I don’t want to come across as a prude and less so do I want to judge. So how do I say this delicately?
For those of us who always hoped that Israel would stand for just a little bit more than some of the values of the rest of the world, GoDaddy.com’s Super Bowl ad with Bar Refaeli was a disappointment.
For many decades in the United States we have fought a rearguard action to sustain the dignity of women, especially in how they are portrayed in the media and in advertising. I dedicated an entire book to this theme entitled, Hating Women. In it I demonstrated the gradual evolution of, say, the female recording industry which had once focused primarily, as it should, on a woman’s voice and musical talent, but later came to focus, with artists like Madonna and Britney Spears, on salaciousness and sex.
This battle has been mostly lost. It is now a given that a woman who does not show a lot of leg and a lot more cleavage will probably never reach the highest echelons of musical stardom, although the careers of superstars like Adele, who does not flaunt her body and Susan Boyle, who does not fit the stereotype, still gives us some hope. Surely, Beyoncé’s amazing performance at the Super Bowl demonstrates that seductiveness is essential to female musical entertainment. One cannot separate her sexiness from the high-energy rendition which impressed millions. To attempt to criticize that would now be seen as retrograde and primitive.
And yet our culture still believes there are things that cross a line. The classic example is another Super Bowl incident, this time in 2004, when Janet Jackson had her famous wardrobe malfunction with Justin Timberlake. Showing a breast on TV was something that deeply upset most Americans because their children were watching.
Fast forward now to the GoDaddy.com commercial with Bar Refaeli. GoDaddy has been the worst offender in the exploitation and degradation of women via Super Bowl advertisements for a number of years now. Many of their ads straddle the line of soft porn which they then invite you to see a lot more of if you go online. What the connection between a woman’s body and online storage might be is something that many of us might will find mystifying.
But the Bar Refaeli commercial transcended even that. Here was a woman having a tongue-to-tongue kiss with a man on a program that is watched by millions of children. I know my children were watching and I felt uncomfortable. It was my seven-year-old’s birthday. He was watching the Super Bowl with my four-year-old and with our other children. Every year they wait for our family’s Super Bowl party. Was this what they had to see? It’s a football game, for heaven’s sake. If you watch the uncensored version, which was available on the Internet, it’s much worse. They might say it’s just a kiss. But if it were just that GoDaddy would not have wasted millions of dollars airing it. It was meant to shock, and it achieved its intent.
Why did it have to be Israel’s supermodel in the ad?
I get it. We are all susceptible to the vagaries of celebrity, and at times we may allow ourselves to be compromised in its pursuit. This is especially true, I can imagine, when something like this probably involves a very large payday as well. That’s why I say I don’t want to judge. But surely, one’s image can also benefit from wholesomeness. As one of the world’s most beautiful women – with the exception of my wife (now can I buy that case of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, honey?) – Refaeli could have won over tens of millions of viewers, especially Moms, who would have equated her image with feminine dignity and self-esteem.
To be sure, Bar Refaeli was controversial long before the GoDaddy ad because she did not serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. Fair enough. There are many religious Jewish girls who don’t serve in the IDF either. But they do enlist in national service. Refaeli’s explanation, however, was something that, as a father of a young woman who is currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces for two years, I found equally disappointing. She is quoted as saying, “I don’t regret not enlisting, because it paid off big time. That’s just the way it is, celebrities have other needs.”