Populism – not our navel gazing – wins again


The ubiquitous argument about “lamestream” media usually boils down to this: “These liberals think they know who we are, but they’re wrong, because this is how we are.”

This is a real school of thought: Liberal-minded, East Coast-born and schooled scholars don’t know everything. They don’t know how the country really thinks, they say. And they’re right. We’re really good at navel gazing. I pointed to this New Yorker piece last week, which was dragged around for disregarding statistics for one Millennial’s extrapolated experiential take of “how things are.”

Too often scholars and writers will take one thing, apply it to experience, and say something big. Rarely it works. Usually you can see through the flimsy argument and highlight someone’s personal essay about how much life is hard (especially when you’re a white, East Coast person who went to a decent college).

In fact, Millennial writers have brought the personal essay back to a level of prominence. Thank the internet, and social media, and the need to tell everyone everything all the time, but for every Event that happens in society (whether it be a death or a tragedy or an anniversary), some Millennial will write something about how he or she was impacted, and will try to extrapolate that to fit the entire generation.

Look, I’ve done it myself. Most of us have.

And if I was a middle-of-the-country American who doesn’t think like most Millennial writers (or, conservatively), I too would be pretty annoyed with the constant flood of Privileged Millennial Writer Tears on my internet box.

So I get that one “lamestream” media argument. Though most of the other arguments are devoid of fact.

That brings me to Sunday night and Super Bowl 50. We focused on a few big social things: Cam Newton and black vs. white (having a family conversation this weekend made me realize that there are real gray areas in how white people think about blacks, entertainment and culture, and that needs to be explored) … Beyonce and her political statement by way of video (her position gives her plenty of power, and while it’s good that it’s being used for education, we can’t forget the messages within the messages – corporations still very much support the Beyonce “yasss queen” platform) … and as always, the commercials.

I found myself getting mad at all of Budweiser’s too-aggressive and too-negative ads, and that’s hard to negotiate: Should we be mad when Bud drinkers probably won’t change, or should we try to change Bud drinker’s way of lives, or should we disregard Bud altogether – but isn’t that like letting bigotry fester in small corners of the country?

All of my negotiations fell to the floor at the end of the game. Peyton Manning was the winning quarterback in probably his final football game. He hugged Papa John Schnatter (who has publicly criticized the Affordable Care Act) on the field and shilled Budweiser twice in interviews.

Manning is loved by white people. In that recent family conversation, Manning was described to me as old and wise. He’s the funny, good all-American quarterback who does commercials and seems to just have fun out there. His dad’s name is Archie. His name is Peyton. To many people, Manning is an achievement of our culture, the kind of role model you can respect.

So it makes sense of Manning to talk up Papa John’s and Budweiser, the most aggressively mediocre but aggressively corporate of American food brands. And the combination of Manning (America’s favorite shill) with those aggressively corporate brands? That’s the best advertising anyone could’ve asked for.

Populism won. (Just like it usually does.)

And in the end, how America really is … is what we saw at the end of Super Bowl 50. Doesn’t mean Millennial East Coast voices need to check themselves at the door. Just means there are ways to go about it. Because the way we do it now … the people we need to hit don’t listen.