Like most internationally-televised events, the Super Bowl is a true island. A fascinating place where people leave the real world behind in order to revel in gridiron glory and food, glorious food. Oh, and those multi-million-dollar commercials. It culminates in the one day where being a mindless consumer is really acceptable, and maybe even kind of fun. But this year’s big game has somehow courted something usually actively avoided: political controversy.
Until recently, the most controversial moment in Super Bowl history involved Janet Jackson’s right nipple, a precedent-setting mishap that would eventually lead all the way to the Supreme Court. But the expensive commercials, which have been a welcome diversion from a boring game in years past, are making this year’s Super Bowl an interesting source of heated discussion.
The primary source of the controversy involves an ad featuring Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow. In the ad, to be broadcast during the game, Tebow shares a pro-life message alongside his mother. The ad, which comes courtesy of Focus on the Family, has sparked counterarguments from a number of organizations, including Planned Parenthod, and even skepticism at the authenticity of the story the Tebows tell.
A first for advocacy advertising, the Tebow commercial might not seem terribly controversial most years. But considering the commercials that did not receive broadcast approval from CBS, the network showing this year’s Super Bowl, only magnifies the element of controversy. While Focus on the Family gladly paid for both the expensive commercial and the even-more-expensive air time, other companies looking to make the same investment won’t be seen during the big game.
The most prominent among the banned ads was for gay online dating site ManCrunch, whose advertisement has been making the rounds online. The ad, which features two male football fans making out on a couch while watching football, surely would have drawn criticism from some Super Bowl viewers. But GoDaddy, which has aired commercials in previous Super Bowl telecasts, produced an ad for this year’s game that was also banned by CBS for its own, albeit slightly toned-down, homosexual themes. Known for actively courting controversy in their advertising, GoDaddy’s ad, featuring an effeminate former pro football player who launches a career in fashion, is more tacky than controversial. But being tacky likely isn’t why CBS banned the ad.
While this year’s Super Bowl is sure to feature plenty of superfluous thirty-second spots, the ManCrunch-Tebow distinction made by CBS draws an interesting line regarding what is considered acceptable for the single-largest television audience of the year. Either way, if this year’s Super Bowl commercials once again overshadow the actual game, it could be for a very different reason.