We watch the Super Bowl for the homemade guacamole and chicken wings that we get to eat in front of the TV once a year. I like the half-time show and the fireworks and the chance to have a feast on a Sunday night.
When I was growing up, I would watch Brady Bunch reruns on a TV that my mother covered with a Navajo rug when it was not in use. French lace hung from the windows and botanical paintings from the walls. In between scenes of Gilligan’s Island and The Six Million Dollar Man, the commercials kept me in touch with an America that bought Stretch Armstrongs and Baby Alives from Toys ‘R Us, and Ford tough trucks and Dodge Rams with 0% down. Where dads grilled and slapped each other on the back, and girls made cookies in Hasbro Easy Bake Ovens.
I never really knew if ads imitated life or life imitated ads. I was both attracted to the sharp-focus slickness, and wary of it, as if it were a supermarket cake that tasted better than it made you feel.
Last night we passed around yucca fries and ginger beer with lime in front of Super Bowl 55, where helmets were engraved with ‘End Racism’ and seats were filled with cardboard cut-outs of people who paid $100 to not be there. And in between the tackles and interceptions, we got a taste of what America is doing, or what corporate America wants us to do, this year, 2021, a year that once rang futuristic, now the second year of the pandemic:
- Keep ordering grub from neighborhood restaurants via DoorDash and Uber Eats because, as Stephen Colbert said in a public service announcement for small businesses, “when all this is over, we want them to still be there.”
- Get Amazon’s new sexy robot Alexa, because it’s like having a hot cyborg be your servant.
- Because social distancing is still necessary, keep ‘the backyard thing going’ with Scott Miracle-Gro (and John Travolta).
- Subscribe to new streaming empires like Paramount+ where you can bypass terrestrial television and order up whatever you want through the Internet, including Beavis and Butthead, The Jersey Shore, and Star Trek.
- Eat a lot of the new puffy Doritos.
- Win a chance to ride on a spaceship in the first all-civilian mission on SpaceX’s Falcon rocket, brought to you by a tech billionaire who bought extra seats.
- Pay people anywhere in the world to do digital jobs on Fiverr.com, the 5 & Dime marketplace for virtual freelance gigs.
- Get out and trample trails and catch fish with Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s because when everyone is feeling cooped up, “we need nature more than ever.”
- Invest in the American Dream with smartphone apps like Rocket Mortgage and Robinhood, because anyone should be able to buy and sell stocks, not just the rich.
The multi-million dollar, celebrity-studded commercials were sprinkled with ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia, including cameos by Pacman, the guys from Wayne’s World, and Sylvester Stallone. Each was styled like a video game or a movie made with a hand-held camera or a heart-tugging documentary featuring everyday people. Each like a cut in a multi-faceted diamond showing all the different-colored faces, all the power and glitz, celebrating and mocking our diversity, our troubled land, our beautiful powerful broken country.
I’m still not sure whether the blitz of video clips that studded the Super Bowl is a set of mirrors or a collection of mesmerizing pictures. But if you held it all in your hands, you would see an America soaring to the stars in technology, but dreaming of the past. Pandering to its celebrities, yet wanting to elevate the common man. Ashamed of its past, and trying to airbrush equality. Giving the people control of the levers, but keeping the gold in the same old places.