This is the second of several posts dealing with 2020 Super Bowl ads. Here is the first post, in which I present an overview, including some background on viewership, the influence of woke and a framework for evaluating the whole of the 2020 Super Bowl advertisement ecosphere.
I closed the post with a review of some of the themes that emerged from viewing all of the ads. One of the key themes: who are the cool kids? I will elaborate on that theme here.
A lot of the ads focus on cool. The cool kids have shared attributes. With a few exceptions (see below) they are young, attractive and sexy.
No surprise there–this is advertising, after all. But if one is going to make arguments about representativeness it is only fair to say that the young, attractive and sexy are way over-represented. That is not a brief for adding in the old, unattractive or repulsive in proportion to their numbers in the population. But there are many ways to present people and issues in a positive light. Athleticism can be, but is not compelled to be, cool. Many of the virtues of sports like football such as duty, honor and bravery do not align neatly with the values the cool kids present.
Yes I know this point sounds silly since we all know that sex sells, and that it sells in 2020 just as it did in the reprobate past. But as long as we are on a tear about representativeness at least let the record show that we seem to care about balance and proportion only with respect to certain traits, attributes, appearances and behaviors.
But OK let us accept the notion that the ads promote cool kids with shared attributes. We then must consider the distribution of those shared cool attributes among different kinds of people. More or less by definition that means ruling out old people, who (with a few notable exceptions like Jim Brown, who appeared in an NFL ad) are just not cool. But then what about the young?
If you are young and good looking there are many ways to be cool. But one thing is clear: it is a lot harder to be cool if you are a white male. That conclusion seems unavoidable when viewing the totality of the ads. It is not a simple matter of “equal representation” of male and female characters per the 2018 article I linked to in the last post. Nor it is a matter of rough equality of cool.
Here are the apparent rules of the game:
If a man you can be cool if Black, Latinx, or mixed race (some combination of Black, Latinx, and White).
If a man you are much less likely to be cool and indeed much more likely to be affirmatively uncool if you are white.
Asian males are seldom featured in the ads but where they are they are more likely to be uncool than cool.
Non-white males often display traditional masculine traits.
White males are much more likely to be portrayed as clueless, weak or in other non-traditional masculine ways.
The portrayal of white men as cool, or in traditional masculine roles, is somewhat rare, and when it is done it tends not to be unalloyed, and usually comes with a caveat, condition or contrast.
If your sexuality is conventional you should be young, sexy and attractive to be cool.
If your sexuality is unconventional (drag queen, transgendered) you will almost certainly be cool, but are given much wider berth relative to looks–i.e., non-conforming sexuality can be portrayed in unconventional fashion.
Them’s the rules as I see them. Next post we will start to look at some examples.