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Super Bowl commercials Part I: Male Fantasy and feminist bitches

February 7, 2012

Over the next several days we will offer up a few critiques and some media deconstruction of ads that were featured during the 2012 Super Bowl.

The annual game has been the most watch TV day of the year for the last three decades, with an estimated cost of each commercial being $3.5 million. In addition to the cost, marketers know that the viewership has changed with the introduction of a celebrity music half-time show and the creation of Super Bowl commercial parties – which was an idea that was thought to be grassroots, when in fact it was something that the ad industry created and is now being mimicked by the public.

In today’s installment, we’ll look at body images and hyper-sexual messages that were part of several Super Bowl spots.

One company that has made it a point to use women’s bodies to brand their image is Go Daddy. These commercials are almost becoming predictable, featuring professional race car driver Danica Patrick.

This year’s Go Daddy spot was fundamentally no different that previous ads during the Super Bowl, with at least one woman naked. In this ad, Patrick is accompanied by another woman as they paint Go Daddy phrases on the body of a third woman. The usual suggestive language is used throughout the spot and the all too familiar Go Daddy jingle at the end as we are told that even more is to be revealed at Go Daddy online.

However, a commercial by Fiat robbed Go Daddy of its annual “sexist ad” status, when the car company unveiled their new ad during the Super Bowl. In this spot a nerdy looking guy is walking down the street with a latte and is stopped dead in his tracks when he sees a woman bent over in the street wearing a stunning black and red dress.

The woman sees that he is looking at her and snaps at him in Italian, saying, “What are you looking at? Were you stripping me with your eyes?However, the woman then warms up to the man, embracing him and then dipping her finger into his latte. Some of the foam drips off her finger onto her chest. She continues to talk to him in Italian saying, “Poor thing, You could do no less. Did it make your heart skip a beat? Did it make you dizzy? You’ll be lost thinking of that sensation forever.” She then leans in as if to kiss the man and all of a sudden he wakes up and the Fiat Abarth is parked in the street where he first saw the woman. Essentially Fiat is using male fantasy as a means of selling their new car. Indeed, Fiat refers to this commercial as Seduction.

Another interesting commercial that dealt with body image and sexual content was an M&M spot. A female M&M character is talking with two woman, while two men look on. The men are laughing and the M&M character asks the women why they are laughing. One of the women says, “They think you are naked.” The female M&M character explains that her outer coating is chocolate colored and she then shames the men who walk away in embarrassment.

Up to this point the add could be viewed as empowering for women, since all the female characters in the spot seem disgusted with the behavior of men, plus the female M&M character calls out the adolescent male behavior. Unfortunately, the ad doesn’t end there. A male M&M character moves the audience back into a silly mood when he takes his outer coating off thinking the female character is nude. This is all accompanied by the male M&M character dancing and music blaring in the background. The female M&M character continues to look disgusted at the end of the spot, but the “humorous” component of the spot shifts the focus away from women’s confidence and onto the “guy acting silly.”

Of course, we can’t forget the H&M commercial featuring soccer legend David Beckham. In this spot Beckham is only wearing his underwear, while the camera moves up and down his body, while we hear the song Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, sung by the Animals.

I think the spot is problematic on two levels. First, it presents a body image of men that most men simply will never achieve. This beauty standard for men in media certainly can impact how men see themselves and it might also influence what women are attracted to, by normalizing the 6-pack ab body.

However, the more devastating aspect of the ad is that it gives some men fuel to say that men and women’s bodies are being equally exploited in media, so women should just shut up and stop complaining about it. In fact, this comment and many more explicit are all over the blogosphere and on youtube, where men are complaining about “feminists” and “bitches.”

The problem with such observations is that just because a man’s body is being used to sell a product, doesn’t mean there is parity in regards to the larger social consequences of this kind of objectification. Men are not being sexually assaulted by women every 6 seconds in this country and men are not suffering from some form of eating disorder at the astronomical rates that women are because of the gender norms that have been imposed on society. Men who want to say, “we are now even,” because of the David Beckham ad just don’t want to acknowledge the tremendous privilege they have.

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