Super Bowl

Super Bowl Ads: One Long Sugar High

Commercials on TV. Image courtesy tele52/shutterstock.com.

Commercials on TV. Image courtesy tele52/shutterstock.com.

Most years, Super Bowl commercials are noted for their humor, violence, oversexualization, or some combination of the three. And this year had its fair share of those combinations. But in a year that saw the NFL struggle with issues of domestic violence, homophobia, and franchised racism, many commercials took a different tone. And it was those commercials that have created the most discussion this year.

Coca Cola told us that "the world is what we make it" and envisioned a world without arguments or bullying.

Dove and Nissan both addressed the challenge and responsibility of fatherhood.

Always directly challenged implicit and entrenched gender bias and stereotype, ending on an empowering note of the strength of women.

And NO MORE moved us with a stark reminder of the horrors of domestic violence that are suffered in silence and isolation.

These companies must have done extensive research and testing — expending a lot of time, energy, and resources — into what consumers value and want from a product or experience. And what they found was obvious. People want happiness, family, love, relationships, and community.

The problem is that you can’t connect to them by switching your cellphone provider. You can’t find them by eating chips or drinking beer. And you won’t arrive at them in the driver’s seat of an SUV.

These commercials expose what we all really crave — and none of the companies who invested in Super Bowl commercials are selling it.

'Nuns on the Underground Railroad'

The way forward railway. Photo via hxdyl / Shutterstock.com

While some people may have heard of the great work of Nuns on the Bus to engage people on pressing social issues, there’s also the “Nuns on the Underground Railroad”—a quiet movement of nuns working together to restore dignity and healing for victims of labor and sex trafficking across the nation and the world...

For several years now, Catholic nuns have been proactive in preventing sex trafficking before, during, and after major sporting events like the Super Bowl by raising public awareness and conducting personal visits to hotels to alert them to the signs of human trafficking. Nuns have also placed full-page ads in airline magazines to educate the public about the dangers of child trafficking.

A fundamental theological and scriptural principle for Christians is that each human person is made in the image and likeness of God. This belief in the imago Dei helps us to see the face of God even when the person doubts her own beauty and worth because of oppression. “Nuns on the Underground Railroad” seeks to restore a person’s sense of dignity and beauty through two rails of freedom: healing through programs and shelters and empowerment through education and employment.

As we move toward the Lenten season, the prophet Isaiah reminds us: "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6)

How is God moving your heart as you awaken to the stories of human trafficking victims? What action can you take for your enslaved sister and brother? What will you bring to your faith community to stir up concern? One single action to educate others and liberate the oppressed strengthens freedom throughout the world. As our mission affirms, “Ending slavery is everyone’s work.”

The Super Bowl and the Church in a Culture of Dominance

Photo via Eugene Onischenko / Shutterstock.com

Americans enjoy football because, to a degree, football reflects the values of strength, courage, strategy, self-discipline, teamwork, and celebrity that American culture holds dear. It’s also refreshing to watch someone else get crushed by a 260-pound linebacker after you’ve had a lousy week at work.

The problem develops when we let football (or other sports, or a military, or corporations, or other forces) define strength in terms of dominance.

I’m not trying to dump on football. I’m noting that it’s a game largely devoted to imposing one’s will on another. That competitive value can be fine on a field, but when it seeps into our society, neighborhoods, and families we should be wary.

Because when dominance is the name of the game, there will be victims.

The Super Bowl might prompt us to consider the hazards of an ethos in which rewards go to those who say “We take what we want” and follow through on it.

Social Justice Pick-Up Lines

I didn’t expect to get hit on during Super Bowl XLVIII.

I mean, I was expecting the usual stuff — the testosterone-fueled web hosting pitch, the adorable animals selling beer – but this was shameless. Someone really did their homework, because company after company turned up with things I like to hear: healthy families; cute biracial kids; a nation of immigrants; a thriving main street; victory for the marginalized; solving the world’s most pressing social ills. Check, check-check.

Progressive values, you are currently the it-girl for advertisement pickup artists. Enjoy it?

I, for one, do not.

Don’t get me wrong, commercials that celebrate our society as diverse and affirming are far more appealing than the advertising tropes we’re used to. But they also veil or flat-out misrepresent the structures and practices of the companies telling them. Without a significant shift towards justice on the part of these companies themselves, their social good stories shouldn’t charm us — they probably should leave us with a bad taste in our mouths.

Between Repression and Freedom

Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich / Via RNS

I stopped drinking Coca Cola years ago — not in protest but in a bid for health. But I want to applaud their presenting "America the Beautiful" sung in seven languages.

In a 60-second Super Bowl ad, and now a 90-second version at the bizarre Sochi Winter Olympics, the soft drink company showed people of different ethnic backgrounds singing in English and six other languages.

