Thinking About...Super Bowl Commercials

I, like most other US Americans not living in New Orleans or Indianapolis, have been thinking today more about the commercials from last night’s Super Bowl than the football. I watched live only about a quarter and a half of the game, but I’ve watched pretty much all of the commercials. (Thank you, Hulu.) About a month ago I heard professional, Richmond-based advertiser, Aaron Dotson, reflect on the powers and dangers of advertising. He said commercials are problematic when they reinforce stereotypes. As an example he described the common trope of the ‘Dumb Dad syndrome.’ (An example is the MetroPCS commercial where a guy who can’t even get a cell phone contract right is berated and shamed by Indian men.)

Last night’s Super Bowl commercials offer insightful commentary on the current state of American manhood. The commercials tell a story. (The most transparent example is the Unilever Dove commercial—a favorite, partly because it doesn’t reduce manhood to easy stereotypes.) The commercials offer a way for us to make sense of the world and suggest how we should live in it. For men, the picture is not flattering.

Men are spineless, skirt-wearing, accommodating, and manipulative. They eschew pants. And they are slaves to their appetites—whether for Denny’s Grand Slams, sex, fast cars, or cheap beer. They pretend and lie (about liking book clubs, about shopping, about their own deaths) to allure women and to secure alcohol. Men are insensitive—whether teasing dogs or ogling moms.  And, at least according to ETrade, even infantile men (a redundancy in Madison Avenue’s mind?) are deceptive and unfaithful.

My favorite commercial from the Super Bowl was Google’s Search On. It was simple, beautiful, and (unlike most of the commercials) demonstrated the product. Better than others and with visual simplicity, it told a story of manhood—from studying abroad in Paris to falling in love to starting a family. With humor and grace it told a winsome story made possible by Google.

Men who accept the Christian story can watch, identify with, and be entertained by these commercials. But we must not allow this picture of masculinity to define us and shape us. Instead, we look to God and His son Jesus (the exact representation of God) to understand who we are and how we should live in this world.

Most fundamentally we find identity as sons of God, loved deeply by Him and transformed evermore into the character of Jesus Christ. Real men aren’t reduced to pandering to satisfy their base appetites. They've been satisfied fully by God and are beginning to live more and more as responsible stewards in God’s world, agents of renewal in our communities, bearers of truth in confusing times, and servants to all they encounter.

The Super Bowl commercials are selling a story. But we must tell the story.