A Tale of Two Dad Ads

Most of the commercials during sports make me want to turn the thing off and take a walk instead. But two ads during the football game Sunday made for an interesting juxtaposition.

Ad #1, I actually liked. Dad puts his son in the van to go home, then looks down at the trophy in his hand, thinking, “‘Participation’? We beat all those other teams. Why should they get the same trophy we do?” He peels off the “Participation” label on the trophy, pulls out a Sharpie and writes “Champs” on it, then hands it to his son and says, “Congratulations, Champ.”

It’s a fun response to the egalitarian, “everyone’s a winner” nonsense that pervades kids’ sports these days. But here’s the part that made me laugh: Dad was black. But of course he was. So it’s okay to portray him as competitive, even arrogant and dismissive toward the other teams, and to pass that along to his son. He didn’t even wait to discuss the issue with Mom; he just made a unilateral parenting decision! That’s okay because showing good black father figures is important to the Narrative.

Make the family white, and you get commercial #2: Mom, Dad, and Son are leaving the kid’s football game (Dad’s driving, at least). Mom is thinking to herself that the kid stinks at football, which is a shame since he loves it, when Dad pipes up to say, “Wasn’t he great?” and she’s forced to agree with him.

It’s clear that we’re supposed to assume that Mom is right and Dad’s blinded by wishful thinking.  There’s no chance that Dad is right and Mom has her own blinders, because in the White World of the Narrative, women are the sensible, knowledgeable ones — even about things they’ve never done, like football — while men are kinda dopey and need women to keep them grounded to reality. White men are rarely portrayed as competent fathers at all, and if they’re portrayed the way the black dad in ad #1 was, it’s as a negative thing that probably leads into a “No More” PSA about the danger signs of overly aggressive men.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked ad #1, don’t have a problem with it at all.  But I sure am getting tired of every white man in an ad being a loser unless he’s Matthew McConaughey — and even he is shown going and hanging out with black guys so you’ll know he really is that cool.