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Super Bowl Ads & Halftime Show Shouldn’t Teach Our Kids Family Values

Categories: Sports, Television


Confession: I thought the Audi Super Bowl commercial with the high school kid kissing the prom queen was adorable. I thought everything about it was charming, from the boy’s younger sister who deflates his mom’s encouragement that don’t worry, honey, lots of people go by themselves to prom (cue Ms. Thang with the pigtails: “No they don’t”), to the utterly delighted grin on his black-eye’d face as he drives back home.

I was pretty much downright shocked to learn that many people not only didn’t find it even remotely cute or funny, they felt the ad promoted sexual assault.

For instance, as this article from Wired puts it,

The message is: gain confidence, forcibly kiss a girl, it will feel good, and she will like it. (…)  this is a dangerous message, (that) unwanted sexual contact is cool. There’s a reason the term “rape culture” exists, the theory that a culture sends messages that it’s okay to force oneself on a woman.

The Audi spot is just one of the commercials that upset parents during the Super Bowl. Go Daddy, as always, is under fire for being sexist and overly provocative. The Calvin Klein “Concept” underwear ad was described by many as too revealing. Kate Upton’s Mercedes Benz “Car Wash” spot was criticized by the Parent’s Television Council, who state that the ad “isn’t selling cars, it’s selling sexual objectification.”

Not only that, but Beyonce’s halftime show wasn’t exactly controversy-free. One commenter says the performance was inappropriate for what should have been a PG-rated event:

A lot of viewers expressed comments on other sites saying they were disgusted with Beyonce’s adult entertainment of booty grinding for what should be a FAMILY football game. It was not appropriate at all. She’s talented but save that sort of dancing for her adult concerts.

The director of communications for the Parents Publishing Council also spoke out about Beyonce’s show:

Here’s Beyonce, who has such a powerful voice, and yet she falls back on sex appeal so often. I know that a lot of people were disappointed in the halftime show, that it was too sexual for a family event.

The thing is, I guess I don’t really think of the Super Bowl as being a particularly kid-friendly television event. I know entire families tune in for the game, but the fact remains that the biggest sporting event of the year comes with the biggest televised ads of the year (to the tune of a jaw-dropping $4 million for 30 seconds this year!), and those ads are aimed at adults. Ditto the halftime show: it’s not currently intended to please the 12-and-under crowd, and it never has been.

There’s a completely valid discussion to be had about media influence and social issues, but the fact remains that we don’t all agree on the same values. I don’t personally feel that the Audi ad was offensive for me OR my kids to see, and that doesn’t make me a bad person who endorses rape. It makes me a mom whose opinions are her own. How can we possibly come up with a set of standards that will result in commercials that don’t offend a single viewer?

I don’t think it’s possible, nor do I think it’s reasonable to expect that an event like the Super Bowl is going to be completely devoid of stereotypes we don’t want our children to emulate. Hell, even football itself is becoming a wildly controversial topic among parents lately, with the emerging correlation between football-related head injuries and permanent brain damage.

Personally, I think it’s far more important to talk about our individual values at home rather than try and mold media messages to match our beliefs. While the Parents Publishing Council thinks some might be getting to a point where watching the Super Bowl as a family is no longer an option for some families, they add,

If you have older kids in the house and you want to be able to share the experience … they’re going to be more influenced by what mom and dad say than what they see on TV, ultimately. If you turn these moments into a chance to build on values, you can mitigate the negative effects of these advertisements.

Exactly. As parents, it’s our job to address these issues at home, and a good start might be to talk to your kids about how you feel about a certain ad. Or, if you prefer your kids not to see this stuff altogether … well, maybe turn off the TV when the ads — or Beyonce — makes an appearance.

What did you think about the Super Bowl ads and halftime show this year? Were you upset by anything your kids saw?

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7 comments so far...

  • It hadn’t actually crossed my mind that kids would be watching that Audi ad (or any of the Super Bowl ads). We don’t watch much (any) football in my home. But I find myself having to near-constantly talk about advertising with my kids. Little ones have a tendency to process anything as truthful information and I have to remind them that advertising is basically trying to trick people into spending money on things they generally don’t need. (Blows my kids’ minds.)

    I agree that it comes down to what our individual values are. I’m profoundly bothered by the idea of it being “brave” to kiss a girl without her express permission to do so. Or at least being her actual date. But even then, consent just isn’t something that’s depicted often in any form of media. The Audi commercial upset me on a personal level and I’m surprised to find a lot of people responding to similar reactions with (and I’m exaggerating a little here) “SO YOU’RE SAYING I’M A RAPE APOLOGIST?”

    We all bring individual experiences and histories to the experience of consuming media. For me, that commercial was mostly a reminder to try to teach my sons that a woman isn’t a prize you win for (example) driving a douchey car. I mostly wish she’d been the one to punch him.

    Maria  |  February 5th, 2013 at 1:02 pm

  • I agree with you about personal responsibility, and I don’t feel personally offended as a parent. It’s my job to teach my kid, etc etc. I agree.

