From the moment Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo and Jasmine Cephas Jones—who performed as the original Schuyler sisters in "Hamilton: An American Musical"—added their own flair to "America the Beautiful" by throwing in the word "sisterhood," I could tell that Super Bowl LI was going to be politically charged. With 113 million Americans watching the game, it’s the one of the most effective soapboxes, albeit one with a $5 million per 30 seconds of airtime price tag.
If by chance you didn't watch, went to the bathroom and missed an ad or couldn't pick up the subtle nuances, I’m here to break down the evening for you.
Shortly after stadium performance, viewers saw an encore of "America the Beautiful" in a Coca-Cola advertisement. The song played in multiple languages men and women of different backgrounds appeared in short vignettes. The soda company could have done a more innocent spot with their signature polar bears but instead decided re-aired their same commercial from 2014's Super Bowl to show that America is, and always will be, diverse.
We knew since it was first revealed last week that Anheuser-Busch would have one about immigration. Since the news came shortly after the immigration ban, it stirred controversy before it officially aired and some people announced that they would boycott the beer. Focusing on Adolphus Busch and Eberhard Anheuser, the ad told the story of the German immigrants working against discrimination to achieve the American dream.
Granted, the production on the ad started months in advance, before November’s election results, but one has to wonder why they didn't go the simple route by featuring Clydesdales galloping on the plains.
The theme of America being a melting pot continued with home rental service Airbnb’s message of inclusivity and acceptance. As diverse faces appeared on screen so did another portion of the message. The entire text of the ad read, “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”
Last weekend Airbnb offered free and subsidized housing to those affected by the ban.
Yet the most controversial moment of the night belonged to 84 Lumber. Both the National Football League and Fox have the final say on ads and they didn’t like what the building supply company was showing. In the short film a Mexican mother and daughter travel north through adverse conditions seeking a better lifestyle. Along the way the little girl gathers scraps to make into an American flag and, thanks to the broadcasters, the rest was cut. Viewers had to go online to see the family arrive at a border wall. The mother starts to have an emotional breakdown but then they notice a door. After pushing it open, text appears that said, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.” It doesn’t take a genius to see why Fox nixed it.
At halftime singer Lady Gaga opened up with a medley of “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Pledge of Allegiance.” Irving Berlin was a Russian immigrant who wrote “God Bless America” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” is a protest song and a critical response Berlin’s tune. She strategically blended the phrases to emphasize justice for all and civil rights. Then Lady Gaga segued into “Born This Way,” her anthem for sexual orientation equality.
Subtler and gentler stabs at the commander in chief were also present. Even if the ads weren’t specifically attacking Trump, basic sentiments feel anti-Trump because he is so far removed from the norms of human decency.
The hair care company It's A 10 poked fun of the fact that we’re now going to be subjected to four years of awful hair. Kia Motors showcased a progressive view of saving the planet from climate change while throwing in Melissa McCarthy for comedic relief. Audi’s 30-second spot had a voiceover about equal pay and equal treatment for women. The commercial for the voice-controlled Google Home assistant had an LGBTQ flag. Life Water highlighted the importance of the arts. An ad for avocados was almost entirely apolitical, except for the fact that these green guys are imported from Mexico.
National Geographic promoted their new television show about Albert Einstein called “Genius.” This could be seen as an average advertisement as well, however, the flash of the red flags highlight that Einstein was a Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany to seek asylum in America.
Yes, there were many normal commercials. There were even a few conservatives ones like American Petroleum Institute’s pro-oil ad. But since the President tweets every time “Saturday Night Live” makes fun of him, you can be sure the ads got under his skin as well. He may be the president and the public face of our country but he lost the popular vote. The companies and entertainers are showing that the racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist hate speech of him and his administration doesn't speak for them.
This column was originally published in the February 8, 2017 edition of the Valley Courier.