Not all viewers tuned in to CBS on Sunday just to see the Patriots battle the Panthers. The showdown in Houston marked the twentieth anniversary of Super Bowl XVIII, remembered not only for a 49er defense that shut down passing sensation Dan Marino, but for the 60 seconds of airtime that created a national pastime – the Super Bowl commercial.
Apple’s Computer’s 1984 advertisement was the first in a line of expensive, eye-catching football interruptions.
From the McDonald’s shootout between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird when the first star to miss his shot was threatened with witnessing the other scarf down a Big Mac and fries, to the Bud Bowl and “Bud” “Weis” and “Er” frogs, Super Bowl commercials have been as much a source of entertainment as the game itself.
This season, the issues surrounding Super Bowl advertising weren’t just in reference to cheetahs whose spots spelled out “Do the Dew,” or women with cat-like reflexes catching Doritos in their mouths. Advertising in Super Bowl XXXVIII was not so simple. After CBS refused to air a commercial titled “Child’s Play,” the winner of moveon.org’s “Bush in 30 Seconds” ad contest, moveon.org claimed that CBS was stifling free speech and called for a oneminute boycott of the network’s halftime show.
Some viewers made a statement against large media companies censoring political speech by switching to CNN to watch the commercial that depicted children performing adult labor. The advertisement ends with the words, “Guess who is going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?” CBS cited its policy against advocacy ads, but the White House was permitted to run an ad during this year’s big game, and in previous years Super Bowl commercials have focused on more controversial issues than the deficit. A 2002 commercial implied that buying drugs funds terrorism.
Free speech is not a partisan issue. The media must be open for all sides to express their views, and by censoring its ads CBS is setting a dangerous precedent that our country cannot afford for other media corporations to follow.