    But. I think that ad taken in a larger context is problematic — or perhaps emblematic of the so-called rape culture. I do. And I think it’s funny that Beyonce and that ad are juxtaposed here, because the reactions to both are fascinating portraits of how we view the sexes.

    Beyonce is overly sexual? Bad form! Women should be covered up! (I also think there’s an element of racism here, but that’s a whole different ball of wax). But MEN! Take what you want! Go in there, kiss that girl whether she wants it or not! TAKE IT!

    And that right there is rape culture. We’re constantly being barraged with images that tell men to TAKE what they want! They deserve it! Get the confidence to just GET IN THERE AND TAKE IT. (It reminds me of that Dexter season with Johnny Lee MIller and his “TAKE IT!” tapes. But it’s also true of how our pop culture conditions men.)

    So if you believe media theory, and believe that while yes, they are “just” commercials, when taken collectively, our popular culture sends some fucked up messages to all of us, including that ad — which I’ll allow is a potentially “lite” example — and you start to see that there is a problem. And I believe that, and I get that, and I think that ad is a big part of that.

    I would like to be all, it’s JUST A COMMERCIAL, but really, when are things “just” anything? It’s just a magazine, just a television show, just a commercial, just just just. Those little things make up our whole LIVES as a whole, and while I believe I am responsible for my own parenting, I also think that collectively, we need to be aware of the impact on these things on our culture. Censoring and banning and taking regulatory steps? No. But talking about them, and being aware of the hidden messages, yes.

    As for Beyonce, she’s a brick shit HOUSE and she’s amazing and I wish I was Beyonce, the fucking end. I hate that it’s unacceptable for a woman to own her sexuality and make it part of her empire, but when a man does it (CALVIN FUCKING KLEIN), no one is chastising anyone. Fuck that.

    jonniker  |  February 5th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

  • Maria: I totally agree that it comes off as overly defensive and weird to go straight from discussing the impact of the ad to frantically waving the NOT RAPE APOLOGIST flag. I mostly included my own comment here (”that doesn’t make me a bad person who endorses rape”) because I saw a comment on Twitter yesterday that I took personally — something about people ‘ragging on the notion of rape culture.’ Maybe it wasn’t aimed at me, but I feel like there’s a huge huge HUGE difference between saying “I wasn’t offended by this particular piece of media” and “I don’t believe rape culture exists.”

    momseyeview  |  February 5th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

  • Oh, also, Linda, it was ME who said “ragging on the notion of rape culture” and it was most definitely not aimed at you. There was, as Maria noted, some pretty nasty, choice comments being thrown about, none of which were yours. I’m direct enough that I would have told you outright if I thought you said something I thought was offensive. Truly.

    jonniker  |  February 5th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

  • Jonna: OMG, those “TAKE IT!” tapes. 900000 pop culture points for that reference. :)

    momseyeview  |  February 5th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

  • It seems like there are people who just sit around WAITING to be offended. They also seem to think that they have a right to not be offended, by anything…ever. What did they think Beyonce was going to do, come out in a turtle neck and ski pants and stand stock still while she sang? I thought her outfit was fine - it had that kind of flesh colored piece down the middle that I thought was a nice touch…made it sexy but not overly revealing. And her dancing…that is sorta her thing, right?
    I never much thought of SuperBowl as being a “family” event either but I can see how someone may be concerned over what their kids are exposed to in a time slot where they are likely to be watching. However, I feel like as a parent, any time you see behavior, in real life or on TV, that you disagree with, its your opportunity to convey why that does not fit in with your family’s values. Use it as a teaching tool instead of being angry that others dont see it your way. To ask all of America to comply with your particular values is unrealistic and rediculous.
    I did not take the Audi ad the way those offended did - it did not occur to me that the message may have been “just kiss the girl without permission, it is worth it” until I read it on the internet. I guess that is just not a place my mind went with that. I can see their point now, however, and while I am not offended by the ad I am now thinking, “oooo, maybe not the best thing, Audi…perhaps someone in marketing should have thought that one through a little more”. But its done and if my son were old enough, I would simply use the ad as an example to illustrate appropriate and inappropriate behavior with a girl to him. I guess I just wish people would deal with these breaches to their value system at home instead of feeling they need to scream about it on the internet or form a committee to complain to the FCC or anyone who will (or has to) listen.

    mlegreenberg  |  February 5th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

  • I think I’m happy that I totally missed the Audi commercial. I do think Go Daddy goes too far - one of their ads was meh, and more clever than out there for them, but the other, and it was shown twice (ick!) made me want to turn off the TV (but by then the game had gotten close).
    I find it interesting that those are ok, but one of the Sodastream ads was puled because it might upset another sponsor! Whatever happened to the clever ads? That is what I was always excited to see. Even VW went for weird stereotyping instead of fun.

    Mich  |  February 6th, 2013 at 2:05 pm