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The Superbowl ads that set the sex education world all-a-twitter this year are pretty obvious and I am not the first to call them out.

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

I am not a football fan; I couldn't even follow the game on TV until the advent of the computer-generated yellow line. (Oh, so that's what they're trying to do!) Still, I love the Super Bowl. I like the tradition of something that happens at the same time every year. I like the food (we always make chili and have recently added potato skins). Mostly, I like the thought that a significant number of people who I don't know are doing the exact same thing that I'm doing at the same time–"event television" is rare in this age of DVRs.

Like many of those people, I pay more attention to the commercials than the game itself. In fact, I think it's the only time I ever really watch commercials (as I mentioned, it is the age of the DVR). The problem is that as a sex educator and commentator, watching them kind of feels like work. I want to just enjoy them for the humor and the cleverness and marvel at how people came up with that idea, or alternatively complain about their lameness and failure to live up to the hype. But I spend so much of the rest of the year commenting on the warped messages society gives young people and adults about sex, gender, and relationships that each year, without fail, the Super Bowl ads serve up a microcosm of all these messages. For four million a pop, advertisers jam generations worth of bad messages into 30 seconds bits.

So as much as I want to sit back, acknowledge that advertisers have a product to sell (and that sex educators -- with our insistence on appropriate messaging -- would make lousy ad execs), I can't. Like so many of my colleagues, I feel compelled to comment. The ads that set the sex education world all-a-twitter this year are pretty obvious and I am not the first to call them out.

There's the Doritos ad where the daughter convinces her father to play "princess" with her instead of football with his friends by offering him a bag of the flavored chips. The gender messages in this one are pretty straight forward; girls like to play princesses while men prefer football (oh, and mom is out grocery shopping). Moreover, the humor in the commercial is based on the idea that men who wear dresses and make-up are inherently funny. To add to the effect, they cast stereotypically "manly" men -- with beards and all. Jill McDevitt of thesexologist.orgcalls the ad "trans-phobic" because it suggests that men who put on dresses should "expect to be mocked."

Go Daddy, the web hosting company that first burst onto the scene in 2005 with a Super Bowl ad featuring a large-busted actress in a very small tank top, had a Janet-Jackson-like wardrobe malfunction while testifying in front of a mock congressional committee about the ad she wants to air during the Super Bowl. The company has used sexy women in their advertisements ever since. Interestingly, race-car driver Danica Patrick serves as the company's  spokesperson -- in another context, she might be seen as a role model for young girls wanting to break into male-dominated arenas.

Patrick is the narrator in this year's commercial, "A Perfect Match," in which super-model Bar Rafaeli makes out with a super-nerd. The audio is tweaked so high that the kiss sounds sloppy and gross. Afterwards, Rafaeli gives the camera a quick glance that seems to say: "I'm not pleased that I had to do that but I had to do that." Put simply the commercial says that kissing anyone who doesn't meet society's standards of beauty is gross, and the idea that an ugly guy could get it on with a pretty girl is comically unrealistic.

Then there's Audi. I really wanted to like the Audi ad. It shows an awkward teenage boy bravely going to the prom alone and getting more confidence when his father lets him the drive the Audi. It's a great set up, we can all relate to that stage of life. Unfortunately, what the boy does with that added bravado is walk right up to the prom queen and kiss her. Again, it should be cute but it's not because it seems pretty obvious that she barely knows him and hasn't consented to kissing him. In fact, at first she seems quite reluctant to do it but like all screen heroines since Scarlett O'Hara, she eventually gets into it. This just reinforces the age-old idea that women really want it, they just don't know it, and tells young guys to: "keep at it, she'll come around." It may seem funny when it's a kiss but it's still sexual behavior without consent.

The commercial ends with him driving away with a black eye clearly provided by her date but he's smiling because he was brave. One friend of a young son said he was upset with the ad because he had to explain to his son that hitting wasn't okay (he suggested a car chase would have solved that issue and been more appropriate). Jill McDevitt points out that this commercial should be offensive to men as well: "Calling this 'brave' and insinuating that reckless and irresponsible behavior, even if it ends in a black eye, is worth it because it restores masculinity is really insulting to men."

