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Super Bowl ads leave a bad taste

Feb 4, 2003 9:24 AM

I have sat through all 36 previous editions of the Super Bowl, so the bull, blather, ballyhoo and bad football of number 37 did not surprise me. It is one of the most overhyped of all American sports spectacles, and this year’s show not only met those low standards once again but was something even more nauseating. And I didn’t bet on Oakland.

I found myself wondering, as this spectacle of bad taste wore on, if Paul Tagliabue, the high commissioner of the National Football League, ever watches re-runs of the shows. I know he sits through them live, but does he ever see what trash occupies the much ballyhooed $2 million-a-30-second interruptions that fatten the treasury?

What compounded the felony this year was the hilarious assumption of piety that the NFL put on about not allowing Las Vegas to advertise on the show. God forbid that the biggest betting orgy of the year be associated with betting.

Instead, it was associated with those other delights of American manhood: sex, guns and booze.

The Super Bowl commercials played to those painted-faced freaks in the crowd, and to the unpainted cartoon characters who sit dumbfounded and deadened before their TVs at home, their Buds in hand, their eyes glazed, their undershirts sweaty in the eerie reflection of the tube.

This year, for the young folks in the home audiences, there were guns, violence, babes and boobs, over and over and over again. An unbroken string, including even the Terminator who would be governor of California. What a picnic that would be! Muscles and mean looks in the main seat in Sacramento, with Maria close at hand to pass on a few intellectual tidbits from time to time, between pushups and paralyzing ray guns.

The gun commercials, of course, were merely a reflection of Hollywood and television today. They both play to the lowest common denominator, with violence the theme of American life, and no sign of anything else.

Forty years ago, I entertained a Chicago columnist in my home, a dinner guest before he spoke to a local PTA. Shortly afterwards, he wrote a column saying that Hollywood was destroying the morality of America, dragging it down by reinforcing violence hour by hour. I was enraged at the time, and told him so. He is dead and gone now, and I’m sorry he isn’t around so I can apologize. He was 100 percent correct.

In the few moments when guns and gun molls were not featured on Super Bowl commercials, bad taste took over. There was the gross spot showing what your girlfriend will look like in 20 years, with her mother’s huge derriere. There was a passenger throwing up on a pickup truck windshield, somehow supposed to make you want to drive one. There were bare butts and big bosoms galore, bikinis and thongs enough to fill the beach at Bimini.

There were not, of course, any commercials for Las Vegas. Perish the thought!

Nothing that Madison Avenue turns out surprises me any longer. I have seen some of the types that create this tripe, and some of the models ”” male and female ”” that they pass off as representative of nothing more or less than their own perverse culture. Some of them are so grungy that it amazes, particularly in the fashion magazines where beauty is so highly prized. Where do they dig up these gaunt and scary specimens?

But more frightening than that is the possibility that the people who run the NFL are serious when they sit around and say they have to bar Las Vegas ads to keep their image clean.

To me, their image is scurvy, and their Super Bowl telecast commercials showed it not only at its lowest ebb, but also exposed just how phony and hypocritical their claims of piety are as well.