Controversy: In the Eye of the Beholder, Apparently

Every year in the United States, there’s a large sporting event called the Superbowl, which I generally ignore, in keeping with my policy of ignoring sports as a whole. However, even I must acknowledge that this event has a profound impact on the culture and society of the United States, and that much of this impact doesn’t occur when the players are on the field.

It happens during the commercial breaks.

For some reason which remains pretty much totally unfathomable to me, the Superbowl is recognized as the event at which all the stops get pulled out by advertisers. This practice may have originated from the simple fact that the Superbowl generates a very large captive audience which advertisers might as well take advantage of. Companies commonly roll out new ads at the Superbowl, and sometimes develop special ads just for the Superbowl. And, as such, it’s become highly competitive. Spots, even 30 second ones, are extremely expensive, and broadcasters are quite choosy about the content they accept.

People talk about Superbowl ads. Television critics write them up. The ads get posted all over the Internet and discussed. Superbowl ads are a big deal. And what’s an even bigger deal, sometimes, is the ads which don’t air at the Superbowl.

Advertisers apply their own tastes and morals when it comes to deciding on content. Officially, they won’t air content which is “controversial,” but it turns out that the definition of “controversial” could be better defined as “content which is not in line with conservative values.” Which means that the broadcasters are actually routinely making value judgments about “acceptable” content when they vet Superbowl ads, and those judgments have a real impact on viewers, because a lot of stuff never reaches people who might benefit from seeing it.

Now, you’re thinking to yourself “how could ads be controversial?” After all, we’ve had Superbowl ads glamourizing rape culture. Those apparently weren’t controversial.

Well, as it turns out, broadcasters found something to deem “uncontroversial” which directly reflects on what they do think is controversial, and that something is the reproductive rights movement. This year, an anti-reproductive rights commercial will be aired during the Superbowl, and despite the fact that networks thought it uncontroversial enough to run, there’s a lot of hubbub about it. In fact, at this point, even if the ad were withdrawn, the point would have been made. If the goal was to get people talking about abortion, “free speech,” and “controversy,” well played, anti-reproductive rights folks. Well played.

The ad is being funded by Focus on the Family, an organization which I’m not a big fan of since it says pretty hateful things about me and the people I love on a regular basis. And it’s featuring an apparently notable college football player, Tim Tebow. The thrust of the ad? “Good thing Tim’s mother didn’t kill her baby, because now you get to watch him play football!”

This, not controversial. An attempt six years ago by the United Church of Christ to run an ad welcoming gays and lesbians to their services? Controversial. Apparently airing a very blatant issues-message ad is ok, as long as the ad promotes conservative stances on those issues. If Focus on the Family wanted to run an ad about how the gays are ruining the United States, would CBS accept it?

Clearly, this is not an ad which is intended to win hearts and minds. Most people at this point have a pretty firm personal stance on the abortion issue. It’s an ad which is meant to be controversial. That’s the whole point, is to get people like me discussing it. If I could change minds with a 30 second ad spot at the Superbowl, you’d damn well bet I would move the earth to run an ad which said “treat people like human beings.”

Something struck me while I was reading a writeup of this article, and maybe it’s just because sometimes my mind works in strange ways. I was thinking about the argument of a lot of people who want to impose their values about reproductive rights on other people, the people who say “but if someone has an abortion, it might deprive us of a future great person!” Or, maybe, by keeping the baby, that person is depriving us of a futureĀ  great person in the form of the zygote which would have implanted but now can’t because the uterus is ocupado.

Or, maybe, that whole argument is totally spurious and should just be ignored, eh?

This all plays into the larger idea held by some people in the United States that it’s ok to impose their values on others. I don’t think it’s ok to do that. I would never try to convince someone who doesn’t want an abortion to have one. I can and have supported friends who have chosen to continue unwanted or unexpected pregnancies. And I don’t understand why the same respect can’t be given to me by others.

And I certainly don’t have a problem with Mr. Tebow’s decision to speak out on abortion and to share his thoughts on it. I support his right to be personally opposed to abortion, and to talk about it. Presumably he does not support my right to be personally a fan of reproductive rights, and to talk about it.

Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one. And let the people who do want one figure things out on their own. Maybe they’re going to hell in your world, but they are human beings, and that means that they get to run that risk for themselves.

One Reply to “Controversy: In the Eye of the Beholder, Apparently”

  1. “Treat people like human beings.” Yes please, and if only! Dignity and respect you say? With no distinctions made for ability, or gender, or sexuality, or race/ethnicity, or wealth/class, or education level/access? What a world that would be!

    Also, on the “getting an abortion might deprive us of a great person” line, there’s also the “not getting an abortion might give the world the next Hitler.” It is such an absurd fallacy to argue that out of all the eggs a woman carries (only a fraction of which she releases over her lifetime) and the millions of sperm a man emits in a single sexual encounter, any singular combination resulting in a particular person will be either great or horrid. That’s just not the way genetics, especially in combination with environmental factors, works. Ugh.

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