One of the more interesting phenomena to arise in televised sports is the fact that many people tune in to the Super Bowl not so much to watch the game, but to watch the ads. The commercials that air during the game—many for the very first time—generate almost as much hype and interest as the action on the field. This year’s game, Super Bowl XLIV, was the most watched program in television history, besting the 27-year old record held by the final episode of M*A*S*H. This is a remarkable accomplishment, especially considering that viewers in 2010 have many more programming options available to them than did viewers in 1983. The Super Bowl is much more than a championship football game, it has become a cultural event. Because of this, Super Bowl ads are often very good indicators of where American culture is as a whole.
Knowing that they will be advertising to a substantial number of people, most advertisers bring their best effort, trying to make their ad stand out. In years past (and this year as well), this has often meant using sex to sell their product. The usual suspects (namely Go Daddy.com) were up to their usual tricks, using skin rather than substance to attract attention. Go Daddy in particular has found a publicity loophole that they have been exploiting rather successfully for the last few years. They purposely make a version of their ad that they know will be too "over-the-top" for the network to air. After the network rejects the ad—which is exactly what Go Daddy wants—they post it on their website. Since Go Daddy makes their money by selling internet domain names and website hosting, the more traffic they get to their site, the more money they make. Go Daddy.com has built their entire company on rejected Super Bowl ads. Although it is morally repugnant, it is without a doubt a brilliant marketing strategy.
Although Go Daddy was content to churn out more of the same for this year’s ads, other companies got a bit more creative. One theme that emerged rather prominently among many of the advertisers was the loss of masculinity in our modern culture. I find it to be a fascinating social statement when advertisers feel confident enough to literally ridicule their target demographic. Most of the commercials that touched on this subject seemed to equate marriage and family with milquetoast men—ones who have traded their manhood for a minivan. In other words, these ads made the assumption that in our modern culture, married men merely exist to be servants and yes-men for their wives. This assumption was underlying several of the ad campaigns from companies as diverse as Dove, Dodge, Dockers, and Doritos. (Not sure about the "D" connection, but it definitely demands dedicated deliberation and deduction!) One car company even went so far as to proclaim its truck as the toy that "grown-up boys" need to play in the mud. The ad ended by asking the question, "Grow up?" and answering "Never!" I guess it also never occurred to the automaker that in a feminized society such as ours, even big boys need to ask their mommies to buy their toys for them.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but be encouraged by this seemingly pessimistic trend. Although the manhood that Madison Avenue wishes to recover is nothing more than a stereotype, it at least recognizes that there is something seriously wrong with our modern matriarch culture. In the "Foreword" to Richard Phillips brand-new book, The Masculine Mandate, Jerry Bridges writes this:
What image comes to your mind when you hear the expression "A man’s man"? Is it the picture of an outdoorsman, skilled in hunting and fishing? Might it be the idea of a man capable of building his own house? Is it more along the lines of a tough guy in the mold of John Wayne? There’s certainly nothing wrong with being an outdoorsman, building one’s own house, or even, within bounds, being the solid John Wayne type. But is that all there is to being a man? The truth is that the Bible gives us God’s picture of a real man, and it doesn’t fit any of our stereotypes.
Bridges point is not to be missed. True manhood is not found in what a man does with his hands, but in how he thinks with his mind. The irony of the Super Bowl commercials bemoaning the loss of "manhood" is that sandwiched among the car, clothing, soap, and beer ads was a real-life example of a "man’s man." The irony gets even deeper because the very commercial highlighting this real man shows him hugging his mom and telling her that he loves her. And irony of ironies, this is also the one commercial that, had CBS caved to political pressure, would never have been aired. The ad, of course, is the one featuring Pam Tebow and her famous son, Tim. (A a side note, it should reveal an awful lot about the feminist agenda in this country when ads that portray women as sex-objects are given a pass, but an ad that seems to hint at being against abortion raises all kinds of negative reactions.)
