Some people’s idea of Hell consists of having to repeat a pattern for eternity, never to escape.
I thought about that while watching Mick Jagger dance around the giant lips and tongue cutout on the floor of Ford Field during the Super Bowl XL halftime.
I don’t mean us, the audience, repeating the pattern. I mean Mick. He’s boasted out loud of cutting deals with the Devil, and you have to wonder whether the Devil is starting to call in his chips, even before the Grim Reaper makes the scene.
At 62 years old, would you want to be gyrating like a sexually confused teen on steroids, singing the same adolescent-themed songs you’ve sung for 40 years? Hmmm. Way too many of you out there, especially you guys in gray ponytails, said, “Yes.” We recommend that you read Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – now.
Last year, following the Janet Jackson incident in 2004, the Super Bowl halftime show featured a dynamic, yet above-board set by legendary rocker Paul McCartney. Some of McCartney’s earlier material is questionable, but for the past three decades, he’s been a solid citizen, for a rock star. As the Associated Press put it, “McCartney’s booking was seen by many as a conservative reaction to the Jackson incident. The hiring of acts like Green Day, Destiny’s Child and Ozzy Osbourne for various National Football League events since shows that ‘we’re beyond that,’ said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.” Oh well.
This year, the league decided to allow Sprint to pay $12 million to showcase the Stones, a group famous for four decades of rock ‘n’ roll that urges kids to get high on booze, drugs and sex. Ironically, their finale was about sexual dissatisfaction. They should have followed with a Viagra ad, but perhaps you can overdo those tie-ins.
On the bright side, the NFL largely has discarded the Britney Spears-style faux orgies. As a measure of how far our culture has sunk into Baby Boomer decadence, we’re supposed to be grateful that the “wholesome alternative” is … the Rolling Stones. As in “Sympathy for the Devil.” As in “I’ll stick my knife down your throat, baby, and it hurts” (“Midnight Rambler,” from the “Let It Bleed” album). Now there’s good stuff. Kids, gather ’round the tube as the Stones give you lessons in life.
Wonder if this is what the NFL had in mind when they made that soft-focus, feel-good promotional about how the Super Bowl brings us all together? It talks about families gathering, and exudes a nearly mystical religious force, as if the Super Bowl alone saves us. Sometimes, I think they’re confusing this football event with Someone else.
There’s no question the Stones can rock. They’re quite good at what they do, even after 40 years. It’s whether America really wants the sight of British heroin-and-sex exponents who have to be bleeped to be the signature image that we beam all over the planet.
Couldn’t you hear the conversations in Baghdad and Jakarta as the giant, flapping tongue on the field rolled back to reveal a mob of hysterical fans, idolizing the skanking Jagger? For starters, it doesn’t make Christians in Islamic countries any safer. Militant Muslims think this is all Jesus’ followers’ fault. Or it’s the Jews’ fault. Take your pick.
In a way, the Super Bowl extravaganza really is a mirror of America’s schizophrenic culture. It’s the best and the worst.
Before the game, they had a touching tribute to the Most Valuable Players from the last 39 Super Bowls, who proudly strode into the stadium, some of them hobbling. Classy guys like Bart Starr, Mark Rypien and Roger Staubach dutifully waved to the crowd. The Motown-New Orleans ad hoc trio of Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville and Dr. John performed the National Anthem, reminding us that Americans can pull together, regardless of race. Stevie Wonder’s pre-game show was along the same lines.
But it wasn’t long before the Super Bowl ads kicked in, with a few good ones, but lots of crude sex humor that sent parents lurching for the remote.
A website registry managed to reprise its buxom brunette with the slipping strap that sends an older man into an oxygen mask. Ha ha.
And Overstock.com began its ad with a woman leering from a bed and asking, “Have you made the O part of your morning?” What O? What? What did she mean, Daddy?
