl the night before. He tries to impress her with his financial prowess, complete with wolf howling, but she’s having none of it. She accuses him of having another girl over — “that milkaholic Lindsey” no less. But wait, Lindsey really is there! Maybe not everyone will find this creepy, but I did. And, yes, it reinforces the stereotype of the jealous woman and the cheating man. But it uses babies, so what’s the harm, right?

5. Go Daddy – Same old titillation. Not much to say about this except yuck. And Danica Patrick, please tell this company to get lost. Surely you’re better than this.

Runners-up: Snickers (Betty White is a fabulous comedian, but the joke of this ad really is on women and old people–how lame we are physically and how funny it is when we go boom); Bud Light (guy joins women’s book club just to drink beer); Monster.com (beaver ends up with hot chick due to his musical talent); Dockers (“Calling all men, it’s time to wear the pants!”).

Anything positive to say? Well, the Emerald Nuts/Pop Secret ad with people swimming and doing tricks like dolphins was kind of cool in a “how’d they do that?” way. The NFL put together a nice ad promoting fans enjoying the sport. The screaming Denny’s chickens were pretty funny (I’d be upset, too). I really liked the playful vibe of the Kia Sorento car ad with the partying toys come to life, but it just had to include a shot of the teddy bear and a woman in a hot tub. C’mon, what the deal with the advertising tradition of women being hot for animals — remember Spuds MacKenzie? Same-sex couples are virtually invisible, but allusions to beastiality are perfectly acceptable, it seems.

Which ads were your least or most favorites? Add your thoughts in the comments.

And, finally: In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, NOW spoke out against the ad sponsored by the anti-abortion group Focus on the Family — an ad that CBS decided to air despite its prior policy of steering clear of advocacy ads. It turned out that this hotly debated commercial did not convey much of a message at all. In fact, the most offensive part of it may have been the tackling of the mom. I know people will say it was all meant in good humor, maybe even to show how “tough” moms can be. But taken together, the Super Bowl’s annual proclivity for using violence, pain and dominance as visual puns is troubling, especially considering our society’s very real problem with violence against women.

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