As political pundits shift through the rubble of Iowa and New Hampshire to determine where this country is heading, I contend they are looking in the wrong place. Despite record ratings for debates and high voter turnout, to the average American the battles fought out in these relatively small states are alien to their daily lives. To really understand the cultural pulse of America you need to look no further than the recently completed Super Bowl, which over 111 million Americans tuned in to watch.
First on the docket was what I call the “respect” cultural gap many African Americans feel. Leading into the Super Bowl the big story was Cam Newton’s belief that he wasn’t respected commensurate to his skills as a quarterback because he is African-American. This segued nicely into Beyoncé’s show-stopping halftime number that was more entertaining than anything Cam Newton did during the game. During the brief routine her ensemble managed to work in both a covert and overt salute to the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and the Black Lives Matter movement. As the crowd cheered wildly during her segment, I felt disheartened knowing the incendiary hate speech and at times outright violence the above-mentioned trio had in the past advocated. Given that the NFL controls the production of the halftime show as tightly as the feds control the gold in Ft. Knox, the old Howard Baker Watergate question comes to mind: What did the NFL know about the political messaging of the act, and when did it know it? Nothing is more mainstream American than the Super Bowl, so one must therefore conclude that the false meme that your average cop and/or Caucasian have it in for African Americans is now considered conventional wisdom.
Next up were the commercials, which to some are as much a part of the Super Bowl circus as the game itself. Call me a cranky curmudgeon if you like, but the advertisement that drew my ire was a social justice Colgate toothpaste commercial. In the ad Colgate nagged the viewer about running water while brushing teeth, as this will waste fresh water at a time when many in the world are desperate for it. Personally I like the good old days when Colgate worried about making better toothpaste instead of a better world. Or should I say pretend to make a better world, for there is always something transparently phony about most social justice warriors. If Colgate really wanted to help, it could have redirected the $5+ million it spent on the ad to one of the many charitable organizations that drill wells and help develop fresh water infrastructure for those in need.
But being a social justice warrior is not actually about doing good, it is about telling other people you care and how to live and expecting to get a pat on the back from society for your feelings. But, alas, Colgate’s feelings won the day, as the commercial was well received, and I assume its toothpaste is flying off the shelf. In this vein a candidate like Bernie Sanders is made for our times. Go ahead and offer free college to all on someone else’s dime or with money you don’t have. Reality doesn’t matter, but good intentions are what counts to the populace.
Lastly I’ll close with the Doritos commercial that made the pro-life movement giddy. In it, a fetus via an ultra-sound seemingly responds to a Doritos chip to the point where the baby flies out of her mother’s womb like a rocket. Disturbing visual as it was, many pro-lifers took it as a bellwether that most Americans now believe life begins at conception. I hate to throw cold water on their happiness, but the reality is Frito-Lay, the maker of Doritos, was just going for a laugh and is probably mortified that some perceived the commercial this way. As it is, I imagine the Planned Parenthoods and the NARALs of the world are already at Frito-Lay’s corporate door demanding that they join them in fighting the war on women, or they’ll declare war on Frito-Lay. Think I’m kidding? NARAL Tweeted this in response to the ad: “Transphobic & implies women OK w being objectified as long as they have snacks.”
Here’s hoping next year’s Super Bowl has more offensive touchdowns and less offensive politics.