What's a Super Bowl without a litany of reminders that men are either pathetically emasculated or indifferent boors, that women are either ballbusters or are getting knocked down?
Still, this year's crop was marked by being less than — less prominently misogynistic (maybe marketers were listening); when, very occasionally, heart-stirring, much less so; when surprising, almost not at all. Only the Little Vader/Volkswagen ad managed to be sweet, surprisingly — and, as it happened, gender neutral. Let's survey the damage.
The Fear That Soft Drinks — And Ladies — Will Cut Off Your Balls
Super Bowl ads tend to care so little about women beyond summoning a one-dimensional hotness that really the worst off are the men — henpecked, desperate office drones, or just plain slobbering. (If this is "intimacy," I choose lifelessness.)
Usually, Bud Light is a major offender on this front, but they were wildly overshadowed by the three incidents of Pepsi Max fail. The first spot, above, managed to combine the time-honored meme of a ball-and-chain wife, the perennial Super Bowl sight gag of slapping around women, and angry black woman stereotypes. Efficient! There was also the persuasive theory that this hamburger-robbing bitch was a stand-in for our very own anti-obesity First Lady. Also in the department of robustly compensating for the unmanly association of a low-calorie drink: Eminem's first ad, sulkily claiming that he only sells out if there are hot chicks.
See, too, this subsequent PepsiMax ad. Women overthink things, are golddiggers; men can barely string a sentence together.
The oddest thing about all this, of course, is that the vast majority of ad-makers are men. What low opinions they have of themselves and their capacity for human connection.
This is why the most wickedly accurate ad last night was the Chevy Camaro ad with the voiceover made to sound like two ad guys brainstorming. Let's have a chick! A hot blonde! No, a redhead! And there you have it, the formula, rejiggered, year after year.
Hot Chicks Are Hot
Speaking of which. The Teleflora ad where all a man can summon about his girlfriend is the niceness of her rack was a variation on the theme: Men are barely-literate cavemen; women have feelings. And boobs.
GoDaddy fancied itself subversive by adding Joan Rivers to its lineup of arbitrarily sexed-up women selling... a domain-name company. This was relatively okay, except for the exaggerated expressions of gross-out that reverberated throughout the Twittersphere. Still, snarking on her own looks, combined with insecure vanity, has always been part of Rivers' schtick.
This is the fuller version of the Kardashian sex-tape innuendo sneaker commercial. The only thing that can be said about this ad is that apart from it, the night featured relatively little cheesecake. A vacuum left by the absence of Victoria's Secret, maybe.
I'm Not Gay, Dude, But...
Surely I'm not the only one who saw homoeroticism in this ad. Then again, it was Judd Apatow's favorite ad, so...
In this Living Social ad, a man dressing in women's clothing or exhibiting traditionally feminine behavior is clearly supposed to be laughed at, but on the other hand, it's not exactly frowned upon and is lightly billed as a selling point. Undecided on this one, but it's clear that it's positively progressive compared to Groupon's widely-loathed Tibet fail.
And The High Note
Really, the only ad we actually liked last night was Volkswagen's Darth Vader ad. It took place in a child's imaginary world at the same time that we saw affectionate parents both stepping back and indulging the fantasy. Plus, it was gender-neutral in appearance — leaving aside the admaker's intentions or the gender of the child under the Darth Vader costume, anyone could believe that the pink room was the child's, or wasn't. What mattered was that trick of childlike wonder and surprise, and no one got hurt.