The Super Bowl That Blamed You For Your Own Misery

Ed Zitron 5 min read

Yesterday we ended an NFL season we didn’t need with a Super Bowl we didn’t need, full of fans that didn’t need to be there that were “safely social distanced and masked” until they weren’t. The game was bad because the Kansas City Chiefs had to use an offensive line made up of guys who played for the Washington Generals, leaving us with a game where Patrick Mahomes ran 400 miles total on every snap to Ndamukong Suh from performing a fatality from Mortal Kombat on him. It was cool to see people like Byron Leftwich and Leonard Fournette get rings, but overall it was barely a game - KC’s defense looked about as excited to be there as I was.

With the Super Bowl comes Super Bowl commercials. I can’t think of a worst time in history to air spots that cost millions to secure, crammed full of celebrity appearances that likely cost even more to shoot, telling people to buy and buy and buy and buy and buy at a time when people are burned out from the pandemic fiscally and mentally. While there’s the brutal inevitability that the world of capitalism would not simply stop because people have it hard, this year’s commercials rang particularly hollow as they attempted to appeal to a populace that is miserable, depressed, isolated and poorer than ever.

One common theme of the year seemed to be around cramming as many celebrities into a commercial as possible, specifically Bud Light, Paramount+, and sort of the Verizon 5G commercial. These ones really felt laced with a genuine disgust for the audience - a level of “oh you little shits love this, don’t you? Look it’s that person you know! There’s a whole crowd of them! Clap! Clap you pieces of shit!” - barely advertising anything, just sort of waving objects in the hopes that their bosses will be happy with the amount of eyeballs they can report from Nielsen a week or two later. It’s obviously not new to use celebrities for commercials, but it felt like this year it was a formula of using a few currently famous people to advertise and then bringing in some sort of nostalgia, say, by using Shaggy with Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher or bringing back Wayne’s World for whatever reason.

There’s a discordant hostility to Super Bowl commercials in general, which are created partially to sell stuff and partially as a marketing exercise, another example of the user becoming the product, by lending their eyeballs to enriching CMOs that can say that they ‘made a big splash.'‘

There’s also just the garish opulence of this year’s Super Bowl - while many of the viewers are suffering, unemployed or underemployed, desperate for the government to get their shit together and send something, viewers were transparently reminded of how much capital is thrown around to try and monetize their viewership. The millions in commercials, the millions in the halftime show, the millions in celebrity opinions - the people getting exceedingly rich off of the “free” entertainment that the viewer at home gets.

While the world seems terribly unfair and inequitable, where giant corporations have laid millions of people off, including Bud Light’s parent company, there is still available capital to expend on 30 seconds of Post Malone telling a football player that it’s beer o’clock (don’t remember the commercial not going to try). While people struggle to pay bills of any kind, The Weeknd has enough to spend $7 million of his own money on his weird Super Bowl performance. The message to the people watching was of pure loathing - it’s not that there isn’t enough money to pay you, it’s that you don’t work hard enough to get it.

Daveed Diggs’ Sesame Street rap for Doordash constantly reminded us to shop local, to buy local, to use local restaurants, as they’re part of our community, as they take ridiculous 15-30% cuts of said restaurants’ orders (not of their profit!) and pay workers a pittance. Again, the person watching is the problem - you haven’t ordered local enough, so you’re the reason these places are suffering. You are the problem.

Bruce Springsteen tutted at America, telling us to seek “the middle” and “common ground,” vaguely suggesting that it’s on us for not liking each other, the kind of virulent both-sidesism that led to the terror attack at the Capitol Building. The “we” here suggests hundred-millionaire Bruce Springsteen is just like us, as he goes to a chapel in the middle of America, calling for unity using the symbolism of a single religion in a diverse country. The fault is on the viewer - they’re not trying enough to see both sides, they’re not working hard enough to meet people in the middle that likely don’t want to be met, who see ‘meeting in the middle’ as a negotiation over what they want. It’s a vague, privileged approach to where we are as a society, seen from the perspective of someone who just wants everyone to be quiet rather than everyone to be happy.

The worst of it was the Squarespace Dolly Parton “5 to 9” commercial, one of the more depressing things I’ve ever seen or heard in my life. It’s quite simple: Dolly Parton re-recorded and re-wrote her 1980’s classic “9 to 5,” changing it into “5 to 9,” and making it about hustle. The lyrics are truly gruesome, talking about how you will “change your life, [and] do something that givеs it meaning,” as if the only way to give your life meaning is to not only buy a website, but literally work all the time, taking your personal time to build some sort of vague “hustle.” The song is a repetitive, nauseating and vague suggestion that if one simply hustled harder, their life would have more meaning, and they could reach their dreams.

It’s trite to judge a commercial for saying that buying a product will make your life better, but 9 to 5 was literally based off of the name of a movement for womens’ rights in the workplace. The commercial suggests that the reason that people are miserable and stuck in a rut is because they have simply not hustled hard enough, they haven’t followed their dreams, that passion and vision is only part of some sort of vulgar hustle that they must be part of, and that they must change their life. And that life-changing thing is buying a website like the already-successful Dolly Parton did with Squarespace to hock her fucking perfume. And you, as the viewer, are still to blame. This is your chance to have a better life, to “work five to nine ‘til your dreams come true,” because the reason they haven’t come true is you have been doing a job to make money to live.

The Super Bowl commercial circuit is all about capital extraction, but the way this one hit just felt so much worse, so much more craven in the way that it bit its thumb at the viewer. Instead of the usual going-for-dorky-laughs bullshit they took it up a notch, moralizing that we aren’t buying the right things or doing the right things to be better people and that the state of the world is, ultimately, on our shoulders.

The people that make millions spending millions to make more millions have a message for viewers: you are doing things wrong, and if you simply did things right, you would be much happier, you’d have more money, your life would have meaning, and your country would be better. But it isn’t, and they’re here, bathing in gaudy, slickly produced 30 second blocks to make you feel bad about it.

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