My ten-year old is a football fan, and so watched some of the first football game of the season tonight on TV. We repeatedly saw an ad telling men and boys to ignore a woman in horrific pain and pay attention to -- you guessed it -- football instead.
A recurring ad for Verizon's NFL app featured a scenario in which a guy is on a date with a woman at some sort of cooking school. He sees quarterback Drew Brees, who accusingly questions why he isn't watching football. He sheepishly tries to make his voice deeper and explains it's a first date. Brees tells him he can indeed watch football on his phone, and the guy is so excited about this that when his date catches fire behind him (the viewer only sees the flames but she screams and yells "help me") he, now watching football on his phone, raises his finger, saying, "one second," and ignores what would be her agony in favor of football.
(more of a description and ideas for what we might do to protest below the squiggle).
Brees sees the flames and calmly emits a blast with a fire extinguisher. When the guy on the date finally turns around, he emits a repulsed "unh," at the sight of his suddenly gray (old-looking!) date. She asks, "What?" He replies a hurried, "Nothing." The camera cuts to another couple at the cooking school. She gestures to her eyebrows to tell the woman who just caught on fire that there's fire extinguisher gray goo in her brows. The man in that second couple is looking down his nose (At the man for ignoring the woman on fire? Maybe, but more likely at the woman for daring to look so gray and disheveled in public.)
The ad can be seen here.
This is an ad that can be read a number of ways. Maybe it says that women's pain is funny. Or that men ignoring women's pain is funny. It tells boys and men that real men ignore women's pain, even the horrific pain of a woman being engulfed in flames, in favor of football.
I couldn't help but think of the NFL's recent bad publicity for not taking battering seriously. And I thought of the thousands of women, primarily in India and Pakistan, burned to death every year in dowry murders. Official figures in India put the number of women killed in this way at over 8000 each year. The real number is probably much higher. Not funny.
The hash tag Verizon supplies with the ad? #FOMOF, which apparently stands for "fear of missing out [on] football." The hash tag I used? #violenceagainstwomen
I tweeted out the following protest via my #sdien account, "Verizon ad NFL app: woman on fire, male date ignores 4 football. Fire out, ad says problem is she now looks old. #NFL #violenceagainstwomen."
I've also tweeted protests to some people involved in the ad. I ask you to protest to them too. I wrote, urging others to object, "Protest teaching men to ignore women's pain to Verizon Exec @RoseStuckeyKirk, actor Brian Smith @BTSCali, agency @mcgarrybowen"
We might want to contact actor Brian Smith's agents and ask Brian to dissociate himself from the message in the ad.
Maybe in the comments, if you agree, you can contribute other ideas about who to send protests to as well.
I explained my objections to my ten year old, who agreed, "I hadn't thought of that, but yeah, that's pretty bad." Let's let everyone know, "that's pretty bad."
Update, noon on 9/5, with extended analysis: I've been thinking since last night about the meaning of Verizon's hashtag: Fear of Missing Out on Football. This ad is supposed to be about fear, but not about the fear that women are being burned to death in India, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Not about the fear that women abused by men feel every day. No, I realized this morning. Verizon says it's about men's fear of missing out. On football? Well, sure, that's part of what they're advertising. But more importantly, the ad plays on men's socialized fears of not being masculine enough, of missing out on masculinity.
In the second shot, "Joe" leaning in to stir the pot with his date, says, in an attempt to sound romantic, "let's do this together."
He's interrupted by Drew Brees ((the ghost of Drew Brees representing men's internalized macho hero perhaps?) in full pads and uniform, of course). Joe looks embarrassed being caught cooking by this paragon of masculinity, and quickly moves away from his date. Brees says, flatly but accusingly, "It's Sunday. You're missing football." Brees is questioning his masculinity - how could you be cooking when you should be engaging in the weekly ritual of male bonding that occurs when paying obligatory obeisance to, watching, and celebrating football's ritualized male violence? "
Joe says, "I know. First date. I thought this would be the move." Joe accompanies this with a suggestive waggle of the eyebrows. In other words, it's okay. I know it looks like I'm violating the bro code by doing something in woman's proper sphere instead of watching football, but I'm really quite heterosexual, trying to put the moves on a woman by just pretending to be a sensitive new age guy. Similarly, on the twitter feed of the actor who plays Joe in the commercial (Brian Smith), Smith uses the hashtag #nohomo, the reflexively homophobic hashtag of someone trying to assure his readers that it's okay, I can do this non-stereotypical masculine activity but don't worry, I'm still quite homophobic, thank you very much.
When the fire bursts out, Brees seems to be the knight in shining (football) armor, quickly rescuing the damsel in distress. At least Brees hears the woman's cries and responds. So maybe the ad is trying to say that real men rescue women from great danger. But does Brees evince any concern for the woman who might have just been gravely injured? Nah. Instead, he addresses Joe, and returns the subject to football. "Download it, and you can watch live NFL games right here."
So, I think the intended message of the ad is directed at men, telling those of us who are men to prove that we are real men by downloading the app. This will give us the ability to prove our masculinity any place we go in our domestic quotidian lives by pulling out our smartphones, ignoring the needs of those we claim to love around us no matter how urgent, and watching football.