Based solely on the advertising, you’d think that the 10 million to 15 million men tuning into the Winter Olympics every night were an entirely different subset-perhaps a whole different species-than the 57 million family-loathing misogynists who watched the Super Bowl. The Olympics ads bring family-friendly to new heights, with parents supporting young athletes and athletes lauding their families. They support girl power, as Gretchen Bleiler snowboards to the moon and hockey-playing little girls tear it up on the ice.
Tablet’s Marjorie Ingall lays out the contrast in all of its magnificent glory:
In contrast to the Super Bowl’s “woman as succubus” theme, the Olympics ads depict marriage as a partnership. Parents share driving and child-rearing duties. One ad for GE touts the company’s medical technology: “I’ve seen beautiful things,” intones a middle-aged guy. “But the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen is the image on a screen that helped our doctor see that my wife’s cancer was treatable.” If that dude were in a FloTV or Dodge ad, he’d want his wife to die. Then he’d replace her with a more youthful latex version.
Why the difference? Ingalls puts it down to the “[ad] industry’s wail of impotent frustration,” but I think there’s a more insidious reason behind it. Watching sports represents a mixture of fantasy and fandom, and everyone brings to a major sporting event a little personal inner-narrative. The fantasy of football is, for men-and for men only, unlike Olympic sports-one of the road not taken, an irresponsible life of tackling on the field and debauchery off. The fantasy of the Olympics, for that key 18-to-35-year-old demographic, is that somehow, that could be any of us up there (which is the only possible explanation for the popularity of curling)-and now, in four years or eight or 12-our kids could be the ones thanking us in a Visa ad. They aren’t different men, and they aren’t different advertisers. They’re just going after a different little dopamine neuron in the brain.
Photograph of Gretchen Bleiler by AFP Photo/Martin Bureau.