In the age of the internet, it seems, getting your ad turned down for the Superbowl will become a legitimate marketing strategy. Watching this go down with the website Mancrunch, I’m inclined to point out that it’s best to do this with products that are mainly online or sold online, so the people who run to YouTube to see the forbidden ad can immediately go to your website. I’m doing my part by playing the ad in question:
I don’t know that Mancrunch was trying to get banned from the Superbowl, but after this, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s actually what people try to do. Of course, the sweet spot is to make an ad like this, which trips up some censor’s prejudices but is so innocuous that all right-thinking people will be asking who the fuck finds this offensive. I did find this ad offensive, but only because it’s so painfully aware of how homophobic much of the intended audience is, and it tries too hard to please them by having the guys making out not actually make out at all, but instead fake kiss in a really obvious way. Well not “offensive” (this is a word I’m trying to ban from my vocabulary, because I’m beginning to see how it encourages lazy, inexact thinking), but certainly cowardly. And it ruins a genuinely funny joke that sends up the macho culture of football, but also portraying football fans as people capable of setting that all aside. Heart-warming, really. And by rejecting the ad, CBS implies that the homophobia that sports culture inculcates is right and good and even sacrosanct.
Of course, the context of this is that CBS rejected this ad while accepting an ad in support of forced childbirth. (Of course, as I’ve pointed out, the ad does so while arguing on pro-choice grounds that can be used to undermine the message. These ads and stories are about choosing childbirth over abortion, and never say, “And I was frogmarched to the delivery room, and boy am I glad the law assumes I don’t have the intelligence to make decisions about my own body!”) While these decisions are all discrete ones, they add up to an ugly sense that football can and should be used as a space to advocate for the patriarchy, where women’s basic human rights are not accepted and gay men are shoved in the closet as a sacrifice to the gods of anxious masculinity.
I can’t say I’m surprised that CBS is using this model to make advertising decisions. They probably sympathize with conservative male football fans who believe they have a right to a space where they can let their hair down and let the misogyny and homophobia and racism flow freely, and that space is football. Luckily, this phenomenon of using football as a “safe space” for these hateful attitudes was the subject of a book that I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but have heard good things about: The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports by Mariah Burton Nelson. (The only negative review at Amazon says, and I quote: “In addition, the author underestimates the strength of women, and discounts the possibility that being viewed as a sex object can be both stimulating and empowering to them.” I love it when criticisms of an argument end up reinforcing the argument they’re intended to criticize, in this case, about the way women are relegated to these limited roles that you can call empowering until you’re blue in the face, without changing the fact that the male audience cheerleaders are intended to entertain certainly don’t see the role as “empowering”, as that would ruin the fun.)
Of course, what ads like Mancrunch’s do is puncture the illusion of the “safe space” by letting conservative male football fans know that gay men and women and all sorts of people they are trying to marginalize in sports are laying claim to the right to be sports fans. Of course, these men feel victimized by this, no doubt thinking that they can’t have anything that’s all their own, any place where they can be as sexist as they want. It’s almost a compelling argument—being squishy liberals, we’re all fans of the idea that someone should have spaces where they feel free to be themselves—until you take that argument to its logical conclusion, as did Don Lewis, who is trying to start an all-white basketball league. Of course, his idea is so hateful and absurd that it will go nowhere, but what needs to happen next is a discussion about how different kind of absurd hatreds fester in mainstream sports, which leads to things like banning gay dating website commercials from the Superbowl, while injecting arguments against women having the basic right to control their fertility into this space of male bonding.