Above, just a few of the emotions and questions stirred up in the wake of the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. We’ll get into the super-righteous Beyonce backlash later. But meanwhile, I have to say that I can’t remember another Super Bowl in which the commercials were so thoroughly hate–watched. (I guess there was a nasty football game happening, as well?)
Don’t even get me started on Peyton Manning’s dispiriting, smarmy, corporate post-game plugs for Budweiser. How did we get here, to this generalized form of poor sportsmanship?
Of course I’m going to partially blame it on The Donald. Call it “taking Trumbrage.” While remaining vehemently anti-P.C., and liberally dishing out insults, Trump has managed to don the mantle of the Umbrage King. It’s a singular gift. Bill Maher put his finger on it recently in The Hollywood Reporter when he wrote that the Donald possesses a “unique talent to smite his enemies.” “Smite” is the operative word: with Trump, it’s personal, but also biblical. Cue the locusts.
And that’s where former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani seems to fit in. Since Sunday, from nowhere, he’s been bugging out, accusing Beyonce of using the halftime show as a “slap in the face of law enforcement.” He was responding to references in the show to Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
This came as news to many male viewers, who were so taken with the idea of the “hot sauce” in her pants, I mean purse — never mind the leather, fishnets, and the dancing of the “formation”— that they didn’t even notice. Part of Bey’s genius is that she and her troupe in Michael Jackson jackets and berets could bring the personal and the political, and the promotional, for her new album and video, and still, meld all that into her own form of corporate entertainment. That included brand names. Without spending a cent, Red Lobster profited from the “Beyonce Bump” out of that entirely unexpected stew.
And it seems that Giuliani hopes to profit, too. Now back in the spotlight (and perhaps angling for a cabinet post?) he told CNN that his mayoralty did more to help blacks than the entire #Black Lives Matter movement ever could. Did Beyonce even know that in offering her own point of view she was competing with Rudy?
No matter. #BoycottBeyonce, the movement, is kicking off on Feb. 16, outside the NFL headquarters in New York City. Bey’s fans will be there, too. Get ready to rumble.
Remember Ed Anger? He was the guy who ranted uncontrollably in some supermarket tabloid years ago. I spoke to his equivalent, a local radio DJ, this week, in an interview about the Super Bowl spots. I told him that among my favorites was the Colgate-Palmolive spot, with its unusual look (created in Peru) and message, which had nothing to do directly with selling toothpaste, but rather, about saving water, and the planet. He hated it, he said, because "not running the water when I brush my teeth is not going to help anybody." The spot was a huge waste he said, calling it "the worst of all."
This from a guy who lives in Michigan, a stone’s throw from Flint. (Or how about just closing your eyes and thinking of California, if you refuse to extend any compassion or generosity to the rest of the world? )
My real favorite was the Jeep 75th anniversary spot, which hadn’t been released early. It featured static, powerful black-and-white photos: human portraits, mostly, that, along with an inspired voiceover, blew me away. He hadn’t seen it.
I also mentioned that I liked the anti-domestic-violence spot, “No More.” (Although I can see the obvious hypocrisy of the NFL supplying the time.) With a few simple back-and-forth texts, it presents an entire drama on the face of a phone. The writing shows a brilliant economy of language, but also offers great insight into the psychology of abusers, who tend to isolate their victims.
“I better stay home,” the friend who never showed to the SB party texts — “Jake’s in one of his moods” -- before ominously trailing off.
Although Mr. Radio could acknowledge that the spot was well done, he said it should have been shown only directly to NFL players, because "the rest of us don't need to see it." That’s pretty much the definition of ignorance.
Yes, we are angry. Certainly, some of the spots were insipid. But were they the worst collection of ads ever? Not by a long shot.
To offer some perspective, that honor surely goes to Super Bowl XXXIV, (a time so ancient that the NFL was still carving it in Roman numerals.) It was the height of the first dot-com bubble, when some dozen startups spent their entire budgets to break out on the Big Game. At least four of those companies were out of business by the following Super Bowl.
To be sure, there were also some encouraging trends this year: Nothing overtly sexist. No pandering patriotism. No hideous bros.
Yes, we were introduced to the extremely regrettable notion of poop envy for a spot selling a pill that helps with “opoid-induced constipation” but that also tells us something about the state of addiction and pain in our country. (And also about the power and money of Big Pharma.)
Never my favorites, the consumer-generated Doritos commercials always win the audience rankings and admeters, because the civilian makers of the spots assiduously study all the formulas and tend to adapt every clichéd, lowest common denominator baby/animal/chip-eating-monster meme in the book to score. But this was the 10th and last year for the contest. So maybe that will mean good news for fresh ideas in the future.
In sharp contrast to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the most encouraging trend this year involved the many spots that effortlessly, and movingly, reflected the population. Here are two, the entirely lovable spot for the Mini, aptly named “Defy Labels” and the uber-inclusive spot for Sun Trust.
Over to you, Oscar. Although we’re not letting go without a fight.