Belinda Luscombe over at Time Magazine sparked an online debate yesterday regarding an internet-only Budweiser commercial that makes light of pornography purchasing. Says Luscombe, because it [the commercial] comes from a highly respected American brand, it seems to mark some kind of cultural tipping point, where pornography has soaked so far into the fabric of mainstream culture that it's no longer seen as a stain.
In my humblest of humble opinions, the porn is not what's wrong with this commercial. Check it out and then we'll discuss:
First things first: I am not typically a fan of Budweiser commercials (remember those insufferable wassup? ads? Yikes), but I kind of got a kick out of this one, despite its problems. I don't know if I really think that it is an indicator that porn has soaked into the fabric of mainstream culture though, especially since the whole premise of the ad is that buying porn is humiliating. This ad also taps into the idea that most American men buy porn, and therefore can relate to the protagonist in the commercial (but why is he getting it at the convenience store? Go online, dude).
Herein lies one of my problems with this commercial. Whilst it may be somewhat normalizing the consumption of pornography, it is only normalizing it for dudes. Imagine the internet freak-out that would ensue if the porno-purchaser in this ad were a woman (let's hope that said woman would appreciate the free vibrator instead of leaving in on the counter, at least). Guess what, America? Women purchase pornography, and beer! But you'd never see that in a commercial, would you?
Another problem is the racism that is inherent in this ad. That Asian couple is straight out of a Margaret Cho standup routine, but minus any of the necessary contextualization. Why was it necessary to include immigrant stereotypes? Because they run a convenience store? No thanks.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the fact that this ad is biting a scene from both Woody Allen's Bananas and from Little Miss Sunshine. Videogum goes into more detail here. Also, we should keep in mind that this ad is online-only, and that you are supposed to be 21 to watch it (although now it's on YouTube, so I am sure tweens somewhere are streaming it on repeat).
That being said, another issue addressed in the Time piece:
"Apparently, Anheuser-Busch has decided to associate itself and its brand with something that destroys family and degrades women," says Cathy Rose, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank and lobbying group. "I think it's a questionable approach at the very least." She cites Focus on the Family studies that have found that 43% of families say pornography is a problem in their home. And while she acknowledges that the spot has some fun at the porn-consumer's expense (the last joke in the ad is about the porn-buyer's mom finding out what he's purchasing), she says that "many of these people's experiences with pornography is not funny. Some of their families have been devastated by it."
I am not one to side with Focus on the Family, but I do understand that lots of porn is degrading to women and that normalizing it (and making it funny) in a beer commercial might not be our most progressive move as a society, even if the ad is online. Beer commercials are also often degrading to women and it would be nice to see those change for the better as well. Of course I don't expect Budweiser to run an ad that features feminist pornography being purchased by lesbians or something, but wouldn't it be nice if they did?