It was a great game, perhaps the most gripping final NFL showdown of the past five years, with a second half opening with a daring onside kick and Garrett Hartley becoming the first placekicker to make three field goals over forty yards in any Super Bowl. Marvelous. And I might have come away from the annual experience howling in the streets for my avenged Jets, had not my viewing been sullied by an atavistic rash of misogynistic commercials.
Granted, your average redblooded spectator does not necessarily watch television sports commercials with the intent of seeing women presented as positive role models. We’ve become used to seeing women objectified, often dressed in bikinis and/or using their anatomy to sell some vacuous commercial experience. But Super Bowl XLIV’s commercials were much different. They were cruder and uglier, going well out of their way to not only objectify women, but to suggest that anyone with a vagina who asserted herself should be ridiculed.
There was the Motorola commercial featuring a naked Megan Fox in a bubble bath, referring to her phone as “this little guy” and permitting her objectified photographic form to cause a series of disruptions. But that was comparatively modest with the misogyny to come. There was the FloTV commercial in which a man suffered from an allegorical injury in which his girlfriend had removed his spine, “rendering him incapable of watching the game.” FloTV’s underlying idea, of course, was that women could not possibly enjoy football and that women are natural ballbusters who force their boyfriends to go shopping. There was the Dodge Charger Commercial, in which various men are seen, with their internal thoughts voiced by Dexter star Michael C. Hall, who announces the perfunctory domestic demands from other women: “I will eat some fruit as part of my breakfast. I will shave. I will clean the sink after I shave.”
But the real big-prick offender was probably Bud Light’s Book Club ad (which can be viewed above), which combined its misogynistic message with an anti-reading subtext. The commercial begins with a woman describing how there’s “so much passion” within the book she’s reading. A man then arrives wearing a sports T-shirt and shorts, saying, “Have a nice book club. I’ll be at the game.” He then eyes several chilled bottles of Bud Light and then sits down on a couch between two women, rudely interrupting their discussion. “So what’s the story?” he says, as some rock and roll music emerges onto the soundtrack. “We were discussing the relationship of two women…”
“Two women,” he interrupts, immediately connoting a lesbian fantasy, perhaps with the two women he is squeezed between.
“…who are thrust in by war,” continues the woman.
“Oooh,” he replies. “Thrusting.”
“A war neither of them understands,” she continues, offering a modest nod that indicates her role as either patient nurturer or someone barely able to understand the book that she’s discussing.
“Awesome,” he says. “Good times. I love Book Club!”
And in a rather sly move by the director, sealing the woman’s objectified place, the woman’s red sweater slips down her left shoulder, revealing more of her anatomy.
We cut back after a product announcement and observe an exchange between the man and another woman. The book club has degenerated into a beer drinking session.
This new woman says, “So then do you like Little Women?” (Little, get it?)
He says, “Yeah, I’m not too picky. No.” And the commercial then stops, ending on this open-ended sexual proposition.
Here then is the ad’s anti-women and anti-reading worldview: Women, no matter what their goals, aspirations, or interests, have no other role in society other than getting fucked by men. Let women have their “little” book clubs, which can be easily interrupted on a masculine whim and which women will never dare object to. They will set everything aside to give you head or to serve you beer.
And, by the way, if you’re a man, you don’t even need to read to get ahead in the world. (Indeed, one of the commercial’s curious philosophical positions is that one cannot both enjoy beer — at least the stuff better than the undrinkable swill that is being sold in this commercial — and books. Speaking as a man who enjoys beer, books, and football, and who finds intelligent women far sexier than empty-headed centerfolds, I happily refute these stereotypes through my very existence.)
Some might argue that the advertisement is not intended to be taken seriously — that it is a jocular offering to be easily disregarded. But because the Super Bowl is watched by close to 100 million people and because the Super Bowl commercials are subjected to such intense post-game scrutiny (to cite one example, as I write this essay, a message now appears at the top of YouTube: “Watch and Vote on Your Favorite Commercials from Super Bowl Sunday. Vote Now.”), it is perhaps more important for us to consider the impact that one Super Bowl commercial has on its audience. Let us assume that 1% of the Super Bowl audience (or about 1 million) take the Book Club advertisement seriously. Will they, in turn, be inspired to avoid books and break up female book clubs?
The great irony here is that these misogynist commercials were aired, including an anti-abortion Focus on the Family advocacy ad, even as CBS rejected a gay online dating commercial. And, indeed, if women are deemed so problematic by the Madison Avenue hucksters, then why shouldn’t the audience consider a man instead?
The open-ended question of whether Super Bowl commercials should be guided by some morality was indeed broached by Chicago Tribune religious reporter Manya Brachear. To this, I would respond that Super Bowl XXXVIII’s infamous Nipplegate controversy established very clear moral guidelines. Show part of a woman’s breast (adorned with nipple plate) and you will be hounded by the FCC and Christian moralists. But feel free to objectify a woman’s breast all you like. Because the need to sell more Coca-Cola outweighs human dignity.
