The sponsors of Super Bowl LIV are manipulating you.
Late stage capitalism is a scourge that commodifies everything, including the self.
Most major companies range from questionably amoral to downright evil (we're looking at you, Walmart). Commercials are designed to manipulate us into connecting human emotions, humor, and our favorite stars with non-human entities that just want our money. As such, on the Super Bowl—the biggest day for advertising of the year—there is no shortage of blatantly emotionally manipulative and hypocritical ad spots. From the NFL creating an ad that protests police brutality (despite refusing to support Colin Kaepernick for doing that very thing) to Google making us cry despite historically using loop holes to pay taxes that could help millions of people, here is the ranking of the most manipulative, hypocritical ads from Super Bowl 2020.
5. New York Life Insurance—Love Takes Action
New York Life, an insurance company specializing in life insurance, sponsored an ad that explored four different Greek words for love: Philia, Storge, Eros, and Agape. It describes the latter as "love as an action," and then, over moving shots of families in various moments of struggle, happiness, and companionship, equates this kind of love to a life insurance policy. Emotionally manipulative, sure, but it's not a baseless claim to say that leaving behind a life insurance policy for your loved ones is an act of love.
Unfortunately, once you begin to read reviews of New York Life, it becomes clear why the company worked so hard to create an ad that presented them as caring stewards of money. Customer complaints on the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs alike outline a company that is intentionally opaque about their policies, offer little customer service, and avoid actually paying out policies by almost any means necessary. While it's impossible to know for sure to what degree these claims are true, it's certainly not a great sign that they worked so hard to create an ad spot that uses such strong pathos to erase a reputation of immorality and money grubbing.
4. Microsoft—Be The One/Katie Sowers
It's a fantastic (if overdue) step towards equality that Super Bowl 2020 included the first female and LGBTQ coach to ever appear at the Super Bowl. Katie Sowers is undoubtedly a talented and hard working individual, and it's excellent that her story is getting more exposure. But considering that Microsoft has a history of suppressing claims of sexual harassment and discrimination from female employees, the ad comes off as a disingenuous face-saving measure. Real change does not come from ads that do lip service to equality; it comes from actively working to solve issues of inequality, something Microsoft has repeatedly failed to do.
3. NFL—Inspire Change
This one came off as so deeply hypocritical that many living rooms across America let out a collective groan when it became clear the NFL sponsored the ad. The spot is a decidedly moving look at the murder of Corey Jones, cousin of NFL player Anquan Boldin, by a plain clothes police officer. It features Corey's parents lamenting his death and a voice over from Boldin explaining the foundation he set up in Corey's honor.
All of this is moving and poignant, except for the fact that in 2018 the NFL did just about everything in its power to suppress the efforts of former player Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the National Anthem before a game to protest police brutality against black and brown bodies. As the Washington Post puts it, "The league can always be trusted to pounce on a sincere effort to raise awareness of an issue, then fine-tune and focus-group it until the corporate-friendly result barely resembles its original form."
This is an admittedly heart wrenching commercial. It features a voice over of an elderly man asking his Google Home to remind him of things about his wife who has apparently passed. As old pictures and footage of the couple plays across the screen, the Google Home reminds the man of moving details like, "Loretta had beautiful handwriting." It intentionally plays on our heart strings and seeks to humanize the massive company; it's an ad that positions Google as a force that wants to help people.
In reality, Google has proven over and over again how little they care for people, including their own employees. They lied to employees about the amount they would make from a contract with the Pentagon that would help create technology designed to kill enemies in war; they placed an individual with "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant" views on their AI advisory council; they secretly created a heavily censored search engine for use in China that would block all access to things the government deemed "unfavorable"; and they pushed Andy Rubin (a high level executive) out of the company in 2014 due to a inappropriate romantic relationship, but not before giving him $90 million. If that's not enough, Google has also been under heavy investigation for violations of antitrust laws, constantly use tax loopholes to get out of paying into the communities in which they operate, and have even been repeatedly accused of manipulating search results to spread inaccurate and biased information.
