In 2006, I made a vow to the powers that be that if the New Orleans Saints went to the Superbowl I would watch the Superbowl. claimed that vow only applied to the 2006-07 season, but I stuck by it. Nope. I made a vow. I wasn’t about to renege on a vow made to mysterious powers having to do with me and New Orleans. (Which is a whole big thing which I will write here sometime.)

So that’s how I came to watch the Superbowl yesterday. I mean, actually watch it, as opposed to being in the same room with it on and looking up for halftime or replays of particularly interesting plays or ads that seemed like they might be funny. Which meant that I saw more ads than usual.

Now, maybe Superbowl ads are always like this, but even knowing it was football and such, I was still kind of dismayed by the way 99.9% of the ads just assumed I was a dude. I wasn’t surprised that they tended in a vaguely dudish direction. That was pretty expected. I was surprised by the way they so aggressively reached through the television and grabbed me by the neck and shouted, "You are a man! Be a man! And you know what it means to be a man, don’t you? That’s right! You despise all things of girliness! Including literature! Hygiene! Pants! Courtesy to your housemates! And sexy lingerie!"

Um, what?

Yeah, one of the ads — by far the worst of the afternoon — shows a dispirited young man standing in a lingerie department, holding some bags, with a blank look and a lacy red bra slung over his shoulder. The narrator informs us that "His girlfriend has removed his spine, rendering him incapable of watching the game.” Then the ad is for something called (I am not making this up) "FloTV" which will allow him to watch the game on his iPhone or whatever. Now, yeah, I object to the the rank lad-culture sexisim of the idea that all girlfriends/wives are emasculating (and sports-hating!) harpies. Yeah, ha-ha, she removed your spine dude! Take off the skirt!

But the choice to demonstrate this in a lingerie department is just… weird. Are we supposed to recognize lingerie department as being a place of torture for the typical heterosexual male, on par with a craft or fabric store? Really? They didn’t even have him holding her purse, he was just holding some neutral shopping bags. Or is the idea supposed to be that this guy is so demoralized by his monster of a girlfriend that he can’t even manage to enjoy himself in a lingerie department?

Whatever. Although, in spite of myself, I did laugh out loud when a guy in a different ad said "I will watch your vampire TV shows with you." You know, as an example of his devotion to things of non-dudeity, like hygiene and showing up to work on time, which, so, he should be allowed to drive whatever kind of dude car he wants, which means, yeah, a Dodge Charger, for some reason.

The Superbowl is such a huge cultural event, I’m a little shocked that the advertisers seemed to feel so free to just assume that no women at all could possibly be watching. And also to assume that all the men watching were such women-hating (but ohmygod certainly not gay! even though we prefer the company of men to the company of women! and are indifferent to our hot girlfriends trying on sexy lingerie in a sexy lingerie department! and our favorite sport is a bunch of buff guys in tight pants tackling each other in slow motion!) morons who would also be really entertained to see themselves be characterized as women-hating morons.

But the game itself was actually terrific and fun. If the Saints go back to the Superbowl I will totally watch it again.


  1. I don’t think the commercials are usually that bad. Everyone I know has been commenting on the sexism this year.

    1. Author

      Yeah, I went looking for commentary to see if other people thought it was unusual. So now I’m wondering what was driving it — something about the zeitgeist? Or did they all buy their campaigns from the same ad agency? Or what?

  2. A contrary, perhaps optimistic take on the tone of the ads this year:

    Societies are either lazy or efficient, depending on which side of that normative fence you want to come down on. Which means they generally a) encourage behavior they don’t think happens often enough, and b) discourage behavior they think happens too often.

    At that point, all the ads encouraging guys to behave more dude-like are an indication someone thinks that isn’t happening enough. Which is to say, instead of acting like dudes, guys are behaving more and more like thoughtful human beings — and the consensus in some quarters is that, oddly, that’s a bad thing.

    Just one possible interpretation.

    1. Author

      Well, that’s the definitely the optimistic interpretation.

