Do you ever wish for the simple Super Bowl days, the Super Bowls involving gerbils?
I'm talking only a few years ago, when the game had nothing to do with deer antler spray and the TV spots didn't involve white Jamaican racial politics and German engineering.
I long for a simpler Super Bowl, when gerbils were shot from a cannon so that they'd splat against a concrete wall.
You've probably blocked the gerbils out of your mind, the way you blocked out Beanie Babies. Or perhaps you've erased it from your memory the way CBS banned a pro-PETA spot in 2009 featuring all-but-naked female vegans gyrating rhythmically with pumpkins and other non-phallic vegetables.
But it's true. About the gerbils, I mean. The gerbils were a memorable part of the Super Bowl experience in 2006.
Close your eyes tight and think on it a piece, and it will come to you. The gerbils were indeed shot out of a cannon, repeatedly, in a spot for Outpost.com, an online electronics outfit.
A middle-age man sits in a leather wing chair, the Alistair Cooke of gerbil killers, and the cute furry beasties are loaded into the cannon aimed at hitting a hole in the wall outlined by the letter "O."
Many gerbils miss, and make the sound of hacky sacks when they slam, falling lumpily to the ground. But in an instant, they scramble away, so you know they aren't dead and you can grab another hot wing without guilt.
Not so this week, when Volkswagen decided to play the white Jamaican racial card, which apparently exists, even in Minnesota.
The premise of the ad: White Midwesterners talk like happy Jamaicans when they drive red Volkswagen Beetles.
This has enraged portions of the Internet, even though there was other news, like a U.S. Embassy bombing in Turkey and the stock market rising along with unemployment.
"So, in the Volkswagen ad," writes Pia Glenn in The Daily Beast, "here is the language of a group of people coming from the mouth of someone not of that group, addressed to an audience that does not include anyone of that group, for comedic purposes. Also known as minstrelsy. (I'm talking American minstrel here, with its inherent racial components, not medieval minstrel, which has a broader definition and is more about musicianship. If I offend any medieval minstrels with this distinction, please feel free to bean me with your lute.)"
Ms. Glenn says she's West Indian by blood, and is incensed, and I could empathize if I wished, but I don't.
As a columnist of Greek descent, I could have written several angry essays when Turks began making fortunes selling Greek yogurt to gullible Americans. And I could still beat my breast over the fact that Greeks were under Turkish domination for four centuries.
But, dude, if ever I was tempted to apply the ethnic corrective, I would tell myself to lighten up. It's only yogurt. Besides, I have Turkish friends too, and they're ecumenical in their yogurt tastes.
And this Volkswagen spot running Sunday is only a commercial. People have the right to feel the way they wish. Writers get in trouble (and I've been there) when they order people to feel a certain way.
The commercial is funny, and the white guy with the infectious Jamaican accent makes me smile and wish for sunny days and warm nights in Ocho Rios, with clouds of smoke and Bob Marley floating in the air.
"I thought it was a funny spot," said Chicago actor Jeff Dumas, 41, from the Southwest Side, starring in his first-ever nationally televised commercial.
Dumas plays a depressed nerdy office worker— a white guy wearing a drab sweater vest and glasses — who lectures his co-workers after they show up in a red VW bug.
"You guys are three minutes late," he says.
Don't be no cloud on a sunny day," says another Midwestern actor infected with Jamaican happiness inspired by a German car company.
When they were filming the spot, Dumas and other actors wondered if it would be controversial.
"We were talking about this on set — this is gonna make somebody upset," he said "There's going to be someone who's got a bone to pick. When it broke on Monday … I started getting emails from my friends saying, 'I just saw your commercial on CNN.'
"I'm like: What's it doing on CNN? I thought it was on YouTube." The politically correct huffing and puffing "just seemed so over-the-top for this spot."
A few years ago, when the gerbils hit the wall, there were gerbil lovers cringing in emotional pain. On YouTube message boards — where Americans critique commercial art — many gerbil fans were positively outraged.
"OM ... G. Did they actually use gerbils? This is animal abuse!" wrote Whitexripple.
Then monkeyguyman1 became enraged and responded in kind.
"Again, I love gerbils and this doesn't offend me at all," wrote monkeyguyman1, presumably because monkeyguyman had already been taken as a pen name. "Any gerbil fan that says this is offencive (sic) can go (love) a hamster."
"This is terrible," wrote Cassie Byler.
Yes, Cassie. And it is also terrible to compare stuffed gerbils propelled from a cannon to fictional white Jamaicans from Minnesota who drive Volkswagens.
But that's the point. They're commercials. Ridiculous images with ridiculous premises, selling Americans stuff they don't need as they watch prime athletes destroy their bodies on a field called a "gridiron."
So eat some wings. Watch some football. Have a beer or four. Don't worry, be happy. It's the Super Bowl.