Scrimmage Makeover

Male buddies living tortured lives, their natural urges blunted and attenuated, their primal drives dampened, fixate enviously on their neighbors. Then they arrange a murder.

I refer, of course, to Louie and Frank, the preternaturally verbal Budweiser lizards, who in a series of four commercials during the Super Bowl hire a ferret to bump off their more celebrated colleagues, the “Bud,” “Wei,” and “Ser” frogs.

But the ferret screws up big-time, and though the three frogs fry for a while, they miraculously survive. Louie, the more callow of the lizard team, makes a public-service announcement denying his obvious guilt. Men with limited impulse control behaving badly in front of the nation, then issuing transparent denials – sound familiar?

Der Supe is La-Z-Boy culture writ extra-extra-large, perhaps the only broadcast we still watch fifties-style (gathering as many people in front of the TV as possible and treating even the commercials as royal entertainment). Given the mass-entertainment-style mirth, then, what does it mean that in the Big Game’s big ads, the new male archetypes include pathological lizards with competition issues and female impersonators who can’t do the guy thing?

For starters, we are in a fallow period for enduring acts of heroism, with no crisis on the scale of war or the Great Depression to rise to; the potent images of previous eras are fogged by sentimentality and revisionism. The pattern is nowhere so clear as in beer commercials. In the eighties, Budweiser celebrated the heroic working man: “This Bud’s for everyone who takes the power and sends it down the line… .” Then came random acts of male kindness in a golden, hopsy light: an average flannel-shirted Joe helping an Amish man mend the wheel of his wagon. In the late eighties, we got “Bud men” – adventurers who discovered suddenly spouting geysers or phallic rock formations. But after the disastrous adventures of Old Milwaukee’s Swedish Bikini Team, in 1991, even backwater beer marketers knew they had to steer clear of such blatant objectification. Faced with a bimbo limbo, beer advertisers had to find new, subverted forms of sex – safe ones, if you will – using cross-dressers, or dogs, or frogs, or verbose lizards.

At this year’s Super Bowl, Nike concentrated on “The Evolution of Skin,” its new campaign for apparel. In these studies of exposed bodies in motion, all the athletes – male and female – are nude. But the feeling is less Baywatch than art photography, such as that of Edward Weston or Eadweard Muybridge.

Tommy Hilfiger, breaking new ground for designers by advertising on the Bowl (via Deutsch, Inc.), used a human reptile, Seinfeld’s Kramer (Michael Richards), this time in drag. As a dog-carrying, faux-Chanel-suited society matron who’s supposed to be an agent, Richards actually looks fabulous, as if she could dominate a publishing empire by day and a male underwear model by night. Entering the office of the great god Tommy, she tries to sell him the idea of using Richards in a commercial. Cut to: Richards as himself, doing a flubbery parallel-universe version of Michael Jordan’s layup. He ends up smashed against the backboard, a bug on a windshield. So much for male potency.

Ironically, the only spot that spoke directly to men was rejected by NBC censors. ATTENTION IMPOTENT MEN. ALL 20 MILLION OF YOU, the ad begins, using scrolling text, like a last-minute bankruptcy-sale ad. It’s a pitch for a new penile micro-suppository drug called “Muse.” Though the spot can be seen on CBS in prime time, NBC ruled that the Super Bowl wasn’t a correct venue for a product involving “erectile dysfunction.” For now, censors are keeping that erectile-tissue issue away from the Bowl; they’d rather let frogs fry.

Scrimmage Makeover