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What 2019’s Super Bowl ads say about us (and our bodies)

Serena Williams


Tom Hoopes - published on 02/04/19

Our society is a mess of contradictions ... as Sunday showed.

We should never be ashamed of our bodies, no matter what! But we had better do whatever we can to be stunningly attractive. Machines are stealing people’s jobs, and that’s terrible! But, “Hey Google, get me an Uber to the airport!”

Our society is a mess of contradictions in its attitude toward the human body and personal identity. The contradictions were front and center in between the football parts of Super Bowl Sunday on CBS.

We’re terrified of what robots will become.

The rise of robots is one of the most exciting — and hair-raisingly frightening — phenomena of our day, from McDonald’s touch screens to robot girlfriends. Apart from the adorable but also frightening RoboChild commercial from TurboTax, how did ads deal with this?

Amazon — Not Everything makes the cut: Amazon mocked Alexa.

The excitement and fear of robotics is so intense that Amazon advertised its own bot, “Alexa” — by mocking her. Their commercial, starring Harrison Ford and other celebrities, showed funny “Alexa fails” as she is put in charge of a toothbrush, a hot tub, a space capsule and a dog.

Michelob Ultra — Robots: Love makes us human.

Michelob Ultra’s commercial (well, one of them) showed our greatest fear — robots besting humans at various physical pursuits. But then, the human beings won in the end by actually enjoying their lives together after their exercise. It’s a nice reminder of what makes us human: love.

Pringles — Sad Device… or is it “pleasure makes us human”?

Actually, maybe I’m being too kind to Michelob. Maybe what they were saying is that pleasure makes us human. That is definitely what Pringles decided, as an Alexa-like device expressed its sadness that she can’t enjoy combining Pringles like her owner can.

Read more:
The “Little Way” of the NFL Patriots

Women are still being used as objects.

In the #MeToo area, gone are the days when women are merely used as tantalizing objects to draw our attention to a product, right? Wrong. On Super Bowl Sunday, commercials still use sultry women (or mermaids, as the case may be) to sell products, albeit more subtly, and sometimes with mixed messages …

Olay —Killer Skin: Celebrating skin-deep beauty.

I hope you turned off the Olay “Killer skin” commercial if small children were watching the Super Bowl with you. It was in the terrifying style of a horror movie trailer and its end lesson — that the way you look is really, really important — was a bad lesson.

Expensify This: Rap clichés get a pass.

The ad for the financial app Expensify told the story about a rap star’s accountant, staring 2 Chainz X and Adam Scott of “Parks and Rec” doing their typical shticks. Unfortunately, that meant all of the celebration of excessive wealth, attractive dancing women, and drugs that make up rap video clichés. (Doritos’ use of Chance the Rapper in its Super Bowl ad refreshingly avoided all that.)

Devour — Food Porn: Porn addiction as hilarious.

The frozen food company Devour’s ad shared stereotypical moments from a relationship with a man addicted to pornography: He jumps off the computer as soon as his girlfriend walks in; she tries to be sexier while he remains uninterested. It’s really funny — until you remember that it’sreallynot.

Our bodies don’t define us.

Our souls and bodies are one, and that means a lot in our lives. In the 21st century two strains of thought both accept and reject that old Catholic notion. On the plus side, they point out that we are not diminished by physical limitations. On the negative side, dangerous gender ideologies say that we are whoever we think we are. Both were hinted at Sunday night …

Toyota: Toni: A woman plays football.

To celebrate its new, bulked up RAV4 Hybrid — a combination of roughness and environmental elegance — Toyota featured Antoinette Harris, a woman who won a football scholarship to Bethany College in Kansas. This is a great celebration of beating expectations — unless it’s a troubling sign that common-sense gender distinctions are falling by the wayside.

Bumble – #InHerCourt Anthem: Serena celebrates women.

Perhaps less ambivalent is the ad that featured Serena Williams celebrating women’s changing roles. Her strong message was only partially obscured by the fact that it was for a dating app that drives people to judge others according to appearance.

Microsoft — We All Win: Kids with disabilities play video games.

Surely a favorite commercial for the night was Microsoft’s game console commercial showing how the company has created devices for disabled kids to play video games. It is indeed a beautiful story about serving children in need — almost inspiring enough to make us ignore the worry we ought to have about equipping kids for virtual life instead of real life.


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