Aside from all of the free publicity generated by the National Organization of Women’s (NOW) protest of Focus on the Family’s commercials (there were two versions), America got to see a different side of Tim Tebow. The senior quarterback for the Florida Gators is as competitive as they come on the football field, but off the field, he is still his mother’s son. The most common sports images of Tebow are of him with blood streaming down his face, yelling into the air to motivate his teammates. Many football fans have a difficult time reconciling Tebow’s play on the field with his openly professed and devout Christianity. But the problem isn’t with Tebow, the problem is with the caricature that the church has allowed Christianity to become. Like nearly everything else in our society, the church has become feminized to the point that an individual like Tim Tebow is the exception not the rule, because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of the "meek and mild" Christian. However, the Focus on the Family commercials show a different perspective. The very same hands that threw pass after pass into the end zone are now tenderly hugging the woman who gave birth to him and the very same head that plowed numerous linebackers and defensive ends into the ground is now softly nestled against her hair. The statement couldn’t be any bolder, or any more counter-intuitive to the commercials pining for real men: Tim Tebow is not a man because he can score touchdowns, Tim Tebow is a man because he can openly hug his mom and not be embarrassed.
It should come as no surprise that the version of masculinity being presented by the major advertisers does not square with the biblical version. In reality, their version doesn’t even pose any real threat to the feminism of NOW. Modern feminists are more than happy to let men think that driving pickup trucks through mud and throwing a hook into the middle of a lake are "manly" activities, because while the boys are off in the middle of the woods somewhere, the real manly work—the work that men are actually called to in the Bible—is being taken care of by the women back at home. A real man takes an interest in his family. In fact, a real man is one that understands that his life’s work is not what he does to make money, but how he trains and disciples those closest to him. A real man is not defined by what he does, but how he does it; and if that is the definition is it any wonder that even Super Bowl advertisers can find little of it around?
But their "solution" only makes the problem worse. Dockers can chide men all it wants for not "wearing the pants" in the family, but this completely misses the real reason: The pants were not stolen, men were willingly giving them away. Are we really so naive to think that convincing an entire generation of men to wear Dockers and drive trucks will somehow solve the problem. Of course not. Dockers just wants to sell pants and Dodge wants to sell trucks; they are in it to make money. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that these companies believe that a large enough portion of their target audience will resonate with their "lack of manhood" message. John Eldredge has sold a mountain of books to Christian men, teaching them that they are "Wild at Heart" because the "core of man’s heart is undomesticated." Eldredge’s message isn’t too far removed from the one given by the Super Bowl advertisers in that he believes men need to get back to doing "manly" activities (i.e. outdoor activities) because this is how they are "made." Richard Phillips makes this astute observation:
It’s easy to understand how this teaching has appealed to men who labor in office buildings or feel imprisoned by the obligations of marriage, parenthood, and civilized society. But there is one thing Eldredge does not notice. God put the man in the garden. The point of Wild at Heart is that a man finds his identity outside the garden in wilderness quests. In contrast, the point of Genesis 2:8 is that God has put the man into the garden, into the world of covenantal relationships and duties, in order to gain and act out his God-given identity there. If God intends men to be wild at heart, how strange that he placed man in the garden, where his life would be shaped not by self-centered identity quests but by covenantal bonds and blessings (The Masculine Mandate, 7).
Men, in their sin, are indeed wild at heart and feeding that tendency only drives men farther away from their divine calling to covenantal and generational faithfulness. I for one would be more than happy to find out that being a real man only meant that I needed to buy a truck and go camping every weekend. Tragically, this is exactly what many men are hearing today, even from the church. This is not a solution, this is escapism and retreatism. It’s about time we stopped retreating into the woods to camp and started camping out in our own living and dining rooms. The next generation of men will not learn true masculinity if the current generation of men are never home. God is calling his men to faithfulness, not fishing. He desires a generation of Tebows, not overgrown boys playing in the mud.