During Sunday’s Super Bowl, the advertising and programming executives in Hollywood and New York graced us with their version of what we want to see. And if it’s any reflection of reality, we’re becoming a coarser, stupider, and less value-oriented nation.
Let’s start with the halftime show. For years, the Super Bowl halftime show has been a repository for shocking performances, including the pre-staged Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson boobgate in 2004. But Beyoncé’s pelvic-thrusting marathon session, accompanied by her doxy backup dancers, wasn’t so much shocking as it was jaded and cynical. It wasn’t sexy; it was tiresome, in-your-face, boring. Booty-shaking is no longer surprising, since surprise requires standards to be broken. In a nation with no standards, we’re not even excited by what used to be outrageous behavior. There’s no prize for nakedest at a nudist festival.
The commercials, too, contrasted what used to be American with what is now American. The Chrysler Group’s Dodge Ram “Farmer” ad, which showed stills of American farmers over a voiceover from famed broadcaster Paul Harvey, “So God Made a Farmer,” received high marks from the crowd. It was a moving reconsideration of values now thought by many to be passé:
It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight...and not cut corners. Somebody to seed and weed, feed and breed...and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk. Somebody to replenish the self feeder and then finish a hard days work with a five mile drive to church. Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who'd laugh and then sigh...and then respond with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life "doing what dad does." So, God made a farmer!
Contrast that ad with one from Coca Cola, featuring a series of security camera shots, and titled, “Give a Little Bit”:
Security cameras around the world … also capture … people stealing kisses, music addicts, honest pickpockets, and potato chip dealers … attacks of friendship, unexpected firemen, and peaceful warriors. Let’s look at the world a little differently.
When the caption reads, “Peaceful warriors,” we see a video of some moron tagging the word “Peace” on the side of a building. This is what it takes to create peace across the world? A powerful military presence irrelevant in comparison to graffiti? Spraying beyond the call of valor?
The Occupy Generation’s disrespect for the Greatest Generation saw its most obvious embodiment in Taco Bell’s famed “Viva Young” commercial, which featured a bunch of octogenarians acting like juvenile delinquents, complete with a huge back tattoo for an obviously Jewish character named Goldblatt. The ad itself is funny – but it’s also wildly disrespectful, suggesting that if our elderly would just act like teenagers again, oh the fun they could have!
Even the Super Bowl’s finest cultural moment – an ad featuring American troops from Jeep – was studded with an underlying pacifism, brought by Oprah. We all want to see American troops home and with their families. But we never see ads anymore glorifying the heroism of our troops in the field. Instead we get shorter replays of Coming Home.
American culture isn’t moving in the right direction if the Super Bowl is any indicator. But it can be fixed and saved, if we’re wise enough and honest enough to acknowledge the problem. Vulgarity is no substitute for sexiness. Raunch is no substitute for humor. And superficial values are no substitute for real ones.
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