I found it charming and warming. It spoke eloquently to the America that I know today — and the America that my ancestors knew when they arrived many years ago speaking German and Norwegian.

For God, Country, and Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial screenshot

Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial screenshot

The highlight of the Super Bowl for me was Coca-Cola’s "America is Beautiful" commercial. The images of the American landscape are amazing and the song was beautiful. At first I was a bit confused by the different languages singing "America the Beautiful" (I’m slow…), but I caught on about halfway through. When the commercial ended, I looked over at my wife and said, “Wow. That was beautiful … Not worth four million dollars, but that was good.”

For the moment, let’s deal with any cynicism that the Coca-Cola Company is simply trying to sell us their product. Of course they’re trying to sell us their product; that’s why they spent millions on their ad, but along the way, Coke pointed to the reason that I love the United States. I love my country because it is a nation that welcomes the “Other.” Indeed, we haven’t always been good at this, and we still struggle with it, but the United States is a nation of immigrants. Even Native Americans, who have tragically been excluded from the land they’ve lived on for thousands of years, were originally immigrants who were welcomed by this land. This land has a long history of welcoming people into it, and so any act of excluding immigrants goes against its ideal of welcoming the “Other.”

5 Points About the SodaStream-Oxfam Dust-up

Scarlett Johansson during the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. Photo courtesy of GabboT, via Wikimedia Commons/ via RNS

In the run-up to the Super Bowl, advertisers work hard to get their money’s worth, even before their spot has run. They leak teasers and hype the stars who will appear in them. If they can find a way, they generate controversy.

This year, SodaStream is already the big winner in the controversy category. One of the dust-ups surrounds a tug of war between SodaStream and Oxfam International over Scarlett Johansson, who recently accepted a role with the carbonation company and will appear in its Super Bowl ad.

On Wednesday, Johansson resigned her eight-year-long goodwill ambassadorship with Oxfam, citing a "fundamental difference of opinion."

On Scripture: Enjoy the Super Bowl; Be Suspicious of Its Values

Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

Football player in a tunnel, Brocreative / Shutterstock.com

If the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl comes down to the game’s final play, and you find yourself inclined to ask Jesus to help your favorite team win, remember: It’s quite possible he doesn’t know squat about tackle football.

At least, when we read the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:1-12), it seems his values are light years away from the confident and muscular ethos that football teams rely on for success. He directs attention in this passage toward the weak, powerless, and vulnerable elements of humanity. Consider these some of the groups he embraces:

  • The poor in spirit : referring either to humble people or to those who are broken and have lost hope.
  • Those who mourn : those who suffer loss and the feeling of emptiness that follows.
  • The meek : those who are gentle and unobtrusive, who refuse to use power over others as a tool to make things happen.
  • The merciful : people who willingly surrender their privileges or otherwise go out of their way to improve others’ well being.
  • Those who are persecuted : people whose refusal to give up their quest for truth or virtuousness results in the taking away of their rights, wholeness, or dignity.

Careful, Jesus, or you’ll get blamed for contributing to the wussification of America .

The kinds of people Jesus highlights tend to dwell beneath society’s radar. They often stay out, or are kept out, of public view. They possess little power. Most of us can find no good reason for aspiring to join these groups.

Eye-opening numbers about the Super Bowl … and how they stack up against other things going on in America.

Watching Super Bowl Ads with the Little Prince: From Delusion to Freedom

By Nicholas Wang, derivative work by Poke2001, via Wikimedia Commons

By Nicholas Wang, derivative work by Poke2001, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s an absurd character in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who reveals more about our capacity for self-delusion than we might want to admit. He’s called the King and when it comes to desire, he is as deluded about his own power as we are about ours. The King’s delusion is this: he believes that the movements of the sun, moon, and stars are the result of his commands. That’s right – the sun rises and sets because the King commands it to be so. Our delusion is nearly identical: we believe that we are the source of our desires, that they arise and fall at our command. Because of our shared delusions, we and the King are quite out of touch with reality. Remarkably, the cure for us is also the same – spending some quality time with the Little Prince.

Where Are the Referees?

Referee on the field, Peter Kim / Shutterstock.com

Referee on the field, Peter Kim / Shutterstock.com

First, without referees (judges, umpires, arbiters, monitors), much of life would be a chaotic ordeal dominated by cheats, bullies, and dirty players. That’s why dictators refuse to allow election monitors, corrupt politicians defame the media who report their corruption, and bankers lobby incessantly against regulators.

Second, even with referees, action moves too fast for certainty. In baseball, even the most skilled umpires miss calls at first and enforce idiosyncratic strike zones.

Third, even-handed justice requires trust in the referee and a belief that missed calls tend to even out over time. If the referee is a cheat — as happens frequently when regulators get paid off by the regulated — trust in the game vanishes, and no one feels safe.

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