During this year’s Super Bowl commercial breaks, Roseanne got knocked over by a log for Snickers and Grizzly bears wrecked a car for McDonald’s. Cars.com poisoned one dude, body-scrambled another, and shot an unfortunate cowboy full of arrows. Pepsi had two separate commercials that ended with the same punchline: Someone being hit in the face by a full can of Pepsi Max. (A possible tagline could be, “Pepsi Max: Tasty and Concussive!”) Also, House threw his cane at an adorable child, a pug dog smashed through a door for Doritos, and that terrifying green android apparently stole someone’s thumbs. People, this was violent stuff. Now, I’m no prude. I think violence is hilarious, especially unexpected violence, which is why I’m still laughing about the end of There Will Be Blood. But is anyone else concerned that the most-watched advertising period of the year featured a nonstop array of cartoonish violence?
Commercials in general have gotten way more kinetic and action-y in the last few years. It’s partially because special effects have gotten better: It’s possible to achieve action movie effects on a relative shoestring budget. But there’s also the perceived attention deficit problem: Companies have to worry about people not paying attention or flipping over to the Puppy Bowl, and the fastest way to get people’s attention is (apparently) to throw a can of Pepsi in someone’s face.
Personally, I blame Terry Tate. The 2003 Reebok commercials about “Terry Tate, Linebacker” were so funny because of the unexpected juxtaposition of gridiron brutality in a white-collar setting. Seven years later, half the Super Bowl commercials felt like they were trying to achieve an “Office Linebacker” moment. And some of them even succeeded — that pug dog smashing through the door was pretty funny — but after awhile, the laughs started to feel a bit hollow.
Now, I realize it’s a little bit silly talking about violence in Super Bowl commercials, when football is already a pretty violent sport. Cleveland Browns legend Otto Graham called it “war without death.” Recent scientific studies have amended that line to read “war without death, but with debilitating brain injuries.” I also think there’s a trickle-down effect here from the fact that, for over a decade, Hollywood’s main source of income has been action movies. Commercials riff of pop culture — which is a nice way of saying they steal things that are popular — and pop culture has gotten pretty violent, in a bloodless PG-13 way that is completely safe for children.
PopWatchers, were you struck by all the farcical violence? Did it disturb you at all, or have I turned into my parents? Seriously, what if that jogging girl has brain damage? And what if she’s currently unemployed and doesn’t have health insurance to cover her brain surgery? This isn’t Sweden! We don’t have communist health care!
Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich
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