‘Chicago Tribune’ Critic Slams America’s Love of Entertaining Super Bowl Ads

February 8, 2016 | Filed Under Anti-Americanism, Business, Capitalism, Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Democrats/Leftists, Economy/Finances, Entertainment, Ethics, Free Speech, Free Trade, Freedom, Government Corruption, Jobs, Liberals, Liberty, Media, Money, Progressives, Sports, TV, Warner Todd Huston | Comments Off on

‘Chicago Tribune’ Critic Slams America’s Love of Entertaining Super Bowl Ads

-By Warner Todd Huston

A Chicago Tribune TV critic was aghast that Americans often enjoy the commercials during the Super Bowl. Apparently he was upset about all that capitalism going on and mad that Americans don’t rise up and throw their shoes at their TVs in revolt. Corporations are apparently all venal and wasteful, he alleges, and we shouldn’t stand for it.

In his February 5 critique, Trib’s TV scribe Phil Rosenthal got his dander up several days before the Super Bowl as the nation had already begun talking about the commercials everyone was looking forward to seeing. The prospects of capitalism seemed to have put Rosenthal in a foul mood.

The columnist’s first assumption about why we enjoy many of the commercials was one literally no one believes.

“It’s as if the fact that some marketer spent $5 million per half minute — up about 11 percent from $4.5 million last year — to pitch more than 100 million of us in the Super Bowl 50 audience obliges us to actually pay attention,” he wrote.

No one watches Super Bowl commercials imagining they are obligated to do so because they are so expensive to air. No one.

But from this argument so early in his piece, one can begin to note the anti-corporate and anti-capitalist bent of the rest of the article.

Rosenthal then decried the ever-increasing costs of the ads saying we are all at fault for even watching them.

“The fact that many of us will spend more time debating the merits of these ads than the Academy Awards best picture winner helps justify next year’s price increase,” Rosenthal laments.

The writer went on to wag his finger at us all.

“But maybe, just maybe,” he wrote piously, “we should pause, think about what we’re doing, think about what advertisers are doing and give the celebration of these lavish commercial breaks a rest.”

Why take that pause? Because some ads are for the toe fungus cream Jublia made by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a company that has been dragged before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for exploitative drug pricing, he says. Then Rosenthal smears Valeant by associating the company with the antics of Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli who recently smirked his way through another House committee meeting. Because, you know, all CEOs are just like Martin Shkreli.

One can certainly denounce price gouging — if that is what Valeant Pharmaceuticals actually did — but Rosenthal’s next corporate attack to prove why we should all rise up against Super bowl ads was more tenuous still.

Rosenthal attacked Radio Shack for paying the big dollars for an ad even as it neared bankruptcy.

“I bet creditors wished it had saved its money. Employees might have had their own ideas,” he said ruefully.

Certainly the main point of advertising is to drum up business and what better time to drum up business than when your business is faltering?

In any case, Rosenthal finds all this advertising and capitalism to be all too gauche for his delicate sensibilities.

“Somewhere along the line, someone — maybe Don Draper, maybe Darrin Stephens — pitched Americans on the idea that television commercials are as much a part of Super Bowl Sunday as the game itself, and we bought it,” the columnist said.

Presumably the columnist meant to be wry by making allusions to ersatz 1950s and 1960s era ad men, but the truth is this Super bowl commercial business is quite a bit newer than Don Draper’s Mad Men era. As eras go the Super Bowl commercial era is far more recent, not nearly as old as TV itself as Rosenthal seems to feel.

But one senses Rosenthal’s disgust with the whole topic doesn’t really stem from the Super Bowl but from the fact that we even have advertising at all. If he’s mad at that, though, he needs to go back to the early 1800s to strangle that all American baby in its crib.

Next the columnist also goes another step too far. As above when he claimed we all watch the commercials in some overwrought enslavement to advertising dollars, he again makes an absurd claim “we bought” the idea that the TV commercials are “as much a part of Super Bowl Sunday as the game itself.” If the commercials stopped next year, it would certainly not be the end of our enjoyment of the game.

In the end, Rosenthal worries that daring to watch the commercials is a “transaction with a lot of implications.”

So, what are we to make of all this? Are we as Americans somehow selling out to evil capitalism? Are we being fooled? Has big business played us for idiots? Should we view the commercials with suspicion and warn our fellows that they are an evil to be warded off?

Why do we watch these ads? Why are they so fun to talk about? In the end we watch the ads because they are usually funny or touching. But, come on. Like the game itself, it is just entertainment, no different than going to see a play or taking in a movie. Another reason we watch them is because Super Bowl commercials are so expensive the ad men usually bring their A game often making them even more entertaining. Regardless, people just want to be entertained. As viewers we don’t care what they cost and the price tag doesn’t make us enjoy them any more or any less.

Ultimately Rosenthal is off the mark about why we enjoy Super Bowl ads. It’s just good clean fun for all of us out in TV land. As to the costs, that sorts itself out. If the companies eventually find the ads aren’t worth the expenditure they will stop doing it.

That is, after all, how capitalism works. Besides, it isn’t Phil’s business what a corporation does with its money and it isn’t ours either.

Finally, let’s be honest about Rosenthal’s argument. We can use his attack on the ads against the NFL itself. Many insist sports are the opiate of the masses and if we just stop patronizing it maybe it’ll all just go away.

But, again, it’s just entertainment. If you stand against the ads, there is no reason not to stand against the game, too. In the end, why buy anything? Aren’t we just encouraging that darned ol’ capitalism bully?

After reading the piece, one is tempted to tell Rosenthal to lighten up.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Follow Warner Todd Huston on:

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing news, opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that wrote articles on U.S. history for several American history magazines. Huston is a featured writer for Andrew Breitbart’s Breitbart News, and he appears on such sites as,,, and many, many others. Huston has also appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, and many local TV shows as well as numerous talk radio shows throughout the country.

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