I suppose though, that the one everyone in my line of work is talking about is the Kia ad in which the kid in the backseat asks the dad the dreaded question: "where do babies come from?" The dad comes up with an elaborate explanation of how they come from the planet Babylandia complete with babies, pandas, puppies, and piggies in space suits. When the kid rejects his dad's fantasy explanation and begins to repeat what his friend said, the dad employs the car radio's amazing voice controls and starts "Wheels on the Bus" before he can even tell if the friend told his son the truth or something even crazier than a planet full of babies of all species.

This one really rankled my colleagues. Some worried that kids would see it and get confused but thanks in part to the black-out it didn't play until after 10 p.m. so most kids who don't already know where babies come from were likely sleeping. Others pointed out that this sends multiple terrible messages to parents. As Kirsten deFur notes in her blog, fearlesssexeducator, it tells parents that it's okay to make up answers if you don't know or are uncomfortable with the real one, that sexuality is a topic to be avoided, and that it's fine to cut off your kid when he's trying to tell you what he knows.

Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, writes that:

"Rather than allowing Super Bowl ads to impart erroneous information to our kids, we can use everyday opportunities to have conversations with them about our values and how to make sense of what they see in the media and hear from friends."

She points out that talking to your kids about sex isn't hard and we do it every day: "We can use teachable moments, use humor  --  it's okay to own our own discomfort!  --  and put some thought into the main messages we want to give our children about sex and sexuality."

The thing that struck me about the ad was how sexual the father's fantasy explanation of where babies come from was. The dialogue includes the words "shoots off" and "penetrates" and the visuals of the babies on the way to earth look just like sperm swimming toward the egg. I get that this is what makes the ad funny and creative but if someone's lying because they're too uncomfortable with the truth wouldn't they stick to storks and cabbage patches?

And, the kid is sitting next to his little brother. I know kids ask questions at different times but I'd be surprised that the question or some form of it didn't come up during the nine months their mom was pregnant. That's when I had to explain it to my older daughter; as I've said before, even I didn't quite get it right. For months she thought her sister was in an egg in my uterus waiting to hatch. Plus when she finally did ask how the sperm from daddy got near the egg in the first place, I couldn't help but giggle.

But I survived, and I told the truth and now she knows what she needs to know as she gets older. (In fact, one day when my husband pretended he didn't know her and said "Hey, where did you come from?," she looked at him like he was an idiot and said "Your wife's uterus!") Most importantly, though, she knows that I will answer her questions honestly to the best of my ability and that I'm not going to try to drown out her ideas with bad kid music.

I have to say that overall, I found this year's commercials pretty dull. There wasn't a kid-darth-vader in the bunch. Unfortunately, there were tons of bad messages about gender, sex, and relationships, and many reasons for me to work on Super Bowl Sunday. At least I had some chili.

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Comment Preferences

  •  From a purely aesthetic perspective, (5+ / 0-)

    most of the ads made me go "WAT".
    But this is a good analysis of the product of one of the most sexist sectorsof modern American society: Madison Avenue.

    We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. -- Jonathan Swift

    by raptavio on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:09:43 PM PST

  •  With all due respect to your analysis... (0+ / 0-)

    ...we watched the puppy bowl.

    Boehner Just Wants Wife To Listen, Not Come Up With Alternative Debt-Reduction Ideas

    by dov12348 on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:14:00 PM PST

  •  What about the Calvin Klein ad? (0+ / 0-)

    I do not even know what they were selling but it might have been underwear which was not really worn by the male model or models.   Its wrong whether we are treating men or women as just bodies so I am wondering if anyone else thinks that way.