[UPDATE: A reader correctly points out that, in this essay’s original form, I confused this year’s Teleflora ad, which involved a similar setup, with last year’s Teleflora ad. Accordingly, I have removed the following description from the piece, preserving it at the end to demonstrate another example of Madison Avenue’s commitment to Super Bowl misogyny: “Then there was the despicable Teleflora ad, in which a woman receives flowers and the flowers talk back, ‘Oh no! Look at the mug on you! Diane, you’re a trainwreck. That’s why he always sent a box of flowers. Go home to your romance novels and your fat smelly cat,’ followed by another sully: ‘Nobody wants to see you naked.’ The Teleflora commercial presented an additional punchline: a male office worker named Gary who comes up to Diane not to ask if she’s okay, but to announce, ‘I’d like to see you naked’ (surely a violation of sexual harassment law), before being cut off by the humiliated Diane.]
[UPDATE 2: Survival of the Book’s Brianoffers a thoughtful response to my post, pointing out one minor point I neglected to mention — that the women were the ones who procured the Bud Lights for their own enjoyment in the commercial. This raises the possibility that they were trying to get rid of the jock so that they could enjoy their beer with their books. It’s a fair interpretation: one that I might entirely agree with, had the women not been presented as sex objects in the latter portion of the commercial. Brian’s interpretation permits the Book Club to serve as a male fantasy. But if this crude male fantasy involves sneering down at women and books, then I stand by my original assessment.]
YOu knows ing you’re talking about last year’s Teleflora ad, not this year’s. At least get your facts right!
The mysogyny of this year’s Super Bowl commercials was so blatant and pervasive — a lot of people are noticing. At one site someone quipped — what kind of book club would serve Bud Light anyway?
It’s a pity in a lot of ways — after the game, my wife (who doesn’t like football) said that if more games were like that one, she’d become a fan. But who’d want to sit through commercials like those?
[…] you think the Super Bowl ads were too sexist? The Google Search was my favorite, but it’s tough to not love the Letterman/Oprah/Leno one, […]
You’re right to say that the women were presented as sex objects and, as I noted, the ad overall was misogynistic, as anti-woman as 99% of beer ads. I didn’t mean to say otherwise; I just wanted to point out that there was the potential for portraying something possibly realistic and certainly positive – women drinking and talking books. (I was reaching even further in my hope that they were lying to the man by describing a sappy, sentimental book in the hope that he’d piss off and let them get their drink on.) But I do not credit such a positive portrayal to Madison Avenue, leaving me and you on the same side. Bud Light fail.
Brian: I agree with you! Let’s say the commercial took the approach of just being centered around the women, where they attempted to analyze some callow James Patterson book (or some wretched novel defying analysis) and they concluded that the book was so bad that it didn’t even warrant discussion. Maybe one of the women says, “You know, I’ve got THE KITE RUNNER back at home.” Another woman says, “Who needs what everybody else is discussing when we’ve got Bud Light?” She says, “You’re right. That’s a shitty book anyway.” The women laugh and clink bottles. And maybe the punchline is the guy is outside the house looking through the window, desperately flipping through a Cliff’s Notes or something, trying to belong. Some setup along those lines would have demonstrated precisely what you were arguing while inverting the gender expectations.
Slate Magazine on the Tebow Focus on the Family ad.
Very off topic, but I thought you’d find it interesting.
I should probably supply a link:
The bud light commercial also portrays men rather poorly, men only want to play sports and are only interested in books to get beer. The men are too stupid to know that little women is a book. Women are not really portrayed that poorly in the bug light commercial but you want to be righteously angry so go with whatever makes you feel that way.
The Bud Light commercial falls into the general category of “dumb guy” humor. (That seems to be the major mode for selling beer on TV now.) By itself, it’s not that big a deal. But combine it with several other commercials that seem to be saying women are bitches (the Bud Light commercial DOESN’T do this), and the night had an ugly tone indeed. The most egregious commercials I recall (off top of my head — there may have been more) were for tires, a Dodge Charger, and some personal TV gadget.
The misogyny was blatant in these ads, but I think the real message (which itself is misogynist) throughout the various Super Bowl ads was what men were being told about men, about appropriate, acceptable masculine ideals and behavior.
“Speaking as a man who enjoys beer, books, and football, and who finds intelligent women far sexier than empty-headed centerfolds, I happily refute these stereotypes through my very existence.” – Good Job!
“And, indeed, if women are deemed so problematic by the Madison Avenue hucksters, then why shouldn’t the audience consider a man instead?” – Good Point!
Read my little misogynist rant http://timfreeman.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/fantasy-and-voyeurism-men-and-the-violence-culture/