Superbowl Ads: Give Us 30 Seconds and We Will Give You Warped Messages About Sex, Gender, and Relationships
I am not a football fan; I couldn’t even follow the game on TV until the advent of the computer-generated yellow line. (Oh, so that’s what they’re trying to do!) Still, I love the Super Bowl. I like the tradition of something that happens at the same time every year. I like the food (we always make chili and have recently added potato skins). Mostly, I like the thought that a significant number of people who I don’t know are doing the exact same thing that I’m doing at the same time–”event television” is rare in this age of DVRs.
Like many of those people, I pay more attention to the commercials than the game itself. In fact, I think it’s the only time I ever really watch commercials (as I mentioned, it is the age of the DVR). The problem is that as a sex educator and commentator, watching them kind of feels like work. I want to just enjoy them for the humor and the cleverness and marvel at how people came up with that idea, or alternatively complain about their lameness and failure to live up to the hype. But I spend so much of the rest of the year commenting on the warped messages society gives young people and adults about sex, gender, and relationships that each year, without fail, the Super Bowl ads serve up a microcosm of all these messages. For four million a pop, advertisers jam generations worth of bad messages into 30 seconds bits.
So as much as I want to sit back, acknowledge that advertisers have a product to sell (and that sex educators — with our insistence on appropriate messaging — would make lousy ad execs), I can’t. Like so many of my colleagues, I feel compelled to comment. The ads that set the sex education world all-a-twitter this year are pretty obvious and I am not the first to call them out.
Putting the Sex Back in Birth Control: Why the Dominant Narrative on Contraception Undermines Young People
While I applaud Elizabeth Banks for her new ad supporting Planned Parenthood, birth control, and President Barack Obama — and wholeheartedly empathize with her personal story — I’m reminded of a sobering fact: the progressive community is deathly afraid of talking about sex and young people.
That’s right. I said it.
Between Banks new web promo aimed at female voters, Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Congress last February, and the reactive messaging around Rush Limbaugh’s vile comments, one thing has remained clear: our movement is far more comfortable elevating stories about birth control when they don’t involve sex. Pure unadulterated sex. Sex without the fear of an unintended pregnancy. You know… the primary reason young Americans use birth control.
And for arguments sake, maybe there’s a good reason for this. Maybe — just maaaayyyybe — we’re trying to appeal to conservatives. Perhaps we’re making our funders happy. Or maybe we’re just trying to sell a message that is palatable; easy to consume.
Nope. Bullshit. Not buying it.
As sweet and good intentioned as these justifications sound, what we’re ultimately doing is playing the game that our opponents want us to play and operating under a set of rules that threaten the long-term success of our movement.