I have always looked forward to Super Bowl Sundays. I did so for other reasons than most people do, however. It was not to watch “the game”, but rather, to go out and enjoy venues that were normally packed on a Sunday afternoon, now under-populated with the vast majority gathered around television sets across the nation. Last year, those plans changed when my son Jesse announced that he wanted to watch the game. Oh, where did I go wrong? (Kidding!)
I thought with his attention span, this would be a short-lived exercise, but it was not. He avidly absorbed the game and got into it for the full duration. “We were robbed by that black out,” he grumbled as he saw his team fight back, but come up short in the end. “Next year.”
His team did not get in this year, but as it turns out, his family, or a representation of us, did. Coca cola knocked out a surprise commercial featuring the diversity of America. It portrayed a diverse snapshot of the cultures, religions and orientations of our country all while voices sang “America the Beautiful” in different languages. About halfway through, there is the depiction of a gay family, two dads and their daughter, ice skating. It was the first time in history that a family such as mine was shown in a Super Bowl ad. It was a sixty-second rendition, but the waves it created have reached much further.
Waves of hatred for the commercial hit Twitter immediately, most around the complaint that America the Beautiful should only be sung in English, and most projecting more xenophobia than homophobia. Immigrants and non-whites were un-American to these offensive and offended voices.
The dissenters might be a bit distressed to know that it is unlikely the author of America the Beautiful herself would not be counted among their number. Katharine Lee Bates reportedly left the Republican party late in her life due to its growing xenophobia at the time. Moreover, the inclusion of a gay family would have likely been applauded by Ms. Bates as well. According to Biography, “Bates wrote a set of sonnets to honor her love Katharine Coman. She and Coman, both been professors at Wellesley, lived together for roughly 25 years. Bates was heartbroken over Coman’s death in 1915.”
Watching the commercial, I needed to be told that it featured a gay family. The footage moves fast, and literally, if you blink, you will have missed it. The inclusion is spelled out much more fully in the excellent video Coke released called “Coca Cola-It’s Beautiful-Behind the Scenes”. Within this five minute video, one of the gay dads states, “It’s been very hard for my family when it comes to the gay issue, and it’s what caused us so much pain over all these years… Today I see people, you know, asking us to hold hands, people embracing us as a family and respecting us.” Another participant in the video states, “You should know who you are, you should embrace who you are.”
Recently, Nabisco stepped into a similar limelight with its commercial “Honey Maid: This is Wholesome”. The thirty second spot shows a baby, in the arms of a man. Another man comes and kisses the baby on the head.
This time, I did not miss the subtlety. The minute I saw that simple scene, I burst into tears. That was me. That was my family. While the Coke commercial may have made history for the Superbowl, Nabisco made history for me. It was at that moment that I realized I had never, ever recognized my real life in a commercial before.
I realized that of all the millions of commercials I had seen, that I was relating to common humanity, but not my own life. There was not another instance in all of my lifetime of TV watching that gave me such a complete and total realization of self identification as seeing a gay dad, holding his baby, while another dad gave the baby a kiss.
I now understood what LGBT families had been missing in the landscape of America—we have been missing from the branding of the national consciousness. Naturally, there have been those who rudely trashed the Nabisco ad as they had done to the Coke ad before it. They did not get to me though or the euphoria of having a whisp of a thread in the public awareness known as the “TV commercial”.
They did not get to me because I see more clearly now what it is they want to take from us. The protest remarks are from ones who decry “normalizing” LGBT relationships and families. They do not want us to have dignity. They want our dignity, even if it is the simple dignity in being depicted in a commercial to hawk cookies. Or soft drinks. Even that is too much for them.
Dignity is a funny thing however. It is like the indelible ink my sons love so much to scrawl on the walls of their bedroom. It does not wipe off. It often does not scrub off. Once applied, you get to keep it.
So no, they can’t take this away from me, from us. We get to keep our newly applied dignity and wear it. We can now languish in the sun munching our graham crackers and drinking our cokes. We are home.