I have always loved the Super Bowl — not really for the football, but for the annual ‘culture check’ they represent. This year I found the advertisements particularly interesting from one point of view: the growing number that were, on some level, attempting to evoke an emotional response, as opposed to simply aiming to make us laugh or simply ‘make us look’ for the ultimate purpose of selling us a product.
The latest commercials in this category included Coke’s spot depicting “America the Beautiful” being sung by people all over the world in their own languages (a concept that aroused anger among some hardline conservatives, causing humorist Andy Borowitz to refer to Coke’s “wild assertion that other languages exist”), and the Cheerios spot marking another year in the life of a biracial American family (another opus that tugged at many people’s heartstrings even while enraging some who refuse to accept the idea of races intermarrying).
But perhaps the best were Budweiser’s two contributions, which could hardly have offended anyone: The “hero’s welcome” given to a soldier returning home, and, of course, the much-hyped ”puppy love” spot featuring the horse-dog reunion (a continuation of last year’s No. 1 equine-themed ad showing the unbreakable bond between a man and a Clydesdale).
What these ads made me realize is that we are a far less frivolous society than we’re often led to believe – that the things that resonate most with us are still those that arouse our deepest feelings, our sense of gratitude and remind us of our intrinsic connections with both our fellow man and fellow creatures.
That sense of connection is also what has been perhaps most responsible for Facebook having attracted such a tremendous following and become the international institution it now is on the 10th anniversary of its founding as a forum for college students. The unique ability to reach out and find people from your past that Facebook offers, as well as to communicate the things the move you on a daily basis, whether they’re personal experiences, observations, videos of puppies and kittens, or inspiring news items, can provide a spiritual lift to the human psyche that critics of the medium usually fail to give it credit for, and not simply a graphic “thumbs up” for something that strikes us as funny.
My point, I guess, is that far from turning us into a society of techno-zombies, our electronic media can evoke the things that remind us of what Abe Lincoln once called the “better angels of our nature” – those things that go to the very heart of our common humanity. That is, if we don’t reduce their use to the pursuit of activities that are purely commercial or capricious in nature.