Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The astounding outcome of the Super Bowl: overshadowed by cultural-political rot

Like everyone else, I sat there mouth agape as the fourth quarter drew to a close and the Pats came back in the first-ever overtime from what had been a 3 - 28 deficit well into the third quarter.

But has not the buzz about that been at least equaled by talk about commercials and the halftime show?

There has been some backlash over the social-justice-warrior tone of several of the commercials, and some branding experts can see where such heavy-handedness plainly did not work:

Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting, said most Super Bowl advertisers who waded into political waters were distracting viewers from their mission of selling their company products.
Adamson called 84 Lumber’s commercial “a miss,” because like several other advertisers, it was trying to attach itself to a social issue instead of pushing its product. He calls the tactic “borrowed interest,” and said it usually backfires.
“Borrowed interest is glomming on to subject matter not related to their brand or business to try to grab attention,” Adamson said. “You end up with ads people remember, but it doesn’t drive their business. People may remember 84 Lumber, but they won’t run out and patronize the product. They also botched the execution when their server crashed. They left lots of money on the table.”

Karen Zuckerman, president of the HZDG advertising agency, said “strategically, they took a risk to raise awareness around current and controversial issues.”

Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at branding firm Landor, said companies feel compelled to wade into controversial topics because their customers, or potential customers, want to know more about the values of the companies they patronize, whether it’s where it sources materials or positions on equal pay or immigration. They also try to reach them with feel good topics around the human condition.

“It’s about navigating this new reality,” Ordahl said. “Companies think they need to take a positions and tap into emotions. It’s just very tricky to do it well.”

Ordahl said it’s a delicate balance to make your message interesting without turning people off. He singled out automakers Kia and Honda for lighthearted pieces that dealt with weighty topics like the environment and capturing the human spirit. Ordahl said 84 Lumber landed on the gloomier side of the ledger.

“84 is trying to tap into these social issues,” Ordahl said. “I’m not beating them up. Everyone is trying to navigate this. People like content but don’t want a preachy, school marm approach.”
Ordahl said the Audi advertisement using a father/daughter parable for gender pay equality was also a bit on the heavy side. “Women I was with were put off by it,” he said. “You have to take a position to be relevant, and do it without being off-putting.” 
"This new reality." Isn't that a telling phrase? Who made it "the new reality?"

Ditto the business about a company's "values." I'm not big on assigning code status to language, since it's basically a leftist tactic for trying to demonize the thoughts inside people's heads, but it's fairly obvious that nearly anybody who talks about wanting to know a company's "values" is talking about "inclusiveness," "sustainability" and "equality." Granted, there are some investment funds that steer Christians away from - well, some of the very same companies lauded by those seeking evidence of the above mentioned "values." Which really says a lot about "this new reality." You have to watch what you're doing in this hyper-politicized age.

Then there is the range of reaction to the fact that Lady Gaga stayed out of SJW proselytizing during her halftime show, beyond reciting the Pledge of Allegiance the way it's written ("under God"; good on her) and balancing a verse of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" with a verse of "This Land Is Your Land" by fellow traveler Woody Guthrie. The Los Angeles Times excoriated her, as if it was a gesture of timidity, a sin of omission. Good Morning America weighed in with an expression of disappointment. See also slams from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Variety. Conversely, some conservatives say she probably gained new fans.

This gets to a thorny cultural matter I wrestle with when not occupied by weightier matters: the abysmal taste in music on the part of some conservatives.

Yes, it was an impressive show, but isn't that to be expected since the point of a Super Bowl halftime performance became to out-dazzle-dazzle all predecessors? There is no doubt the effects were amazing, the sound system superb, and the choreography as tight as a drum.

But face it, she got up there in basically a sequined swimsuit and gyrated around like Beyonce, Madonna and Fergie before her.

And what is there to her beyond well-trained pipes and the perpetuation of the over-the-top impetus of popular entertainment?

Her biography is, frankly, boring. Born and raised on the Upper East Side, she go into the Tisch Academy for the Arts as a teen, where she acted in some productions of long-running Broadway musicals. Wrote some songs for various pop artists, which brought her to the attention of some industry big shots associated with decadence-drenched record labels like Interscope, and then she was off and running. She has alluded to a sense of heritage of sorts, giving little nods to Andy Warhol and David Bowie. Ah, what a noble heritage to be influenced by! [sarc]

The sad truth is that we are so far into the age in which the customs, mores and institutions that brought us to the now-past peak of our civilization have been so thoroughly obliterated that, even though some young pundit, politician or media personality is solidly right of center on economics, foreign policy, and maybe even personal morality, his or her frame of cultural reference is such that glam-rock, heavy metal, ever-icier forms of dance pop, and even country presented with the trappings of big-stadium dazzle-dazzle, are the norm. The notion of lady singers standing still, dressed in elegant evening gowns, or four-piece rock groups dressed in coats and ties and offering up exquisite harmonies (unless they're trying to be camp) is as quaint as a rotary telephone.

So it's a big relief, I suppose that Lady Gaga stayed away from the moral preening thing, but what about her show wasn't aesthetically empty?

Where was the humanity?

And I'm not talking about the faux humanity of the 84 Lumber ad.

I'm talking about what was a short 50 years ago fairly universally recognized as dignity, modesty, genuine warmth and some content that meant something?


  1. I personally lost interest decades ago. I did not watch one second of the spectacle this year.

  2. "Just tune out" is going to resolve the situation for the immediate term on the individual level. Still, one has to maneuver within the culture defined by these spectacles.

  3. I did read accounts of the game the next morning. In the New York Slime which I assumed reported the facts accurately.