  3. To say the ads were for “dudes” reminds of the 1980’s claim that Boy George dressed like a girl. He didn’t; he dressed strangely is all. Sure, the ads were directed at men, but not at any given, particular man. It seemed more of a peer-pressure valve: I don’t act like this, but I’m supposed to. And, if I have any doubts, I can look around at the other beer-drinking girlfriend-shunning watchers for affirmation. Of course, there will be a couple of girls at the party, but they serve to emphasize the girlfriends and husbands who didn’t show up.

    I was astonished and saddened by two trends used by multiple advertisers: 1) the sheer amount of violence as humor device (which I’m all for, if the joke is funny); and 2) the sheer number of commercials that used females only as a prop — which, I think, is evidence for your observation.

  4. Glad you posted this, you always have a discerning eye.
    That one “spineless” commercial would have made stereotypical-sense to me if the couple had been shopping the housewares department, say, but lingerie? I was under the impression that things like the Victoria’s Secret catalog were coded as dude soft-pr0n for the most part… so yeah, that one is pretty squarely out of the ‘women, can’t live with’em/without them’ camp and into the ‘can’t live with them, can’t cut them up with a chainsaw’ one. I’m kinda with when I put on my anthro hat, on the reasoning: there’s a feeling amongst some people these days that societal gender roles are getting too damn blurry, what with women being treated like people, and men are staying home to raise kids, boys wearing pink! and oh, the horror. Still makes the ads icky tho.
    Speaking of, all the print ink I saw about the SB ads fixated on the Focus on the Family anti-abortion ad – did you see that one, and if so, have an opinion of it? Er, feel free not to answer this if you were avoiding a giant can of worms, sorry. doh.

    1. Author

      Actually, I didn’t see the FOF ad — I was probably getting my compatriots beer, or something. I also missed the “tires or your wife” ad, which was by many accounts even more offensive than the spineless lingerie ad.

      My official citizen’s opinion on the FOF ad: everyone has the right to their own stupid opinion, first amendment, etc., and the problem is the network’s double standard on what constitutes “controversial.”

      My personal visceral reaction to all anti-choice propaganda: rage, rage, rage. Rage such that I fantasize about kicking people until they stop moving. The end.

  5. I don’t watch the Superbowl (Living in Ireland and not having a TV makes it difficult to do so) but that does sound pretty bad. I know what you man about guys who are straight but you have to wonder if they’re just repressed homosexuals given what you said in that last paragraph in the brackets.

    Having said, it could all be pandering to the lowest common denominator, only this one is so low it stops acting like a common denominator and you have to wonder what niche they are going for. But then, from what I hear there’s a channel called Lifetime that does “television for women” and they’ve a film every week that is so awful in it’s plot and portrayal of men and women it manages to be both anti-men and anti-feminist at the same time. Go figure.

    Doesn’t mean that whatever they’re trying to do with the ad is acceptable. I was going WTF when I read over your description of the ad.

    1. Author

      Yeah, my description was highly opinionated, but still substantially accurate.

      it manages to be both anti-men and anti-feminist at the same time

      There’s a certain kind of “anti-men” sentiment that always seems very anti-feminist to me, because at the heart of it it, it perpetuates traditional sex roles.

      A lot of “men are morons” advertising aimed at women — like your typical “omigod! men are incapable of doing their own laundry!” commercial — falls into this cateogory.

  6. Yep, agree everything you said here, including how great the game was. The amount of twisted gender anxiety expressed in the ads was truly amazing and kind of pathetic. On the other hand, I found the Doritos ads just plain gross. On the third hand, the hype over Super Bowl advertising is almost — *almost* — worse than the hype over the game itself.

    1. Author

      I have encountered people expressing a “truisim” — which I swear I have never seen before — that the quality of the actual game is inversely proportional to the quality of the ads.

      The thing is, the Superbowl ads are where a lot of new advertising campaigns are launched, so the hype is a bit justified, when you consider the way advertising defines/reflects the zeitgeist of our nation.

      That said, the thing I find interesting is which Superbowl ads I saw yesterday, when we all watched House. Yes on the one with the giant toys. No on the spineless lingerie.

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