Comment: America, please explain

Marketers paid handsomely for their advertising spots to reach Super Bowl XLVIII's massive audience - but not everyone liked what they saw. (AAP)

Super Bowl XLVIII reached some 111.5 million viewers in the United States - but uncovered racism and xenophobia in the process, writes Tom Burns.

US sport's mecca of meccas, the Super Bowl, has proved that while it's still sunny in Seattle, xenophobia is rife in the dark corners of Twitter and elsewhere.

The famous advertisements, which run during the game's broadcast, weren't any cheaper than years past at US$4m a slot. But racist Twitter reactions weren't so expensive to publish (except to the cost of one's reputation).

Super Bowl ads this year showed how America is made up of many cultures and languages, and how romantic relationships and families can be constituted by people of different races and sexes. Even interracial gay couples can raise children, as shown in Coca-Cola's commercial.

Surprisingly, though, cosmopolitan homosexuals teaching their kid how to ice-skate wasn't what caused the controversy, it was the song played in the background, America the Beautiful. "But that's patriotic, isn't it?" I hear you ask. Well, if it's sung in multiple languages, the answer is a resounding "no" according to some:

Social media lit up with calls to #BoycottCoke due to the so-called 'un-American' advert. In one notable example, beauty pageant winner, Kasey Knowles, crowned Miss Kansas in November last year, tweeted: "Nothing about that #CocaCola commerical [sic] was American."

She quickly received a slew of negative responses, including reported death threats.

However, boycotting Coca-Cola and buying one of PespsiCo's sodas might not be an option for some of the (mostly conservative) complainers of the multilingual ad; PespsiCo openly support LGBT equality and its senior leaders are a Hindu and a Muslim.

The hashtag #SpeakAmerican also started making waves across social media, many pointing out that there was no such language:

But not all who were dismayed by the ad could articulate their responses fully within 140 characters. Former Republican Congressman Allen West wrote on his blog about how disappointed he was of the advertisement.

"If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” [sic] in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition," he said.

"This was a truly disturbing commercial for me."

In response, amateur historians promptly drew attention to the song's history. The songwriter, Katharine Lee Bates, who was (ironically) possibly involved in a long-term lesbian relationship, was also a lifelong member of the conservative Republican party until 1924. She left the party to endorse the opposition's candidate, citing the Republican party's increasing xenophobia, especially their rejection of the then League of Nations.

Despite the backlash, many sports fans voiced their support of Coca-Cola's advertising decisions, saying it's America's multiculturalism which makes it so beautiful:

Standing in ideological arms with Coca-Cola were the advertisers for the breakfast cereal Cheerios. In defiance of controversies from years past, they decided to double-down this year in their efforts to confront opposition to interracial marriages by featuring an interracial couple in their Super Bowl ad. While relatively tame compared to Coca-Cola's ad, the politicalisation of advertisement and the questions raised over national identity and patriotism demonstrate that this is hardly the 'post-racial America' that supposedly exists today. Xenophobia is still out there.

Whether or not recent protests against Coca-Cola relating to their supposed 'anti-gay' stance had anything to do with the company's decision to run an unambiguously diverse, accepting advert, we'll never know. But what we can know is that they are setting the record straight and aren't looking to back down:

Perhaps attitudes still require a shift or it's just the old adage of change taking its time. But with a majority of Americans now supporting same sex marriage, and companies willing to take a public stand against racial discrimination, America's multicultural heritage might soon be getting a lot more beautiful in the eyes of sports fans, society, and the law alike.

Tom Burns is a Melbourne-based writer who studies bioethics and neuroscience.

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