It’s the post we’ve all been waiting for: our third annual Super Bowl commercial roundup. There’s only one commercial this year, and an interesting one at that. Is this a sign of a different public toward the founding, compared to recent years? Very much so, I think.
At least as of Friday, when I went through all the commercials so far released—you can go to superbowlcommercials.co, and see them all—there was only one commercial that featured a prominent American Revolution or founder theme. It’s video game maker Top Games USA’s spot for Evony: The King’s Return. Here’s the extended, two-minute version:
I’m wary of over-interpreting all of American culture, and the national mood, from a textual analysis of the spots that a relatively random selection of big corporations decide to spend millions on ads for one big sporting event. Nonetheless, here are a couple of observations.
The last couple years there were numerous commercials invoking the founders, this year, only one. But let’s think back to those years, now seemingly so long ago. The tea partiers were still at large, Sons of Liberty made a splash on the History Channel, the Hamilton cast album was high on the rap and pop charts, and we were participating in a presidential election in which both sides, as they usually do, invoke the founders to back their vision of American principles. Plus, of course, dozens of people were reading that brilliant, brilliant, brilliant new book about the memory of the American Revolution in contemporary life, now available in paperback!
This year, we’re in a different mood, and advertisers aren’t dopes. For the first time in memory, the president, in his inauguration speech, did not even mention or refer to the founders, the founding, or even the nation’s charter documents. Our elected leader is not appealing to the better angels of our nature, or even to principles. Rather, we’re seeing the governance of fear and of greed, and, I think, advertisers are staying away from anything that might smack of the political, given our riven we are by division. Or maybe not: consider the Budweiser ad, which seems a pretty strong endorsement of immigration; the Audi commercial, which touts the company’s policy of equal pay for equal work; and the AirBnB spot, pretty strong on the diversity front; and the 84 Lumber 90-seconder, clearly evoking sympathy for Mexican immigrants without even really selling its products at all.. So that’s actually a lot of politics. OK, well, maybe advertisers just want to avoid a certain kind of politics, one that reminds anyone of a bunch of white guys making policy. In any case, ad agencies and their clients are avoiding the founding.
Here’s the funny thing about the one spot that does invoke the founding. The ad suggests that the various forces which the player commands, at least the American ones, seek some vague kind of “liberty.” And yet, the object of the actual video game is to use great generals in history (of which George Washington is one) to take over the kingdom so that the player can be king. The rhetoric of freedom to mask authoritarianism? Again, we shouldn’t look too much into commercials, but it seems to close to comfort for me.