What Super Bowl Commercials Say
Louie the Lizard: "I had no motive. I love Budweiser, and I love the frogs."
Frankie the Lizard (sarcastically): "Oh, yeah, you're good buddies. I forgot."
Louie: "Excuse me, if you'll remember last summer, I invited them to that barbecue."
Frankie: "Well, Louie, you wanted to cook them at that barbecue."
Louie: "Well, at least I invited them. You wouldn't have invited them at all."
You probably remember the Budweiser lizards, Louie and Frankie, two New York squamates who had it in for the frogs after the croaky amphibians - "Bud-weis-er" - had won the audition to do the Budweiser Super Bowls commercials in the late '90s.
The lizard commercials appeared a couple of years after the hit movie "Goodfellows" and parodied the gangsters that Americans never tire of aggrandizing. The lizards Louie and Frankie, thugs that they are, play on human weakness - self-deceptions, vanity, vindictiveness, revenge - all of it gently manipulated to produce a subtle chuckle. It was hard not to love the lizards, much in the way we loved HBO's series "The Sopranos."
Unfortunately, this year's crop of Super Bowl commercials wasn't quite up to snuff. Eminem endorsed Brisk - whatever the heck that is - and Chrysler Corporation in conjunction with the down and out city of Detroit. Justin Bieber and Ozzy Osbourne promoted 6G - again I'm out of the loop - and Kim Kardashian was hawking workout shoes.
Timothy Hutton made light of Tibet's suffering, and Jack Sparrow was pushing, well, Jack Sparrow. Joan Rivers was a Go-Daddy girl - is there nothing plastic surgery can't enhance? - and Snickers clobbered Roseanne with a log. She deserved it. A beaver - the animal, not the crooning superstar - saves a guy's life and, more importantly, his Bridgestone tires.
None of that stuff was truly memorable. All the commercials had to say was that we love money. But there was one swan among the geese: a VW Passat commercial featuring a child decked out in a Darth Vader costume - flowing cape and black plastic helmet included - who believes he can manipulate the universe by applying The Force.
It was genius. The little boy, whose face we never see, wanders through the house, cape swirling, believing that his costume has granted him superhuman powers. He struts down the hall accompanied by dramatic "Star Wars" music and focuses his supposed powers on an exercise machine, the family dog (who pays no attention), the washer and dryer, a bald-headed doll, and a sandwich - all to no avail.
Then the dog barks, and the child's father pulls into the driveway in his new Passat.
Brushing his dad aside, the kid confronts the parked car head on and applies his best hand gestures. Nothing happens. He tries harder. Nothing. Then suddenly the car springs to life, the engine revving and headlights shining. The little Darth Vader jumps back in utter amazement.
Then we, the audience, realize that his father has started the car using a remote control. But the kid doesn't know this, and he turns to look at his parents, then stares again at the VW, astonishment suffusing the TV screen and the soul of anyone who has an ounce of wonderment left in his or her heart. It's magical.
Super Bowl commercials tell us about American life and who we believe we are. After all, the job of an advertisement is to remind us of what we need to eat, wear, drink, drive and think, so Super Bowl ads reflect what's happening in pop culture, which seems to be the only form of culture that exists anymore.
The VW/Darth Vader commercial says that we love our children and want them to hold on to the magic of childhood for as long as possible. What could be more human, or more loving, than that?
Stephen Smith's most recent book, "A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths," is available at The Country Bookshop. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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