This weekend was Super Bowl XLVIII (or 48 for those of you not well versed in Roman numerals). It is the biggest tradition in American football, one watched by millions of viewers every year. With all the hype surrounding Super Bowl Sunday, it’s become practically a national holiday (although a holiday on a Sunday seems rather pointless, unless fans of the losing team could get the Monday after off to mourn). In recent years, it has only grown bigger and, arguably, has tried to make itself more friendly to non-fans. The Super Bowl commercials have become a phenomenon unto themselves, with competitions held on YouTube and other sites to vote for the best one among both experts and the masses. Social gatherings that go on during The Big Game also allow those not interested in the game to still see their more obsessed friends and enjoy some snacks.
For all the non-football fans, it seems like a lot of talk for a bunch of grown men running around and slapping each other on the butt (as I’ve heard and seen it described many times). To be honest, it does seem excessive that football players get paid several million dollars for a few years of throwing a ball around and hitting each other really hard. What’s worse is when those players fail so completely at what they’re being paid obscene amounts of money to do.
As a lifelong Broncos fan, I sadly had to watch my team fail rather completely and utterly. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed that a team with such excellent regular and post-season records could fall down so badly on the job. Though not the worst loss in Super Bowl history, it comes pretty close and was far from the exciting game we all expected would take place.
But, scores aside, what’s so interesting about the Super Bowl? Why does it draw so many people, especially some who normally couldn’t care less about sports, let alone football? Unlike many other championships, there is a powerful social aspect within fooball. It draws people together at house parties, at bars, at tailgates and in other ways where sometimes it’s less about the game and more about getting together so we can enjoy each other’s company.
On the other hand, that’s not to say that people don’t gather to watch the game as well. In fact, most of the parties probably involved lots of yelling, cursing, drinking, hugging, cheering and, perhaps, even crying. Sports do seem to bring out the worst in people. Anyone who’s ever seen a sports game—professional, amateur, or practice—can tell you that. People tend to get worked up over the small details, and when it comes to the big details, players and fans alike can get downright violent. This can make watching them game with ultra-fans a bit of an off-putting experience for those who are only casually interested. Listening to someone yell at the television screen can put anyone off their chips and dip.
One redeeming feature might be the commercials, which can be touching, funny or exciting. This year, some companies released their Super Bowl commercials a week ahead of time, while others released teasers of their ads to draw interest. Car commercials seemed to be featured most prominently, with alcohol ads coming in a close second. There were times when I wasn’t even sure what a commercial was for and then a car drives around the corner with its grill emblem dramatically lit—and then suddenly it all completely makes sense.
I’m not sure how many Super Bowl fans are buying Audis or Maseratis (both companies had ads which played during the game), but it certainly says something about the culture surrounding football that car and alcohol ads make up a significant percentage of all the commercials that ran during the event, often one ad immediately following the other.
On the other hand, Coca-Cola released a unique and thought-provoking commercial. It featured people of various nationalities, genders and sexual orientations (there was even a gay, interracial couple shown) singing “America the Beautiful.” It was a beautiful ad, but it drew heavy criticism from many in the online community—think YouTube commenters and Twitterers—because it wasn’t sung in English. It started in English, with patriotic views of the country and all that, but different people then came and sang the song in different languages. It represented the diversity of the American people and it had a great message—that we, as a multifaceted nation, are beautiful. However, the negative responses showcase the racism still rampant in our society, as well how people interpret the speaking of different languages as “other” and wrong. On a more hopeful note, the overwhelming majority of people responded positively to the Coca-Cola ad, which perhaps indicates a more tolerant prevailing attitude.
The Super Bowl commercials may or may not be indicative of the average viewer. To be sure, the hardcore fans of the NFL probably do drive pickups and drink beer (Budweiser had an interesting set of ads during the game as well), but many people who watch the Super Bowl at home among friends probably don’t fit that stereotype.
The commercials are just one way in which this event has opened itself to a wider audience, which is nothing that other brands and events haven’t done before. In this case, it seems to be working. The Super Bowl has become a cultural tradition and is hardly an event reserved for sports fans anymore, if it ever was. It’s a social event that brings people together for the weekend, although those people are probably rooting for the same team.
—Lily Elbaum ’16 is a prospective independent major.