ABC-Disney’s own ads for their “Dancing with the Stars” were probably the worst offenders on the sex front. They celebrated voyeurism, while mocking the public outrage over the Janet Jackson incident. In one piece, several women writhe in strip-show form, running their hands slowly down their fronts. The screen lights up with this: “Wardrobe Malfunction? You Wish.” Take that, you prudes.
Guess they want more straight guys to tune in. In a later ad, with about the same material, the screen says, “Wanna Watch? Who Wouldn’t?” The viewer shouldn’t be faulted for wondering whether outright pornographers are going to turn up as the main sponsor for “Dancing with the Stars.” They’re cultivating a Peeping Tom culture right before our very eyes.
Continuing in its crude groove, ABC-Disney dug up Playboy porn weasel Hugh Hefner to pitch “Desperate Housewives,” and then ran several plugs for its new “Sons & Daughters” series. If the spots are any indication, it was written by 14-year-old boys who fell into a vat of Budweiser.
Maybe Lorne Michaels of “Saturday Night Live” wrote it, since he is credited as the show’s creator. All but one of the SAD ads had sexual innuendo, including a scene with a man who does a nasty locker-room-level double entendre about male anatomy. SAD outdid itself, however, when it opened one spot with a little girl saying loudly, “I’m going to Hell.” She goes on to explain, “Because I’m a Jew.” In the pastiche that follows, a blonde woman (read: born-again Christian) is credited with scaring the girl, and someone paints a Hitler mustache on a sleeping grandma. Only the militant Muslims are laughing grimly, as our media culture trashes religious sensibilities almost daily.
Ameriquest Mortgage went over the top in at least two ads. In one, a woman stumbles over a man in an airplane and winds up, spread-legged, on his lap with her blouse open and skirt hiked up. Horrified passengers, including children, look on. For all the world, I thought the punch line was going to be “Want to Get Away?” But I was relieved that Southwest Airlines had not succumbed to the gutter. Instead, Ameriquest says, “Don’t Judge Too Quickly. We don’t.”
Another Ameriquest ad featured a heart-warming shot of a mother and child arriving at a hospital to see Daddy, who is in a bed. But before the ladies arrive, the doctor accidentally zaps a bug with the cardiac paddles. As the mom and child enter the doorway, the doctor says loudly, about the bug, “That killed him.” Flash to a shaken family. Punchline, again: “Don’t judge too quickly. We don’t.” Well, I do. These ads stink.
At some point during the Super Bowl, after dozens of ads that exploit sex, the most jarring commercial was for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund for women and girls “because every girl deserves to feel beautiful.” Gee, I wonder why so many girls have such low self-esteem?
There were a few entertaining ads. The Budweiser overhead shot of a stadium, with fans shifting placards to form a giant beer bottle on one side, with a giant glass on the other, and the liquid “poured” around until it fills the glass, was fun, leaving the viewer wondering how they did it.
For my money, the best ad was a retread – the Budweiser Clydesdale colt who aspires to pull the big wagon, and manages to do so, but only with secret help from mom and dad, who quietly push from the back. It was not only beautifully shot and scored, but it said something important and timeless.
One of my colleagues, a wonderful Christian woman, said, “I can’t believe I teared up over a beer ad.”
It almost made up for the bizarre and perverse Hummer ad, which showed a giant Godzilla-like creature and a giant robot meeting each other. The robot is manlike, and the animal is, well, an animal. They immediately repair to a roof, with the next scene showing the creature apparently pregnant. If that isn’t weird enough, out pops a little red Hummer, which “Dad” puts down on the ground so it can take a spin. (Tagline: “It’s a little monster.”) Someone really ought to monitor what these ad writers ingest just before their “creative” sessions.
While we’re on the general topic of mind-altering substances, we’ll close with a comment from Mick Jagger, who quipped as the band revved up “Satisfaction” (1965) that, “We could have done this one for Super Bowl I.”
No, you couldn’t. They would have said, “Not on our watch.”