Small Gains, Big Wins: A Feminist Watches the Super Bowl


For me, this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t about the commercials. It was about the Seattle Seahawks, my hometown team with all hope and city pride on the line. The game, for many of the 115 million viewers that tuned in to the most-watched television broadcast of all time (let that sink in for a second), turned dull before Bruno Mars and his drum set teleported to the stage. Personally I’ll take a landslide full of high-fives over anxiety any day, but I can understand the rest of the country’s frustration. So after The Safety of No Return, what was left?

Curiously, this wasn’t a year packed with the typical advertising fireworks that have become as synonymous with the NFL championship as environmentally reprehensible chicken wings and domestic beer. Nothing as sexy-showy as Britney Spears “singing” through the decades for a Pepsi, no cringe-worthy makeout sessions in the name of GoDaddy, and nothing quite as touching as last year’s Dodge Ram commercial set to Paul Harvey’s speech.

This morning, the best-of lists are out, citing your typical low-key, crowd-pleasing favorites. The Budweiser Clydesdale making friends with a rescue puppy trends toward the top, and yes, the tear in the corner of my eye didn’t escape my husband’s notice. But I shed the same tear every year, because they have the formula down to a cynical Don Draper-like perfection. Radio Shack’s self-aware 80’s commercial employed the fail-safe nostalgia card, to great success. People seemed to love the Muppets commercial, even though it just made me depressed to see Jim Henson’s creations reduced to selling Toyotas. But then Bob Dylan was shilling Chryslers, so apparently shamelessness is in season for spring.

What I’ll actually remember for a few days, rather than the uberhyped Full House yogurt spot or the stupid bull being dropped into a heifer harem (what was that even for?), were the smaller, quieter moments. The Coca-Cola “America the Beautiful” commercial may have stoked the far right’s ire by daring to sing the song in (gasp!) other languages. I’m sure they’ll find their way back to Coke and Girl Scout cookies eventually, though. Lord willing. The multi-lingual anthem was lovely, but my favorite moment was the quick shot of a young girl skating with her two fathers, who share an embrace. It’s not a lingering moment—it flashes past just as quickly and naturally as the footage of red rock canyons, Hawaiian surf and women ordering street food in New York. In this high-profile ad for arguably the most iconic American brand, a same-sex couple isn’t hidden or overly exposed. They’re woven in to the tapestry that is our country’s makeup.

Another small triumph for tolerance and general happiness was the return of the Cheerios interracial family. You may remember them from last year, when in 2013, the sight of a white woman and a black man eating cereal in their home with their daughter caused a Jim Crow-era flare up of racism. Instead of quietly letting the family disappear or issuing bigotry an apology, Cheerios put them back up, right in the motherfucking Super Bowl, where Dad explained that they were bringing ANOTHER INTERRACIAL CHILD INTO THE UNIVERSE. BOOM, HATERS.

And finally, in what has to be the most subversive ad of the night, Intuit ran an ad from a company called GoldieBlox that won its small business contest. The winner got to run an advertisement of their design in the most coveted television slot in the country. We were introduced to GoldieBloxa company that creates toys with the mission of inspiring young girls to become engineers. If that isn’t rock star badass amazing enough, watching their ad made my jaw slack: a pack of grade-school girls round up their patriarchal pastel playthings and launch them off to the moon in a spaceship of their own design. They cast off tiaras, dump out Barbies, run past their male peers singing about making noise. It’s a natural instinct, as we saw this week when little Charlotte Benjamin’s letter to the Lego corporation on the company’s inherent sexism went viral. But it’s something we’re rarely allowed to see unfold, especially in the machismo stage that is Super Bowl Sunday.

Instead of depression and anger over the onslaught of sexism and misogyny, I watched the Lombardi Trophy ceremony with a sense of optimism. Maybe, despite the bad news and bullshit we see so often, we’re nudging in the right direction. Little girls are asking the right questions, the idea of normal is expanding, Seattle can bring home a championship. The times, they are a’changin… Say, wanna buy a Chrysler?

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