Remember when Super Bowl ads were about beer-drinking frogs? Of course, the Super Bowl has also regularly been the setting for controversy, commercials included. But one ad stood out last night for a different reason. It was a real head-scratcher. But, I thought about it, and I think that it was a blessing in disguise. We'll be back in a minute with the full story…
Super Bowl ads are an interesting tradition. For many Americans, they're the main event. They become a competition of their own, full of upsets and controversies. But, normally, they are from companies like Doritos or Carl's Jr. or Chrysler, with a few non-profit organizations peppered in and maybe an unexpected movie trailer.
So it was a bit strange to see the Washington Post pop onto the screen with an ad. It is confusing for a few reasons. First of all, why the Super Bowl? For a moment there, it felt like journalism was jumping the shark. Only instead of trying to entertain us, they were trying to remind all of us of own mortality.
Then there was the narrator — well, if you didn't see it last night, here it is:
Washington Post 2019 Super Bowl Commercial youtu.be
But, the more I thought about it, the less I disliked the ad. Maybe the ad was a good thing.
William Gamson, in Talking Politics, describes "The process of negotiating meaning." The idea is that, yes, the media regularly tries to construct a dangerous reality. And we need to be aware of that, but it's also up to us on how we react. Maybe we've gotten to the point that we're all trained to be reactionary. That's risky. What happens if we reject an honest surrender?
For one, the Washington Post did report on the NFL's decision to reject an ad from AMVETS, a group of American Veterans, because it was a "political statement," despite the fact that the NFL has flocked to a number of left-leaning social justice causes and, well, I'm sure you remember, the NFL got pretty political there for a while.
Most outlets are reporting on the fact that the Washington Post dropped $5.2 million on the commercial. For the most part, that's been the headline, especially with last week's lay-offs at many of the former pioneers of new media.
Sure, it was heavy-handed and a little preachy, but there was also an element of it that felt good.
Maybe that kind of knee-jerk reaction is worse than anything in the ad. Sure, it was heavy-handed and a little preachy, but there was also an element of it that felt good. A little reminder that, in America, our press is free, unattached from the government. Newspapers are businesses. Jeff Bezos must be doing something right if he can drop that much on a Super Bowl ad.
They even had a conservative on there.
Maya Angelou once said:
Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.
Who knows. Maybe the Washington Post showed a little courage last night. Maybe there was an olive branch there. And, if that wasn't the case, what do we lose by extending an olive branch of our own? In times like these, that in itself is an act of courage.