  •  I just know to keep goats & Doritos separated. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluedust, jayden, DruidQueen

    Father Time remains undefeated.

    by jwinIL14 on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:20:44 PM PST

    •  I thought that was pretty funny (0+ / 0-)

      and much better than last year's ad.  Last year, they had a big dog who you are led to believe killed a cat.  The male owner saw the event so the dog offers "hush money" in the form of Doritos.  Then the wife comes in and asks the husband, "Have you seen fluffy?"  You then see the dog with a bag of Doritos in his mouth looking at the man and the man says "No".  I thought the message presented there was terrible.  A murdering dog buys off a stupid man with a few bags of Doritos.  It doesn't say much for society and it doesn't saw much good for stupid men.  Of course, I don't put myself in that category, I'm a crunchy Cheetos fan myself.  If the dog had offered me Cheetos, maybe I would have said "No" too :)

      "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength", George Orwell, "1984" -7.63 -5.95

      by dangoch on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:45:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Uh, you realize these were ads? Humor? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cee4, Dr Swig Mcjigger

    Not intended to be factual? Not intended to be analyzed like they were some sort of doctoral thesis?

    Super bowl ads impart erroneous information to our kids? WTF? Who on earth, even kids, thinks that commercial was in any way serious or factual?

    The ad showing the dad in a dress playing princess is trans-phobic? So I guess La Cage aux Folles was trans-phobic too, as is any drag queen show?

    The Audi ad was every teen boy's dream - and they know it's just that, a dream, fiction, not something to actually be done.

    Get over yourself.

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by absdoggy on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:25:05 PM PST

    •  You'd be amazed at how much (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      kids learn from commercials -- and many of them aren't old enough to sort the fantasy from reality and don't have parents willing or able to teach them the difference.

      There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

      by Cali Scribe on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 06:33:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My take on the GoDaddy commercial is a (7+ / 0-)

    little different. What bothers me the most about the new "Brains and beauty" series of GoDaddy commercials is that the message is that women are never part of the "brains" section. Their job is to shut up and look good. And if they don't look good enough for men to label them as sufficiently "fuckable", then they should just go away altogether.

    So an attractive person kissing a less attractive person was the least of my issues with that commercial, esp. since once again, it's always the female "beauty" kissing the male "beast": women are expected to always see  beyond a man's physical appearance, but men are never expected to do so. "Beauty and the Beast"  never gets a gender change-up because women only matter when they are beautiful.

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On". //"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." - Denis Diderot

    by Oaktown Girl on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 05:31:19 PM PST

  •  Hmmmm..... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Then there's Audi... it should be cute but it's not because it seems pretty obvious that she barely knows him and hasn't consented to kissing him.
    How is it obvious that "she barely knows him"?

    Is it not possible that two students, who are apparently classmates at the same high school, could possibly know each other, and possibly have a history?

    •  Ahem. (0+ / 0-)

      She was with someone else. He walked up, and without preamble or even a wink, he gives her a forceful kiss on the mouth.

      I suppose I could do that to you and it would be ok? After all, now we have a "history" and all that. ;-)

      •  Although..... (0+ / 0-)

        If I wanted to speculate about the backstory to an Audi commercial, it's possible the boy is friends with the girl. He's wanted to take things to another level & ask her to Prom, but was too afraid to do it, and Mr. Prom King swooped in.

        Which gets back to my original point. There's nothing in the commercial that says the boy & the Prom Queen don't know each other. Everything I wrote above could fit with the commercial just as well as them not knowing each other.

        Also, the entire commercial is centered around a very old trope of television & movies that's not that controversial & considered romantic in many other contexts.

  •  I had a lot of the same thoughts... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ThatPoshGirl, DruidQueen

    The "Where Babies Come From" ad left me with my jaw hanging open. Seriously?? As the father of a seven year old daughter I can't believe the lack of courage on the part of those parents; Finding an intelligent way to explain things at an appropriate level for his age would have been a lot braver than the drive-by date rape advertisement from Audi.

