“America the Beautiful”

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It could be said that there is hardly anything more quintessentially American than the Super Bowl – the great annual tradition of great pomp and circumstance that is the championship game of American Football and de-facto national holiday. This was my first Super Bowl in the United States and the game this year, was to the say the least, anti-climatic as the Denver Broncos took a beating that had most declaring the game in effect over by the time Bruno Mars finished doing the splits or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers finished the last riff and line on their strangely cordless guitar and bass (the reason for which was subsequently explained by bassist Flea). Perhaps given the not-so riveting game, the focus naturally turned towards the other great attraction of the Super Bowl which is of course, the commercial advertisements. An alleged ten million dollars for a thirty second spot is a serious matter, more so in an age when the attention of at least one hundred and ten million people can be so undivided (or at least as undivided as it can come in this day and age). There was the usual assortment of zany, at times barely coherent humor and “what-the-hell was that?” kind of moments but nothing jumped out as particularly remarkable or memorable including a certain Coca-Cola ad consisting of a simple enough montage of different people from different cultures singing “America the Beautiful” intercut with lines of the song in different languages – including Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Mandarin and Hebrew. I would like to think that the ad was pretty standard sappy stuff  for the United States but the strange controversy which followed it was enough to merit some thought.

I am still getting orientated with the strange spectrum and poles which seems to direct and guide the American political compass and the controversy which followed in the aftermath of that Coca Cola ad provided some interesting points. The reaction from the right-wing conservatives – the “Fox News” crowd as they would be known and lambasted as by Australian satirists – was in some senses surprising and in other senses predictable. Former politicians who now out of the spotlight yet always craving attention could perhaps be expected to lambaste whatever they can as to the degeneration of society – Allen West’s comments that the ad was “truly disturbing” neatly fits into this category. Random everyday Joe’s and Jane’s now armed with the gigantic megaphone of Twitter and Facebook can be expected to make their semi-drunken spiel of bigotry.

The Coca-Cola ad revealed that many still hold onto a particular vision of what they believe to be theirs within America – a vision of the stability and surety of homogeneity of which the diversity captured in the Coca-Cola ad seems to disturb. Yet as many have pointed out, this vision of America never really existed given that large sections of the US spoke Spanish or that many of the ancestors of those lambasting their multi-lingual take would not have been able to sing “America the Beautiful” in English either. One of the most striking things about arriving in the US is seeing the English signs at the Airport side by side with the Spanish translation – something which continues into everything from brochures to television. Such linguistic diversity is not found in Australia but it was a pertinent reminder of the cultural and historical diversity of the US. There is little doubt that multiculturalism and diversity remains a major issue for many and this is something which perhaps hits home with Australia, itself on the one hand priding itself on its diversity and on the other hand, providing the same glimpses of bigotry. I suppose it strange that a simple Super Bowl ad would bring such a simmering issue to light.

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