1. Walmart—United Towns
This Walmart ad is such blatant propaganda that it's frankly insulting to any well-informed American. The commercial paints Walmart as a kind of missionary initiative, saying they "see America from the ground" and implying that the presence of Walmarts in small towns across America is some kind of unifying force for good. But Walmart is anything but a force for good in small town America; it has been firmly proven that Walmart's business model is to go into small towns, offer such low prices that they ultimately run all of the small, independent businesses in the town out of business, and then to jack up prices once people have no alternative but to shop at Walmart. In fact, Iowa State University professor Dr. Kenneth E. Stone found that some small towns lose up to 47% of their retail trade after ten years of living with a Walmart store nearby. If that's not enough, Walmart might choose to relocate its store to another location, but the impact of its initial arrival continues to last well afterward, leaving the citizens of a small town with almost no options for groceries, pharmacies, and other necessities.
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Using a Black dialect isn't a meme—it's cultural appropriation.
As Black Lives Matter protests have rightfully taken the world by storm over the past couple of months, we're long overdue for thorough evaluations of just how often aspects of Black heritage have been co-opted by white audiences.
It should be obvious that much of fashion and music as we know it today was invented by Black people. We (hopefully) all know by now that we can no longer accept Blackface and use of the n-word by non-Black people as the norm—and Internet users have tried "canceling" offenders in the public eye, with varying degrees of success.
Toxic masculinity kills.
"What is your definition of being happy?"
In the second episode of Netflix's latest true crime docuseries, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, Stephen Ziogas, Aaron Hernandez's childhood friend, can't imagine what drove his friend to commit first-degree murder. He says, "I think the biggest misconception is he was someone who had everything and threw it all away. From what we know now, can you ever really define that he was happy?" In June 2013, the New England Patriots tight end had fame, wealth, a devoted fiancee, and his first child on the way. Looking back on what followed, Ziogas adds, "He did everything that, in that storybook setting, would make you happy, but obviously he was still hurting."
The three episodes of Killer Inside create a rare, objective look at Hernandez's life, mostly built from audio recordings of Hernandez's phone calls while in prison, security footage from his own home, testimonies from his criminal trial, and interviews with his close friends and former teammates. While those close to him describe him as playful, teasing, and full of life, they also discuss his childhood traumas from his physically abusive father, his long history of anger issues and violent outbursts, and his struggles with his sexuality.
In June 2013, the body of Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-professional football player, was found in the street with wounds from six gunshots. In what was described as a particularly messy crime, Hernandez murdered Lloyd with motives that are unclear to this day. At the time of his trial in 2015, prosecutors argued that Lloyd was targeted because he'd spoken to people disliked by Hernandez while at a bar in Boston. But friends and photographs paint a friendly relationship between Lloyd and Hernandez, who were respectively dating sisters Shayanna and Shaneah Jenkins. The men bonded over their love of video games and smoking (Lloyd's nickname was the "blunt master").
Why did the beloved New England Patriot murder Lloyd, who was set to become his brother-in-law? The docuseries doesn't offer a clear answer, because those answers ultimately died with Hernandez when he hanged himself in his jail cell in 2017. Hernandez killed himself with his prison bed sheet on the same day his former NFL team visited the White House to celebrate their fifth Super Bowl win.
The series taps into the power of personal testimony mixed with compelling video and audio evidence to unfold a mind-boggling backstory, including a second criminal charge Hernandez faced on top of first-degree murder. He was charged and tried for fatally shooting two men in a car outside of a nightclub in 2012; his lawyer, Jose Baez (noted for defending Casey Anthony), successfully cast doubt on his involvement, resulting in a not guilty verdict. In fact, Hernandez was described as having high spirits prior to his death, with the double-murder charges dropped and an appeal of his life sentence with no parole in the works.
