Selecting the most loathsome Super Bowl ad is surprisingly difficult this year. Perhaps it was Indeed, telling the unemployed masses that the key to finding a job in the midst of a global pandemic and economic depression is just some good old-fashioned gusto—and downloading the Indeed app, of course. Or maybe it was Uber Eats, denigrating the memories of Wayne and Garth and imploring us to eat local, while taking a 30-percent delivery fee.
The Super Bowl is always a nauseating corporate orgy, but this year, the spectacle felt like an utter slap in the face. The affair began with 25,000 people in Raymond James Stadium applauding front-line healthcare workers, and ended with swarms of humanity crowding onto the field. In between, brands issued insultingly vacuous calls for unity and The Weeknd got stuck in a box during his dizzying halftime performance.
But hey, at least Tom Brady won. That’s something new.
It is downright disturbing to see brands trying to capitalize off the worst time in modern history. Ford was the only company that referenced the pandemic in its $5 million spot, showing images of medical professionals decked out in PPE and scores of masked civilians, rallying the masses to “#FinishStrong.”
Ah, yes, because all we need to get through Month No. 11 of quarantine hell is a new hashtag from a car company.
Or, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, we need to “meet in the middle.” The rock icon who’s spent his entire career standing up for working people shilled for Jeep, trekking through the wintry heartland and begging the nation to come together—at a church in Lebanon, Kansas.
“It’s no secret: the middle has been a hard place to get to lately,” Springsteen blares in a deep baritone. “We need the middle. We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground.”
Oh, and there was that whole Capitol Insurrection thing as well.
The most enraging part of last night’s festivities was the prevailing message that our current hellscape is just a temporary setback—like blowing out a tire on a drive to the middle. Bud Light Seltzer showed maskless people at huge gatherings lamenting our “lemon of a year”; a Guinness ad starring Joe Montana featured images of people drinking in crowded bars. It’s almost as if the brands were taunting us.
Even worse, several commercials disgustingly embraced our new dystopian normal, where automation and apps rule the world. How else would you interpret Big Bird, synonymous with noncommercial television, touting DoorDash?
At the onset of the pandemic, it was considered crude for companies to overtly profit from the quarantine. But the capitalistic machine doesn’t provide much space for tact. Now, seemingly every major consumer brand is embracing our permanent semi-lockdown state, flaunting contactless delivery and sanitization efforts born from Hygiene Theater. There is an emerging sector of our economy based entirely around COVID-19, with companies like Quest Diagnostics (the people who charge you for those STI anal swabs) planning to produce millions of PCR tests this year, the Wall Street Journal reports.
We may have death and starvation across the country, but consumerism must continue. To kick off the telecast, longtime broadcaster Jim Nantz (a man who carries around a picture of burnt toast in his wallet) told us it’s been a challenging year, but for the next three hours, it was time to sit back and “enjoy the football.”
One wonders whether the 8 million Americans who have descended into poverty heeded his advice.
Above all else, the Super Bowl was supposed to suspend our disbelief. The packed stadium looked normal and we saw the same goofy beer commercials—all filled with people socializing in pre-pandemic fashion. The presentation made it seem like the last year has been a fever dream, placing the onus on all of us to just snap out of it, and guffaw at Dan Levy eating M&M’s.
Sorry, but no. We are not sheep, regardless of what our Brand Overlords may think.
What Super Bowl spot felt most tone deaf to you? Sound off in the comments below.
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