Why are Superbowl commercials, hailed for their creativity, often so casually sexist, racist, and homophobic? Credit the watchful eye of the CBS Standards and Practices department, which ensures that Superbowl ads bring in millions of viewers looking to be shocked—without offending their delicate sensibilities.
To achieve this difficult balance, ad makers are forced to play within a very small range of acceptably “outrageous” topics. Since casual sexism, racism, and homophobia are main sources of shock-jock humor—and since these attitudes are too pervasive to inspire true outrage in the average American—companies compete to put the most creative twist on the lazy stereotyping without going too far off the deep end. And so: CBS bans an ad that shows two gay men kissing, but greenlights several commercials that play off “gay” stuff for laughs. It bans an ad that shows a guy’s head up his own ass, but lets fly a commercial that makes fun of those silly, backward South Asians who answer your tech support calls (racism: officially less controversial than asses). Even the advertisement decried as the most “controversial” of the evening—college football superstar Tim Tebow’s antiabortion ad—concluded not with a politically controversial rallying call for life, but with Tebow totally sacking his own mother. That’s gotta sting!