It’s right and proper that the ad has its own high holy day which, as Robert Lipsyte points out, we call the Super Bowl. After all, the ad has so much to celebrate. It’s been the great colonizing force of our age. When I was younger, for a period, I subscribed to the trade magazine Advertising Age, not because I had anything to do with the business, but because I was fascinated by the fact that, no matter how obscure the subject, the ad had an interest in (and a perspective on) it.
In a sense, in this century, the ad has inherited the restlessness once associated with the American pioneering spirit. The Marlboro Man, it turns out, was more than a logo. The ad can’t stay still. It’s always searching for, and moving into, new territory, and then trying to settle down, often initially alone and under attack. It is expansionist by nature, never taking no for an answer. By my childhood, the ad had already redefined most common space as consumer space. In my lifetime, the ad has broken almost every taboo, and into just about every previously sacred (or profane or private) space. It’s made it into the bedroom, first via the radio and then, far more strikingly, the TV set; into the school, the doctor’s office, and the airport; onto the sides of buses, into and onto taxis, into elevators, onto gas pumps, and above urinals, as well as into your pocket, thanks to the iPhone and the like. You name it, and the ad’s invaded its territory. One of the last largely ad-free bastions in the culture, the book, is about to fall to next generation Kindles, iPads, and other “readers” which will, like the rest of the Internet, be ad-friendly.
Weirdly enough, the spread of the ad may not be due to its persuasiveness, but to its ineffectiveness. “Clutter,” the collectivity of all those ads in familiar space that you just tune out, is the motor that seems to drive the ad into virgin territory, which it invariably colonizes until all the other ads follow, driving it on again. The constant flight of the ad from (or around or above) the clutter could be the prime narrative of the last hundred years, as it has driven itself deeper and deeper into what one might someday hesitate to call “our” lives.
As for ads and sports don’t get me started. Fortunately, Robert Lipsyte, former New York Times sports columnist and TomDispatch Jock Culture Correspondent, is back from a long sabbatical writing a memoir (and doing a little TV on the side) to cover the play-by-play, and offer some classic highlights from Sportsworld’s highest holy day. (To catch him in a superb audio interview with TomDispatch’s Timothy MacBain discussing why sports matter, click here.) He’s been to the Super Bowl for TomDispatch before, but never this way. So sit back and watch, just like I’m going to do.