Oh No, Dolly: The Most Disappointing Super Bowl Ads This Year
Super Bowl commercials are a very big deal. Companies spend a lot of money on them, and there are people who get very excited about them and think they are "the best part" of the Super Bowl, although I don't think I've ever actually met one of those people in real life. As far as I am concerned, there is only one good commercial, and it is this one.
However, some of the ads that aired yesterday featured some celebrity cameos that felt, frankly, a little disappointing.
The gig economy is a problem. It's a problem that people aren't making enough to survive at regular, full time jobs and that they need a "side hustle." It's a problem that this allows sketchy multi-level marketing companies to prey on half the people we went to high school with. It's a problem that these companies are not paying these people enough money, or that food delivery services gouge the small local restaurants they deliver from and do a lot of other nasty things. It's a problem that boycotting them isn't always even an option because boycotting them also means that the people need that extra cash don't get it and — especially during a pandemic, when you can't eat indoors — there aren't a whole lot of options for supporting local restaurants if one doesn't have a car. It's one of those "there is no ethical consumption under capitalism" binds.
Dolly Parton's 5-9 Commercial For Squarespace
Dolly Parton is a goddess, and quite possibly the most universally beloved person in this country. Her song "9 to 5" (as well as her movie of the same name) is a classic for a reason. It is a song about people working 40 hours a week and still not getting by, about the unfairness and frustration of having one's mind and labor used to make the rich richer. With lyrics like:
Workin' 9 to 5,
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin' and no givin'
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you crazy
If you let it
9 to 5, yeah
They got you where they want you
There's a better life
And you think about it, don't you?
It's a rich man's game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Puttin' money in his wallet
It very well may have been the most radical labor anthem of the 1980s, period. Then again, the 1980s were not a great time for the labor movement.
In this advertisement for the website building and hosting company Squarespace, Parton changes the anthem into an ode to the side-hustle.
Yeah, 5 to 9 you've got passion and a vision
'Cause it's hustlin' time, a whole new way to make a livin'
Gonna change your life, do somethin' that gives it meanin'
With a website that is worthy of your dreaming.
Oh boy! So instead of working 40 hours a week, people can now work 60 hours a week! What fun!
Now, sure. It's fine to make and sell handmade jewelry or art on the side when you're not working, and a lot of people see their day jobs as just something to help them get by while they try and make it in other fields. I know I did when I wasn't writing. But that's rarely what we talk about when we talk about side hustles. And there's something not great about solving the problem of "barely getting by" working 40 hours a week by working an extra 20.
It would be a different conversation entirely if we didn't have an economy wherein 62 percent of jobs don't pay enough to qualify those who hold them as "middle class" and 30 percent of jobs don't pay those who work them enough to live. But given that this is our reality, a song and commercial glorifying the side-hustle just feels a little wrong. If it were someone else doing it, it would be a little more "whatever" — but there's something about Dolly doing it that feels wrong.
Sesame Street and Daveed Diggs For DoorDash
This weekend, the children of a San Francisco DoorDash driver were abducted. Jeffrey Fang had to take his two children, ages four and one, with him in his van while he worked. DoorDash does not pay itsworkers minimum wage, making it very difficult for them to afford childcare. While he was making a delivery, Fang's van was stolen with his children in it, and although they were later reunited, it was traumatic for all involved.
Also this weekend, DoorDash aired a commercial featuring the cast of "Sesame Street" and Hamilton star Daveed Diggs, about how great it is one dollar from every DoorDash order goes to thenon-profit Sesame Street Workshop. This would be all well and good if they were not gouging said local businesses with delivery fees and if they were paying their drivers enough to afford childcare so their children could stay home, watching "Sesame Street" (or Hamilton) instead of being abducted by a stranger on a San Francisco street.
Giving to charity is all well and good, but perhaps they should be giving those dollars to their delivery drivers or back to the local businesses.
Should the very handsome and talented Daveed Diggs happen to read this and want to further discuss how the gig economy hurts workers, he should absolutely feel free to get in touch. Just putting that out there, because of how I am just a truly altruistic person who cares deeply about labor issues.
Wayne's World and Cardi B for Uber Eats
OK. So Mike Myers and Dana Carvey shilling for Uber Eats is ... whatever. We all love Wayne's World, but neither it nor they are particularly political. Cardi B, on the other hand, actually does have some pretty good politics and may just want to have a chat with Bernie Sanders about the gig economy in general before continuing down this road.
Like the DoorDash ad, the Uber Eats ad is all about "Eat Local! Support local businesses!" and that's a great sentiment that would be even greater if they and all the other food delivery apps were not doing price gouging during a pandemic.
Of course, not all of the commercials this year were for the gig economy.
Bruce Springsteen For Jeep ... I guess?
This isn't particularly bad, but it certainly is confusing. Bruce Springsteen, who has shunned doing any advertisements and allowing his songs to be used in advertisements his whole career, decided to break the seal this year to do a Jeep commercial. Sort of. He's not so much selling Jeeps in the commercial as he is doing a monologue about how Americans need to meet in "the middle," talking about how this place in Kansas is in the exact middle of the United States, not really saying anything too specific about anything and drinking from a very tiny cup that I hope is not a shot glass because he is out there driving a Jeep during most of this thing.
I guess when you are Bruce Springsteen people will let you do a Super Bowl ad where you just ramble on about how everyone just needs to get along, but frankly I am not clear on what meeting in the middle with people who want to overthrow the government and think Democrats and Hollywood celebrities eat babies would even look like. I'm not sure I want to know.
Absolutely No One for Scientology
Damn. Imagine having a predatory cult where your biggest "selling point" is all the celebrities that are members and then not even being able to get any of those celebrities to be in your weird Super Bowl ad. Not even Kirstie Alley, who has spent the last several months (at least) setting fire to her career and thus probably does not have a whole lot else going on these days. Not even her? That's bad. Well, for Scientology. It's good for people who don't like abusive cults that take people's money and then try to ruin their lives if they leave. So like, everyone who is not a Scientologist, probably.
That being said, that lady in the screengrab does seem overjoyed to have rid herself of her body thetans.
Probably there were more bad commercials than that, but I didn't actually watch the Super Bowl so I only know about the ones people were complaining about on Twitter.
It's hard to make ethical choices under capitalism, but it shouldn't have to be this hard. If we had better labor protections, if people were at least getting paid fairly, even if we just had better social safety nets in place and could at least ensure that regardless of how people are employed they could have basic things like food, shelter, healthcare and childcare, we could feel like we weren't actively hurting anyone by making those choices. In the meantime, people who are already super rich have more ability to make those choices than the rest of us do, so it would be really cool if they did not actively champion them.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse