Even for those of us not from or living in the States, it is hard to avoid at least some exposure to the Super Bowl, which – this Sunday – was watched by over 114 million viewers. Due to the massive exposure, the ads shown during the Super Bowl cost companies $9 million per minute and receive almost as much commentary as the game itself. This year, however, observers noticed some different trends and themes away from the tradition of ads targeted at hegemonic masculinity.
Firstly, this year’s Super Bowl ads featured a public service announcement about domestic violence, from the organisation No More. As Caitlin Kelly of The New Yorker explains, this comes in on the heels of a year during which violence against women and exploitation were recurring issues in the news for the National Football League (NFL). Based on true stories of calls received to emergency services, the video depicts a woman’s phone call to 911 in which she pretends to be ordering a pizza so as not to alert the perpetrator that she is calling the police. The ad concludes with the message, “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.” While it’s good that such an important issue was able to receive so much coverage through a 30-second slot, the messaging is a little unclear. Is the “us” who will listen to NFL? Or the police? Or bystanders? And what, precisely, is the call to action after listening? And will this really be followed through with the implementation of more rigorous policies on violence against women within national sports leagues in the U.S.? For the latter, at least, time will most certainly tell.
In addition to raising awareness about domestic violence, however, this year’s ads also promoted ways of being a man that emphasise and value caring. An ad for men’s skin care products, for example, showed men as responsible and loving fathers and culminates in the tagline “Care makes a man stronger.” Another, for a car, depicts a father reminiscing about his daughter’s childhood as he drives her to the airport to join the army – a choice, we are told, was her own.
Of course, as Ana Swanson points out, at the end of the day these commercials – the PSA aside – are really just trying to make more money by convincing people to buy more. Yet, the fact that these companies have decided that the way they will make more money is by reaching out to a more nuanced form of masculinity, predicated on nurturing, loving and showing emotion (and spending millions of dollars on this message), may signify a broader cultural shift. And it’s a shift that we, for one, are looking forward to.