Super Bowl Sunday

Yikes, it has been a long time since I blogged. I’ve been buried at work, although things seem to be slowing down a bit (knock on wood). For those of you that want more regular updates, I recommend Twitter and/or del.icio.us as those get updated more regularly.

This past weekend, though, I made time to watch the Super Bowl, because, well, it’s the Super Bowl. I was alas unable to make it to a Super Bowl party, or even host one myself, because I ended up working both before and after the game. But I enjoyed the Super Bowl experience, both the game and one ad in particular, so I’m going to write about both, because hey, it’s my blog, and I don’t currently have the brainpower to write a “Deep Thoughts What I Have Thunk” post (tm Jofish).

The game itself had some amazing plays. The James Harrison interception was just ridiculous, and may have decided the game, as it was a 14-point swing that killed the Cardinals’ momentum.

But the Cardinals came back, and Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown was a thing of beauty. You can’t see it from the angles they show in that video, but the play design was just brilliant. Given that Larry Fitzgerald had dominated the postseason and ended up with more yards, receptions and touchdowns of any playoff run ever, it’s almost inconceivable that a defense could possibly let him get wide open and score a lead-changing touchdown. Here’s what happened: The Steelers were in a deep Cover 2 defense, with the safeties 25 yards off the line of scrimmage to take away any chance at a big play. The Cardinals saw that, and lined up three receivers. Two receivers ran straight down the sidelines. The safeties both did what they were supposed to do, and scooted over a few steps to the outside to help the cornerbacks and make sure those outside receivers didn’t get past them. But taking those steps emptied out the middle of the field. Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald took an underneath route across the middle, caught the ball, broke one tackle, and then it was just a race to the end zone, which he won. So in the clip when you see three guys chasing him, it’s the two safeties who were lured out of position by the decoy receivers, and a linebacker who was trying to catch up. Just an awesome play call, illustrating the chess game that happens at the highest levels of the NFL.

Meanwhile, my favorite Super Bowl ad, by far, was the Audi: Chase commercial because of the way it layers in meaning after meaning, taking advantage of our cultural knowledge.

  1. It’s Jason freaking Statham, star of The Transporter series of movies. Because we know who Statham is and the characters he plays, we automatically ascribe those characteristics to this character. So within five seconds of the commercial starting, we know who the protagonist is, without a single line being spoken.
  2. The cultural references it makes in each decade are extremely specific. The cars change, the style of the car chase changes, the music changes, the lighting changes, etc. And, again, we are expected to recognize the evolution because we understand all these references.
    • The 70s: He drives a Mercedes, the chase car is a Ford LTD, the car chase is basic with no crazy moves (remember the first car chase was Bullitt in 1968, and it seems pointlessly long and boring at this point), the music just feels like 70s music, and the lighting is washed-out and hopeless.
    • The 80s: He drives a BMW, the chase car is a Trans Am, the car chase involves a ridiculous jump (remember Knight Rider and the A Team), the music is cheesy synth pop, the lighting is sunny and bright with pastels, the guy is holding a ridiculously large cellular phone, etc.
    • The 90s: He drives a Lexus (okay, makes a disgusted face at a Lexus), the chase car is an SUV, we skip the car chase, the movie marquee refers to Tommy Boy, the lighting is dark and gritty, very much in line with the grunge era.
    • Modern day: Statham is tuxed up, drives the Audi and gets away, despite black-clad motorcyclists, and a chase scene with quick cuts and frenetic motion.

What was incredible about this to me is that they set up these scenes within 10 seconds each by leveraging our cultural knowledge. Using every element available to them, they anchored each scene firmly in a different decade, and were thus able to convey the underlying theme of the commercial which is that the Audi was the apotheosis of car design, the evolutionary endpoint.

I also loved that you can enjoy the commercial without catching any of these references, as it is still satisfying on a basic level, because, hey, three car chases in 60 seconds. But if you catch the references going by, it adds depth and meaning while still staying coherent. I love it when narratives work on multiple levels, so this ad really pleased me.

By the way, I should mention that the second part of this post is an homage to Grant McCracken, whose brilliant post deconstructing the meaning making in a Volvo commercial continues to inspire me to analyze the meanings designed into the world around me. And the Audi commercial was one that just begged for this sort of deconstruction.

I’ll get back to more regular posting soon, with a backlog of book reviews to do, and other topics on my mind. Soon. Really.

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