In the larger picture, however, Hernandez was clearly at odds with his own identity, with jarring contradictions causing rifts in both his personal and professional lives. He complained that the Patriots organization "try to ruin all your fun because that want you to only be business [sic]," even asking to be traded in 2013 and struggling to bond with his teammates, who viewed him as impulsive and "immature." He idolized his abusive father, Dennis Hernandez, as "a good man" who was "also really wild," but he resented his mother, whom he felt abandoned him after his father's death. He makes a belligerent call from prison, yelling, "I was the happiest little kid in the world, and you f***ed me up. I had nobody. What'd you think I was going to do? Become a perfect angel?" He grew up attending a safe, "typical American high school" but fostered a bad boy image, keeping company with violent criminals while professing his love for the Harry Potter series to his fiancee and close friends.
And then two issues are weakly covered–disappointingly so–in the third episode of Killer Inside: Hernandez's sexual history, which involved allegations of childhood molestation and represssed homosexuality, and its connection to his perpetual anger; and Hernandez's confirmed brain damage incurred from playing in the NFL. The series' tepid handling of the issues create an abrupt ending, with more emphasis on humanizing Hernandez, a convicted murderer of at least one man, while giving incomplete consideration of how trauma impacted Hernandez's psychology.
Rumors about Hernandez's sexuality persisted both during and after his life, with one inmate coming forward after Hernandez's death to allege that they were lovers in prison (he is not interviewed in the series). One childhood friend recounts discovering his own bisexuality when he and Hernandez would sexually experiment in high school. He affirms, "He [Aaron] wasn't ashamed of who he was. Aaron was proud of his sexuality. It was just, he couldn't say anything—at the time, there was no one in the NFL that had ever broke this news."
However, throughout the docuseries, Dennis Hernandez's severe homophobia is starkly outlined next to his son's admiration of him, underlining the recurring theme of troubled and toxic masculinity in Hernanez's violent outbursts. Additionally, one of Hernandez's lawyers, George Leontire, says that Hernandez confided in him about being molested by a male babysitter as a child (his older brother, DJ Hernandez, has publicly corroborated the story of abuse). Leontire says that he, as a gay man, felt bad for his client: "Aaron asked me if I felt or believed that someone was born gay...Aaron had a belief that his abuse as a child impacted his sexuality. That was one of the things that he held onto as to why he, in his mind, has this aberrant behavior." And then, most egregiously, in 2017 one reporter named Michele McPhee published an unconfirmed story that Odin Lloyd was targeted because he'd caught Hernandez with a man. She was interviewed on a popular Boston sports radio show, where the hosts openly mocked Hernandez about being the Patriots' "tight end." Two days later, Hernandez hanged himself.
In the last minutes of the Killer Mind, we learn that Hernandez's family donated his brain to science with shocking results. In 2017, the same year of Hernandez's death, former NFL player Fred McNeill became the first living patient to be accurately diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), a form of severe brain damage resulting from repeated head traumas. As the disease develops in four worsening stages, symptoms range from memory loss, confusion, depression, and dementia to violent mood swings and suicidal ideation. Shortly after Dr. Bennet Omalu first discovered the disease in professional football players, a study examined the brains of 111 deceased players; 110 were confirmed to have CTE. Examination of Aaron Hernandez's brain showed "the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron's age," with degeneration well into stage three, comparable to a player well into his 60s.
Hernandez's turmoil over his sexuality is not framed as an excuse for his actions, but overall, the series' tepid handling of the issue creates an abrupt end to the matter, with incomplete consideration of how this impacted Hernandez's psychology. In all likelihood, the combination of childhood trauma, internalized shame, and brain damage created the double loss of life surrounding the Aaron Hernandez case. Odin Lloyd's family has forgiven Hernandez, but the senselessness behind the crime makes its unsettling loss feel frozen in time. In a suicide letter addressed to his lawyer, Baez, Hernandez wrote, "Wrong or right — who knows — I just follow my natural instincts and how it guides me."
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