Everyone has a pick for the worst advertisement from an utterly dismal crop of Super Bowl 2015 ads. The sense of gloom and dismay hanging over much of the advertising was so strong that even casual viewers took to social media to wonder what the hell was going on. There are always some outside-the-box ads that should have stayed in the box, of course, but even the misguided spots are usually good for a chuckle. This year, the ads delivered more downs than the Seahawks.
It’s tough to beat the most popular choice of least popular ad, the utterly bizarre dead-boy Nationwide spot, but at least that one was hilariously misguided. Some high-quality black humor has been mined from that commercial.
The most counterproductive spot was probably Nissan’s “Cat’s In the Cradle” ad, which told the story of an absentee race-car driver father reconnecting with his young son… apparently through the mere act of appearing behind the wheel of a shiny new Nissan. Plenty of advertisements seek to build an emotional response to the brand, rather than touting the features of the product in question, but this one seemed strangely obsessed with creating a negative emotional space and stranding Nissan in the middle of it. It seemed as if the ad’s designers didn’t actually listen to the lyrics of the song they chose.
Then we have the “Like a Girl” ad from Always feminine products, which is meant to send a message of empowerment, but comes off like a bit too much scolding directed at language that most people don’t find all that limiting or insulting:
It’s a more controversial choice of bad ad, because many have lavished praise upon its forward-thinking feminist can-do message. It’s certainly better at building positive energy for the product, and more directly related to the product itself, than Nationwide’s horror show or Nissan’s melodrama of paternal estrangement. Surely most of us can agree that the overt message of the “Like a Girl” spot is fair enough: female athletes should not be discouraged, or their achievements disparaged. It would be a stretch to call anything going on in the Always spot “offensive.” If it fills the target audience with good feelings about the company and its products, then Mission Accomplished.
But still: are we now supposed to retroactively erase the meaning of phrases such as “throw like a girl” or “fight like a girl” from our collective consciousness? The ad is premised on the idea that such phrases are absurd to the point of having no basis in reality; the first segment mocks people who perform exaggerated mincing pantomimes when asked to demonstrate what “running like a girl” would look like. Of course that’s not even remotely how female athletes move.
However, I would guess that most women who are not inclined to athletics know perfectly well what throwing, running, or fighting “like a girl” means, and consider the expressions amusing, not demeaning. Sometimes they speak of fighting like a girl with pride. It’s stereotype humor, not a brutal attempt by The Patriarchy to keep women down by emotionally abusing them until they give up on sports. Is there supposed to be something wrong with being a “girly-girl” now?
Our cultural overlords certain do seem to think there’s something wrong with being a boy, particularly of the young and rambunctious variety. If there’s anyone out there looking to use “you throw like a girl!” as an insult to intimidate people out of playing baseball, it’s grade-school boys. They have a habit of exploring the world by insulting everything, and making note of what refuses to wither beneath their scorn.
The oddest thing about this defiant pushback against using “like a girl” as an epithet is that it’s most commonly employed as an epithet against boys. When boys tell a young girl she throws like a girl, the most likely response falls along the lines of “well, duh!” Boys needle each other with this kind of language. Sure, the implication is that throwing, running, or fighting like a girl is inferior, but that’s not really meant as an insult to women. Young boys have an entirely different arsenal of insults stockpiled for them.
We’re supposed to view men and women as interchangeable now, even in the midst of a uniquely male sporting event. Our national sense of humor grows ever more strained. And we can’t enjoy anything without various activists wanting a crack at our headspace – there’s no way something as big as the Super Bowl can be allowed to pass without plenty of consciousness-raising. Taken as a group, the Super Bowl ads tell a story of a distressingly anxious nation, perpetually on guard against insult and injury.