Human orcas performing for pretzels. Chickens scared to death of Denny's Grand Slam offers. That Dorito's kids who doesn't want to share his mom, or his Dorito's--and not necessarily in that order--with mom's new suitor.

Yes, the Superbowl is the one time of the year we aren't grumbling about advertising as interruption, but looking to it for entertainment. And the advertising industry knows it, unveiling their riskiest, most expensive, and sometimes (they hope) funniest or most moving efforts for the occasion. Sometimes the ads are too hokey or even incomprehensible for words--remember the Cialis spot, with a man and woman holding hands outdoors in his and hers bathtubs?--but if they're talked about in the following days, then the agencies have done their job.

Two ads this year really caught my attention, as a woman who regularly writes about gender, the media, parenting, and relationships, for their virtually diametrically opposed representations of that timeworn but ever-engaging theme, what is going on with men and women?

The Dodge Charger spot ("Charge her!" it might as well have proclaimed) speaks to male anxiety--in babytalk. Providing a kind of catalogue of ships of the ways in which women allegedly oppress men through domestication--men flatly drone on about how they will fulfill their obligations to us, such as carrying our lipbalm, pretending to like our mothers, and taking out the trash--the spot then switches tone. The male narrator proclaims that because he does all that, he is going to drive a Dodge Charger. "And fu*k you if you don't like it. Because I carry your tampon, I mean your lipbalm," is The Subtext That Need Not Be Spoken. With a little irony, it could have been funny. Hilarious, even. But somehow it just settled at the level of a Lockhorns cartoon and got stuck there. Who knew women had so much power, or that men were so resentful of it? For women, the Dodge Charger ad begs the question, Who are the men who believe that men really feel this way? And perhaps, "Did I marry my grandfather?"

The Superbowl spots weren't all regressive caveman antics and protests. My politics and gender are showing when I note the effectiveness and beauty of the Google spot. Through Google searches that move toward a conclusion that may or may not be inevitable--from flirtation ("translate ‘tu est mignon' ") to courtship ("chocolatier, Paris") to seduction ("flights to Paris") to compromises small and profound ("job search: Paris"), the spot managed to use the skeletal elements of storytelling to convey a tale both predictable and moving, with an outcome we hoped for but weren't entirely sure would be delivered. And then, the primatively satisfying ending to the uber-high-tech, stripped-down story (spoiler alert: "how to assemble a...crib" and the first sound of the spot, a baby crying).

From locker room towel-snapping to abbreviated chick-lit for all, the Superbowl spots have, as ever, told us a story about ourselves. Not so much a story about who we are or what we want, but one about whether and how we can be moved.

 

 

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