Each year, the great minds that sell us so many of our beloved consumer staples get together to assess the state of the American psyche. Is America tired? Hangry? Missing the golden age of Bruces Willis and Springsteen, the Buick GNX, and avuncular sexism?
Believe it or not, this meeting happens not at a Madison Avenue steakhouse, or atop a mountain in Jackson Hole, or even in Papa John Schnatter’s meteor-crater lair. Instead, it plays out in full view of the American public during the 47 hours or so of television advertisements that punctuate the Super Bowl. As the nation’s burliest athletes wrestle each other’s lycra-clad bodies for control of that most potent symbol of fragile masculinity (literally an ovoid ball), corporations take stock of a more general struggle happening off the pitch: an existential crisis that concerns the very fabric of the American character.
My friends, let me be clear: The state of the union is not looking good. Last year, while America was indubitably suffering through a kind of malaise, there was at least the promise that brands could fix it. There was CrossFit to make us buffer, and Jeff Bridges to sing us to sleep, and Snickers to literally reverse the transformation of kind sweet blonde women into aggressive, ball-busting Danny Trejos. The little Italian Fiat accidentally swallowed erectile-dysfunction medication and became a swole, ripped, protruding manifestation of American power. Women became attracted to men with big trucks. And women did other things, too—they skied and had big houses and #ranlikegirls. It was a complex time, but with a ray of hope refracting its way through the ocean of Budweiser-flavored despair.