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Brand new game
February 10, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
Few of us believed the Saints would actually come marching in on Sunday, so as a fallback measure I tuned in to watch the ads.
Checking out the Super Bowl commercials is an annual tradition in this column. It dates back long before the mainstream media noticed that the ads were usually better than the game … or, rather, were the game, being played out for the hearts and minds — not to mention the spending habits — of those millions of viewers.
For me, the ads have provided an annual snapshot, or maybe time-lapse photo, of what might be called Guy-ness. Chips, beer, girls in bikinis, pickup tracks, dinosaurs, aliens, reckless driving, Clydesdales, other animals who are smarter than guys (like that violin-playing beaver) have been recurrent themes, year after year.
There were always new wrinkles, like online start-up businesses you hadn’t heard of, or the ads where you could never figure out what was being advertised. But the commercials were always a sociological gold mine — at least for the segment of society that relies on testosterone rather than the brain to actually do its thinking.
More than a decade ago, the TV networks started giving Super Bowl ads major coverage as business news. Now, thanks to a variety of online sites, you can ignore the game entirely; the ads are a show all by themselves. The Monday morning quarterbacking falls not to sportscasters but to ad consultants.
No matter who’s providing the play-by-play, Guy-ness wasn’t looking too great last Sunday. Betty White emerged as the Super Bowl poster girl. Following George Clooney’s leering remarks about Betty at the Golden Globes, guys seem to be marching south on the maturity map. We want our grandma! is the message.
Analysts Monday noted the ads were chauvinistic toward women. Well, duh … and just what is Go Daddy.com anyway? But there was flagrant guy bashing, too. Not only did several fellas forget to put their pants on in their ads, but toddlers in diapers were more articulate than grown-up males most of the time. Monster.com made its sales pitch directly to henpecked husbands.
Pregame controversy had swirled around a “Blind Side”-like ad with Tim Tebow and his mom for the conservative Focus on The Family. There was also a flap about a commercial for the ManCrunch.com gay-dating service that had been rejected by CBS.
But it turned out that the most incriminating messages were the ones nobody noticed, sponsored by the most familiar household brand names.
Take all the portrayals of guys as helpless addicts when under the influence of Doritos, for example. Or consider the possibility that the highest achievement of mankind is to build a house entirely out of Bud Light beer cans.
My favorite spot was titled “Green Police.” It showed cops manhandling guys for taking plastic over paper in the checkout line, or installing old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs in their homes. It looked like Rush Limbaugh’s nightmare of a world ruled by Al Gore, but turned out to be an ad for Audi.
For all the disturbing data in the ads, this proved to be the rare year when the game was the story —and the game was nothing but good.
Having come to the Saints late (not until they won the playoffs, actually), I can’t claim to be much of a fan. But how could you root against them?
Underdogs are one thing; the Saints had spent decades being under that. They were the Ain’ts, whose fans wore paper bags over the heads in shame. Their evolution to Who Dat? was an uplifting tale of empowerment, “The Blind Side” times 11, but still not enough to make many folks think they would actually win the game.
They won because they outplayed, out-coached, out-finessed and out-wanted their favored opponents. They won because they had more than a trophy on the line. Their stadium had been a disaster center. Their city had almost drowned.
They played for something bigger than themselves, a city that needed a victory, not for glory, but the way a seriously ill patient needs life-saving medicine.
The Super Bowl win did all that. And it didn’t end with the game. It brought David Letterman and Jay Leno together on the same couch. It gave CBS the biggest viewership in TV history.
It even brought New Orleans fans Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie out for a show of affection after weeks of domestic strife on the tabloid covers.
Talk about happy endings. The miracles just keep coming.
Hey, they’re not called the Saints for nothing.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.
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