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Why I'm Scared to Watch the Superbowl

The Superbowl is 48 hours away and of course that’s got me thinking about . . . the ads. I’m not much of a football fan. I love playing sports and I enjoy watching live sporting events and I can even tolerate a few minutes of televised ice hockey. But I truly dislike watching football on TV.

However, that’s practically un-American and probably prosecutable in several states. I do try to avoid watching the Superbowl, but since I do recognize it is a cultural phenomenon and people might think me odd if I don’t at least know who is playing and, on Monday, who won, I do walk through the room in our house in which everyone else gathers to watch the game. Last year, I took my enthusiasm to a new level and sat in the TV room throughout the majority of the game, mostly because I wanted to see the famous Superbowl ads.

And wow, was that terrifying. Superbowl ads are supposed to be the creme de la creme of the advertising industry, a chance for ad agencies to show their stuff, push the envelope, be a little edgier than they might usually be. They pushed the envelope all right – many of them were downright lewd, lascivious, suggestive and not at all appropriate for young viewers. I’m not sure any of my kids are going to need “the talk” after having watched all those ads, since they left little to the imagination.

I grew up with plenty of beer and boob ads, but those Budweiser ads of yore with girls who could work at Hooters were rated G in comparison to much of what I saw last year. I was so disgusted that I even wrote a letter to the network to complain. Don’t be too shocked when I tell you they didn’t write back.

It’s only once a year, you might be saying, lighten up! True, it is only once a year. But the problem with these envelope pushing ads is that they do just that – push the envelope. They open the door a little wider, so that all the ads we see for the rest of the year can sneak through. Once a taboo is broken in a Superbowl ad, then it seems more acceptable for that year’s ads to be more risque. And so of course the next Superbowl ads, to seem cutting edge, must find another taboo to break, or push the door open even wider. And then that year’s ads follow suit. So after years and years of “groundbreaking” advertising, we now get to watch a veritable cesspool between plays.

The ads aren’t directed at kids, you might be saying, so who cares? True, very few of the ads are actually targeting children. But do you think that means they aren’t watching them? Really?  The whole point of ads is to grab your attention, and during the Superbowl they pull out all the stops – flashing lights, loud music, wild animals, party scenes, half naked people, all mixing it up together. If your kid is in the room, he’s glued to the TV, because that’s the nature of TV in general and ads specifically. And it’s not like anyone is taping the Superbowl and watching it next weekend, so you could buzz the ads. Except for pauses to go get more chili or another beer, that TV is rolling live in just about every house in the country.

I severely limit my kids’ access to TV, both shows and ads. Most of the time, if we’re watching the TV, it’s something I’ve taped. I know what to expect (mostly) and I can buzz through the ads. One show I tape everyday is this little 10 minute blurb on CNN called Student News. It’s a sanitized current events show and your kid might be watching it in school, as schools are the target audience. Since we tape it, I have to wade through several screens on the DVR before I can actually get the show rolling, and nearly every day I am fumbling madly with the remote. Not because I’m inept with a remote (which I may be but I’m not saying either way), but because we wind up viewing 20 seconds or so of horrifying live programming. The reason I’m fumbling madly is because, without fail, what we wind up watching, in the middle of the day, is 20 seconds of incredibly sexualized comedy, or an ad for a tabloid show. I just need 20 seconds of something innocuous, like a Clorox commercial, or Wheel of Fortune, or even MacGyver (isn’t that always on?). But I never get that. I always somehow wind up with a Jerry Springer inspired clip. Can I not watch 20 seconds of live TV without having to explain the facts of life to my eight year old?!

What kind of prude are you, you might be asking?! I’m not! Really, I’m not! I’ve seen every episode of Two and a Half Men (until Ashton Kutcher showed up and I tired of looking at his pretty face).  I bought my husband a copy of The 40 Year Old Virgin for Christmas! Tell me a dirty joke and I promise I’ll laugh!

But these are all things I do after my kids go to bed, because raunch belongs on TV at night. Not at 2 in the afternoon, when I’m trying to cue up Student News. And not during the Superbowl, when kids all across the country are glued to the screen. I have my fingers crossed that this year will be different, that we might see ads that are groundbreaking because they’re clever and intelligent and funny . . . but I’m not terribly optimistic.

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