Author: Riley Kimball
Super Bowl Sunday is a cultural institution. Whether football fans or not, millions tune in on game day for the biggest American television event of the year. The Super Bowl is a unique program because people are just as likely to pay attention to the commercials as the game, given the high caliber ads that fill the breaks in broadcasting. This year saw a frightening new addition to the standard lineup of Doritos, Bud Light and E*Trade commercials: a pro-life ad.
The commercial, featuring Florida Gators superstar Tim Tebow and his mother, is the first political ad to air during the Super Bowl. While many pro-choice groups were outraged at the content of the commercial, I’m far more concerned with the fact that CBS has finally budged and allowed a political commercial into the Superbowl.Before the ad even aired it was highly contentious. In a Washington Post article, Erin Matson of the National Organization for Women claimed the commercial was “hate masquerading as love” before even seeing it.
The other side of the political spectrum stated equally adamant opinions before the ad’s airing. Focus on the Family, an evangelical organization, suggested on its Web site that Mrs. Tebow’s decision to not have an abortion despite doctors’ recommendations proves there is no circumstance under which abortion is an acceptable option.
However, despite its controversial content, both of these parties must have felt rather silly after watching the commercial that aired, for it is so vacuous that it can hardly be said to represent anything close to “hate” or “love.” It does not make clear any aspect of Mrs. Tebow’s medical decision, and notably absent is any mention of an abortion. Personally, I think that both sides of the debate have taken the ad’s message to extremes.
So the commercial’s content is not particularly worrisome. What is an issue, however, is that CBS even permitted it to run during Super Bowl XLIV. Over 106 million people tuned in for the game. This staggering number accounts for the incredible value of Super Bowl ad space: CBS only sells 62 spots. According to CBS News, 30-second commercials cost upwards of $2.5 million, which is what Focus on the Family paid to get its message out to Super Bowl fans. But historically, Super Bowl ads have been denied if they carried a political or issue-based message. So why the sudden change?
Last year EOnline reported that NBC had declined to run a commercial by PETA during the Super Bowl. This year, according to mediaite.com, CBS turned down an ad for a gay men’s dating Web site. However, the recession has made it difficult to sell airtime, as evidenced by the absence of commercials by Super Bowl mainstays Pepsi, General Motors and FedEx. Even in a recession, was CBS really so cornered that it had no choice but to air the Tebow ad? And why would the network choose that ad over the men’s dating site?
CBS actively chose one politically oriented commercial to run over another. The company’s selective decisions to run only certain ads by lobbying organizations represent a shift toward corporate involvement in politics, a very dangerous game.
Only time will tell for sure, but it seems likely that CBS has established a precedent validating the use of political commercials during highly viewed events like the Super Bowl. Who knows what could happen in the future. With huge corporations putting pressure on the political process, how can the average American have his or her voice heard? And with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn much of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law, corporations now have free reign to donate as much to political campaigns as they see fit.
CBS’s decision to align with a political group may be the first in the beginning of a new wave of partisanship in corporations. And in a forum as large as the Super Bowl, it is a bold precedent to set. Unless Senator Dodd’s proposed constitutional amendment, which would limit corporate spending in elections, passes, future elections might be decided by companies, not people. So don’t blame Focus on the Family but rather CBS when corporations begin to tip the balance of democracy.
Riley Kimball is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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