Misplaced outrage over a Super Bowl ad
Reflecting on the implausible partisan reactions to "He Gets Us"
Aside from a hard-fought game, a controversial holding call, and Rihanna’s “special guest,” one of the most commented parts of this past Sunday’s Super Bowl was a series of ads called “He Gets Us.”
In the News
As CNN reports, the Super Bowl ads are part of a larger media campaign that launched last year on television, billboards, and social media. CNN describes the ads as “portraying the pivotal figure of Christianity as an immigrant, a refugee, a radical, an activist for women’s rights and a bulwark against racial injustice and political corruption.” The two ads cost around $20 million and are part of a larger multiyear effort to portray an image of Jesus that challenges negative public perceptions of Christianity. As the “He Gets Us” website announces: “He Gets Us has an agenda,” which is to ask “how might we all rediscover the promise of the love his story represents?”
Commentators on the Left labeled the ads “right-wing” and “fascist”:
Meanwhile, some conservative Christians critiqued the ads for being “unbiblical”:
In My Head
The partisan reactions to the “He Gets Us” ads are unsurprising. What I found more surprising in this case was the degree of mental gymnastics required to watch these ads and conclude that they are either “right-wing” or “a fake unbiblical Jesus.” You don’t have to like aesthetics or the content of the ads—I wasn’t really taken by either. But responses like the tweets above significantly miss the mark.
I suspect what’s really going on is a combination of deeply entrenched echo chambers and the quick attribution of guilt by association.
Let’s turn first to the echo chambers. Some progressive commentators recoil at even the mention of Jesus and assume it must represent conservative politics. Conversely, some Christian conservatives reject appeals to Jesus that hint at anything other than an Americanized Jesus who shares their cultural and political values.
Likely more powerful than the echo chambers is the complete dismissal of anything coming from “people we don’t like.” The ads are funded by The Servant Foundation, which has also donated substantially to the Alliance Defending Freedom. Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green also appears to be a major contributor. These alone are enough for some on the Left to cry foul.
Meanwhile, the backing of the ads by organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today means that some on the Right will worry that the ads are linked to anti-Trump Christians.
For what it’s worth, if I had $20 million to spend on sharing my faith or living out my convictions, I wouldn’t do it through Super Bowl ad buys. And I’m not sure I’d use all of the imagery that shows up in these particular ads. There’s plenty to critique about the use of money in this campaign and the narrative crafting of these particular ads. But I’d rather be having those conversations than rhetorical attacks based on implausible characterizations of the ads.
In the World
One thing just about everyone can agree on is that the ads have succeeded in drawing attention and sparking conversations—with millions of views and unending commentary (like this post) since their Super Bowl premiere. Watch them for yourself and see what you think:
You can find more ads on the “He Gets Us” website.