    The GoDaddy ads have always been terrible -- this is why, as an IT professional, I tell people to avoid them as a hosting site. They generally suck at it, anyway.

    At least the "Clydesdale" ad, while a blatant case of emotional manipulation, was somehow sweet, and the Coke ad was... well, not sure to be honest.

    The Doritos ad? I wasn't sure what to make of that ad. It was more clunky than offensive to me -- like it was written by a bunch of people who were trying too hard. Which may be as apt a description of an ad agency as any. :P

  •  So many first world problems, and so little time. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Jesus Christ was black, ronald reagan was the devil, and the government is lying about 9/11." Huey Freeman

    by cee4 on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 06:05:56 PM PST

  •  My mom told me "the facts of life" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, DruidQueen

    when I was 4 years old, after I kept asking when the mailman was going to bring my aunt's babies...I kept hearing all the adults talking about "delivery" and just naturally assumed the obvious.

    According to her, my reaction to the truth was, "You're kidding!"

    I missed most of the commercials; I was working on a project so listened on the radio for the most part. But I caught a few later -- I did like the baby Clydesdale ad, and the Montana stain was hilarious (though a bit sexist -- I would know quite well the significance of that stain and would never wash that jersey...).

    There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

    by Cali Scribe on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 06:29:47 PM PST

  •  The Clydesdale ad won again, as always. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The Go Daddy ad was ridiculous, which might have been the whole point.  You remember it because it was so bad.

  •  Trust me.... (0+ / 0-)

    and the idea that an ugly guy could get it on with a pretty girl is comically unrealistic.

    Speaking as an ugly guy? That's not exactly a no brainer.

    ‎"Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honor." - Norman Mailer
    My Blog
    My wife's woodblock prints

    by maxomai on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 07:14:47 PM PST

  •  Lame ads (0+ / 0-)

    Everything you have said is true.

    But we have come to expect Super Bowl ads to WOW us, to be thoughtful or funny or just awesome (like last year's Chrysler "Imported from Detroit" commercial... where was THAT awesome car ad this year??? The farmer one and the armed forces one were snooze fests, Audi was stupid, and I don't recall any others so either they weren't there or they were unmemorable).

    This year? They were just flippin' boring.

    The best ad in the whole damn bunch was the Iron Man 3 trailer, and only because it's TONY FUCKING STARK and a hole being blown out the side of Air Force One.

    Coke was just terrible, Dorito's was at first mildly funny until it just became uncomfortable because of the sheer mockery of men in women's clothing, and the beer commercials--normally pretty good--fell flat. I do recall the really sweet and overly sappy Clydesdale one, that was about the best of the beer ads.

    I'm so sick of Go Daddy, E-Trade, and freaking Jered from Subway. All those companies need to fire their marketing people and get a new schtick. And Coke does too, what the hell was that? They would have been better served having their polar bears clutching coke bottles in sheer terror as the glaciers melt around them swiftly.

  •  Commercials? (0+ / 0-)

    What about the football? Men only, hypermasculine treated as if they are heroes above all normal standards of behavior cf. Steubenville, Penn State and hundreds more cases.

    Stay fired up: now is the time to focus on downticket change! #Forward

    by emidesu on Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 09:04:10 PM PST

  •  Well, what does one expect (0+ / 0-)

    from commercials during some football game.

    Agreed, terrible.

  •  This part is essentially true (0+ / 0-)
    There's the Doritos ad where the daughter convinces her father to play "princess" with her instead of football with his friends by offering him a bag of the flavored chips. The gender messages in this one are pretty straight forward; girls like to play princesses while men prefer football
    With a few exceptions, this is true. You will get a girl here and there you plays Pop Warner with the boys and a rare boy who'd rather play dress up or tea party, but this is basically true and predates massive SuperBowl advertising.
  •  The Audi commercial was bad (0+ / 0-)

    Over here, we looked at each other and discussed just how normalized our rape culture is.  

    Then I read the comments under this post, and watch that normalization play out here, underscoring just how deep it runs.

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