Super Bowl Sunday has come and gone, and thus do I return to my between-seasons blissful ignorance of the TV commercial world (at least, inasmuch as it’s possible to escape from the bloody things).
Y’see, by and large, I hate commercials. It’s not because I take exception to materialism, and it’s not because I’ve seen how the sausage is made. I’d like to pretend that it is, and perhaps in my wiser moments that’s even true. Mostly, though, I don’t like them because they’re badly written. Sure, once in a while you get a triumph of absurdism (“I’m on a horse!”), but even those brief flashes of glory must fade when, inevitably, the joke overstays its welcome, when there are spin-offs and copies and homages and the Old Spice Guy locks himself up in a dingy apartment wailing for somebody, anybody to make it stop.
Anyway. This isn’t a post about Super Bowl commercials and the silly fervour that accompanies them. We don’t get those here in Canada. The magic of simulcast ensures something shittier still: even during the last game of the season, we’re subjected to the same fucking Miller Light spots that have run all year long.
See, the people who buy up commercial slots during football games ply their trade along two very simple axioms:
1) Football is watched almost exclusively by men.
2) Men are desperately insecure.
Nothing else explains the sheer tidal wave of real-men-drive-these, with their burly farmboys and their stump-pulls and their pick-up trucks being dropped from great heights so that one might admire the inventor of shock absorbers. Real men, like real trucks, drink gasoline for breakfast and sweat flame.
Now, we city folk will never measure up to the lumberjack demographic, man-wise. The closest we get are plaid-beard hipsters, and I’m reliably informed that one can’t ‘man up’ in skinny jeans. Thankfully, the powers that be haven’t forgotten to offer up a hierarchy of masculinity for the urban jackass demographic. They did it, as such things are traditionally done, by way of beer commercial.
You’ve seen these, I imagine, if you’ve had the misfortune of passing by a TV lately. Group of friends out at a bar. One of them is asked what beer he’d like, and he says, paraphrased: “All you have is Miller, Bud and Coors? Man, give me whatever. It’s all the same shit.”
But our hero’s perceptiveness is not to be rewarded. “Come back when you order a real man’s beer!” says our hot bartendress, and we pan down, and our hero is wearing a dress or carrying a purse or stroking a poodle or some shit. Grow a pair, am I right?
Miller Light. The light beer for MEN! (Roar!)
But I’m not going to dwell on the misogyny (well, maybe a little) or the batshit proposition that one’s choice in wheat juice is in some way cosmically relevant. See, what got me about these commercials is that they’re a sort of tiny heresy. In the world of Sponsoria, men don’t drink light beer in the first place! I mean, we’ve known that for years, haven’t we? Is there anything less manly than calorie counting? Why not just … oh, right, you’re already wearing a skirt, Mr. I’ll-drink-whatever.
Once upon a time, Miller would have laughed at us for ordering light beer, but now it wants to sell light beer. So it goes. But what’s interesting is that they’re attempting to sell said light beer using the exact methodology of shame by which they tried to unsell it in years past.
It’s confusing. Appealing to a mythologized masculinity to sell light beer doesn’t seem like a marketing slam dunk. It’s not part of the language of crisp and clean, ice-brewed and triple-filtered.
And then I realized what’s happening here. It’s a simple political principle: attack where you’re weakest. If voters are concerned about your stance on puppy-eating, you don’t deny eating puppies and you certainly don’t try to start a national discourse on their nutritional value. You accuse the other guy of eating kittens.
Miller are so terrified that we’ll remember that light beer is weak and womanish that they came right out and accused us of wearing pink bows in our hair. And we have that insecurity to thank for what is almost certainly the most misogynistic, crass and insipid marketing campaign I’ve seen in years.