If you’re an American right now—regardless of your political beliefs—we think it’s pretty safe to assume that the past few months have been strange. Different. Maybe you celebrated. Maybe you cried. Perhaps you felt that your voice would finally be heard in the halls of power. Perhaps you feared that your voice would be silenced.
We don’t doubt that there might be people who read that first paragraph and feel as if we cheapened what has happened to our country since election day. Some might say that it hasn’t been “strange”—it’s been a revolution. Some might say that it hasn’t been “different”—it’s been (to use a less politically-charged “d” word) disastrous.
We’re aware that trying to take a middle-of-the-road approach can be perceived as waffling; as not having any real beliefs. While we personally feel that this perception is actually the result of various forces which seek to divide us each and every day (by our politicians, by the media), we’re willing to admit that in certain circumstances, that may be true.
But in terms of starting a dialogue, it’s often the best place to begin.
While we aren’t as well-informed as we probably should be, to us it seems that what has happened in America these past few months is not unique. The sentiments, opinions, and Tweets that highlighted our recent election—some of which were ugly, and were occasionally met with ugly responses—appear to be present (if not as pronounced) in many other countries spanning the globe.
Neither of us want to turn this into a political piece, in large part because, in this current climate, to do so would only serve to re-affirm half our readers’ beliefs and alienate the other half. So we’re going to try and focus on something which, at least in theory, has the potential to draw people together.
That would be sports.
Sports are a magical thing. We’re aware that not everyone watches American football, but most people can watch and enjoy a sport of some kind. American football just happens to be the most popular American sport. And the Super Bowl (outside of large political events) is the most-watched event in the United States.
The reason sports are magical is because they have the capacity to draw people together. Win or lose, we feel pride in the teams we root for; we watch games with loved ones and friends. We bond over victories, we hug each other in defeat, and (in certain poorly-thought-out circumstances) we propose on jumbotrons at half time.
In case you didn’t see the game, it was incredible. Tom Brady brought the Patriots back to send the game into the first-ever overtime of any Super Bowl. They scored on their first drive and won the game.
If you didn’t see the game, you most likely saw some of the commercials—and that’s really the point of this piece.
Many of the commercials touched on several key themes not only of this most recent election, but of the very fabric that most Americans believe defines us. Perhaps most striking was the treatment of immigration.
Now, we believe that companies should be socially-conscious. Like it or not, they hold a tremendous amount of power in America: not just with their money, but with their capacity to influence consumers, politicians, and other businesses. With great power comes great responsibility, and we believe (since, according to our judiciary, they are “people”) they not only have the right, but a duty, to act as positive forces for societal change.
We just don’t think they should use commercials at the Super Bowl to effectuate that change. Why? Because the purpose of commercials is to sell stuff. Some might argue that it’s a monumental platform for companies to bring to light issues that are important to Americans. It certainly is a monumental platform—that’s why they’re advertising—but even the most well-meaning advertisement cannot escape the basis of its purpose: to sell a company’s goods/products/services.
To both of us, watching these commercials, we felt profoundly uneasy. These companies were taking key themes of America—freedom, opportunity, love, compassion, and togetherness—and using them to sell…beer? lumber? soda? It seems to us the worst prostitution of American values possible. At best it’s a philanthropist standing up at a gala and shouting: “Look at all the money I just donated to this cause! Aren’t I wonderful?” At worst it’s some bald white dude in a dark office diving into piles of gold coins a la Scrooge McDuck.
Again, we know there will be some who read this and say: But they’re bringing attention to important issues! or They’re opening a dialogue about what makes America, America. Again, we would reply that companies should be socially-conscious, and should work to bring important issues to light. But they should not do so by making commercials, the ultimate purpose of which is to bring brand recognition and profits. They should show it in their business practices. They should be environmentally conscious, they should refuse to transact with companies that use child labor or other unfair and unconscionable business practices. They should set up charities, or programs to help out any number of causes this country desperately needs help with. They should use their resources as a platform to lobby our government. With these methods, they can more practically effectuate change without utilizing the cherished pieces of our nation to sell themselves.
We don’t doubt that many of the advertisers and the companies that hired them felt that they were doing the right thing. But we can’t escape what should be obvious: that no company should ever, ever take the ideals that we as a people hold so close to our hearts, the ideals that countless men and women have fought and bled and died for, and use them to sell their products. To sell their image. To sell their morality.
That only serves to cheapen. It’s an attempt to make tangible what is intangible. It threatens to tarnish those pure and beautiful aspects that make our country what it is.
And to us, that’s inexcusable.
W & W Sawday