In the light of the seemingly constant political and social conversation which has been ongoing for nearly a month, it comes as no surprise that Super Bowl LI would have political and social statements… BUT, who could have predicted the extent?
These weren’t simply anti-Trump ads; in fact, any direct reference to him was noticeably lacking. Rather, something more happened—and I’m not talking about the historic comeback of the Patriots.
Artists made subtle statements with their actions, companies advocated for inclusion and decency, and the overall tenor of advertisers was directly opposed to fear and anger. All combined into a concerted effort to shift the national conversation: towards hope, towards togetherness, and towards a more positive tone.
In the midst of all the plays and the crazy comeback, did you fumble the message or did you catch it? Here’s a top almost-ten re-cap of a different kind of comeback.
1. Papa Francisco!
Sunday morning, Papa Francis encouraged us to look at the Super Bowl as “a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity.” His video started the tone of encouragement which continued throughout the night.
2. Singing of “Sisterhood”
Several stars from the award-winning musical Hamilton, took the stage before the national anthem. In magnificently singing “America the Beautiful” they extended the language for inclusion: “And crown thy good with brotherhood, and sisterhood, from sea to shining sea.”
3. Budweiser Advocates for the Immigrant: “Born the Hard Way.
At first, the commercial shows a young man coming to America. We have an Ellis Island-type of introduction: passports, long lines, a lack of welcome, insults, even a fire on a riverboat… and then, an American staple: Anheuser-Busch. While the commercial stretches the story of the founding of brewery, it does emphasize the fact that we are nation of immigrants. Our greatness, our identity, and even our staples lie in that diversity.
4. Lady Gaga’s Patriotism and Embrace
Often the halftime show begins with one of the headlining artist’s best-selling songs. So when Lady Gaga launches the halftime show singing “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” on the roof of NRG stadium with drone-created red, white, and blue background floating in the sky: it’s a statement. She stands overlooking the stadium and the Houston skyline—and by extension the United States of America. But then she took it a step further. She ends her rooftop entrance with a thesis statement cribbed from the Pledge of Allegiance: “One Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” All of her performance will be a message as desiring unification and inclusion. Grounded in her faith and patriotism, her statement is not one of criticism or cynicism, but one of hope.
For all of the dancing and pyrotechnics and costumes and jumping off of the roof of the stadium, the image that most haunts from her performance comes at the end of “Million Reasons.” The hope-drenched song ends with her walking into the crowd, holding and hugging a young (brown) woman while the chorus’s command to “stay” echoed through the stadium. The implications of Lady Gaga’s action are clear: go embrace the stranger.
5. Coke’s “Oh Beautiful.”
The chorus is haunting and elegant, as they sing “America the Beautiful” with multiple voices and in multiple languages. It’s not a new advertisement—it originally appeared in 2014, and that in itself makes a powerful statement. Coca-Cola purposely chose to highlight the diverse makeup of the beauty of America. It’s an invitation to look at what makes our country great: each other.
6. #WeAccept: AirBnB’s Many Faces
Airbnb’s commercial features a collage of faces, slowly changing, and including different hair color, eye color, genders, races, etc… There are no words spoken, but a message slowly appears before the faces: “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.” The message and the faces are accompanied by a gentle, echoing piano. Ending with the hashtag #weaccept, it is a striking statement of both encouragement and inclusion.
7. 84 Lumber: “The Journey Begins” & “The Full Journey.”
Easily the most political, this ad is also the most moving. The Journey Begins shows a little girl and her mother making their way into the United States. It begins with a sense of destitution and desperation, opening with the girl and her mother waking up in “their house” which is one step up from a shed. As they travel, we see intense hardship punctuated with intimate moments of joy between the mother and daughter. We also see the little girl grabbing little plastic bits of red, white, and blue garbage. Only half of their story aired on television.
The Full Journey continues, showing further hardship and stress in a desert. Interspersed in their journey, brief images appear of men working construction. The mother and daugher eventually arrive at an impossibly high wall. In that moment, the mother starts to cry and the daughter pulls from her bag an American flag made from the bits of plastic she had gathered along the way. As the mother and the daugher cling to one another, they hear a truck of one of the construction workers driving away. They run towards the noise and find a door. Together they push it open, light washes over them baptizing them in newness and hope. The camera then moves to the truck driving away, and the commercial ends with the text: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”
8. Morgan Freeman’s Delight in our Differences: Turkish Airlines
Perhaps it’s my deep affinity for Morgan Freeman’s voice or perhaps it’s the depth of the words contained in this 45 second advertisement, but I find the tone of the message striking. Freeman identifies “those of us” who explore with a “sense of wonder” and those “bridging worlds” and “finding delight in our differences.” He then turns that identification into an invitation, “to widen your world.” It appeals to a sense of adventure but also to the genuine depth with which we need to meet others in order to learn more about them. Instead of protesting, the tone of the message is one which invites us to enter deeper into encounter with the other.
9. Google Home: Images of Life, Home, and Togetherness
It may seem strange to close the list with this piece, but the images are so striking in the video that I cannot help but point to more occurring below the surface. It’s a simple premise behind the advertisement: Google Home helps you with life. To express this, Google shows moments of coming home, people laughing, surprise parties, father-daughter laughter, cooking advice, and greetings. Families of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds appear, but that actually matters less than what they are doing. It’s the images which are striking: it’s just people living, people of diverse backgrounds simply, joyfully living. This ordinariness and joy echo both an appeal to “go and live” and a reminder to us of what matters: family and friends. In the midst of all the tense political and social conversation as of late, Google’s commercial reminds us of each other. It reminds us that we can find comfort, life, and joy in those we love. It’s a message which certainly we need to hear more often.