Budweiser Gets Pornographic. Problematic?

Belinda Luscombe over at Time Magazine sparked an online debate yesterday regarding an internet-only Budweiser commercial that makes light of pornography purchasing. Says Luscombe, because it [the commercial] comes from a highly respected American brand, it seems to mark some kind of cultural tipping point, where pornography has soaked so far into the fabric of mainstream culture that it’s no longer seen as a stain.

In my humblest of humble opinions, the porn is not what’s wrong with this commercial. Check it out and then we’ll discuss:

First things first: I am not typically a fan of Budweiser commercials (remember those insufferable wassup? ads? Yikes), but I kind of got a kick out of this one, despite its problems. I don’t know if I really think that it is an indicator that porn has soaked into the fabric of mainstream culture though, especially since the whole premise of the ad is that buying porn is humiliating. This ad also taps into the idea that most American men buy porn, and therefore can relate to the protagonist in the commercial (but why is he getting it at the convenience store? Go online, dude).

Herein lies one of my problems with this commercial. Whilst it may be somewhat normalizing the consumption of pornography, it is only normalizing it for dudes. Imagine the internet freak-out that would ensue if the porno-purchaser in this ad were a woman (let’s hope that said woman would appreciate the free vibrator instead of leaving in on the counter, at least). Guess what, America? Women purchase pornography, and beer! But you’d never see that in a commercial, would you?

Another problem is the racism that is inherent in this ad. That Asian couple is straight out of a Margaret Cho standup routine, but minus any of the necessary contextualization. Why was it necessary to include immigrant stereotypes? Because they run a convenience store? No thanks.

I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the fact that this ad is biting a scene from both Woody Allen’s Bananas and from Little Miss Sunshine. Videogum goes into more detail here. Also, we should keep in mind that this ad is online-only, and that you are supposed to be 21 to watch it (although now it’s on YouTube, so I am sure tweens somewhere are streaming it on repeat).

That being said, another issue addressed in the Time piece:

“Apparently, Anheuser-Busch has decided to associate itself and its brand with something that destroys family and degrades women,” says Cathy Rose, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank and lobbying group. “I think it’s a questionable approach at the very least.” She cites Focus on the Family studies that have found that 43% of families say pornography is a problem in their home. And while she acknowledges that the spot has some fun at the porn-consumer’s expense (the last joke in the ad is about the porn-buyer’s mom finding out what he’s purchasing), she says that “many of these people’s experiences with pornography is not funny. Some of their families have been devastated by it.”

I am not one to side with Focus on the Family, but I do understand that lots of porn is degrading to women and that normalizing it (and making it funny) in a beer commercial might not be our most progressive move as a society, even if the ad is online. Beer commercials are also often degrading to women and it would be nice to see those change for the better as well. Of course I don’t expect Budweiser to run an ad that features feminist pornography being purchased by lesbians or something, but wouldn’t it be nice if they did?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Really, it's a cold

Really, it's a cold marketing move to have a video "go viral" -- and that is really hard for a mainstream brand to accomplish without doing something "edgy" or controversial.

Versions of this same joke have been done a lot in stand-up and sketch comedy (substitute buying condoms, lube, tampons, douche, anything associated with sex or feminine hygiene products).

Overall, I think it's funny, though.


I found this ad offensive for reasons 1, 2, and 3 on the poll. Also, the fact that beer is being sold is barely remembered by the end of the commercial. The product is practically without place in this ad. It's really just about the negative aspects of pornography and racial stereotyping.

Women and porn

The commercial would have been better if 1) he hadn't been so belittled by buying the porn in the first place and 2) the WOMAN had asked for the dildo or the vibrator.

Focus on the Family's studies saying 43% of families say porn is a problem in their home is an interesting statistic. How many families then have porn without problems? What percentage is that? What families are they studying and whom in the family are they asking. That's just a completely blind and, really, unsubstantiated claim.

In the Internet age, I think we can celebrate that as much as newspapers and other print media might be suffering, apparently print porn doesn't do as well on the Kindle... :)

agree with everything here.

The commercial really wasn't that bad (quite funny, actually), and isn't nearly as racist as the KFC commercial. I rarely laugh out loud to anything, but this was hilarious.

Did anyone notice the guy asking for the dildo? Clearly this commercial was bending norms by that alone. I think we need to just relax and laugh at this.

The situation is humorous

The situation is humorous because of the shared awkward feeling in openly discussing porn, and we laugh at the main character because he is so shameful. In that respect, I think the commercial would be more successful if the main character was a woman, because the situation would seem even more absurd and inappropriate... and would ultimately be more degrading.

alcohol,addiction, and mysogynistic porn

I just want to say that porn can/will/does destroy families/relationships/lives. My brother has a "little" problem with porn and alcohol, that is greatly jeopardizing his relationship with his wife and putting strain on their marriage.
It makes me disgustingly sad how my brother has been behaving. I also have to say that in my opinion that different people can get addicted/abuse different things.

I did think it was funny,

I did think it was funny, and it's an interesting marketing move. There is definitely racist stereotyping, but I didn't quite perceive it as degrading. There is definitely worse racist stereotyping in pretty much every ad for Popeye's Chicken featuring the motherly black woman berating me for not buying "her" chicken. ANYWAY, it is definitely improved by the pro-porn guy at the back of the line, but it also would have been really great to have the woman ask for the vibrator. Maybe they could have fought over it. I smell a sequel...

Social status of porn?

To me it seemed like the reason this guy felt humiliated was because other people FOUND OUT he was buying porn, not the purchase itself. Are we supposed to agree that he should feel ashamed, or are we laughing because he shouldn't feel ashamed?
He reacted badly only when two women found out - the girl he knew from high school, and his mother. Is this significant, and if so what does that say? That a guy will put off a potential girlfriend if she finds out he watches porn? That his mother will be ashamed if she finds out? If this the message received by a viewer, this is clearly problematic from my feminist perspective!
Is it a good idea to tell the kids who see this (kids, I guess, are the ones who might be REALLY influenced by it) that their mothers would be ashamed of them for watching porn? It is not clear from the ad what his mother's reaction will be (on the TV interview), but it is implied that it will not be a good reaction.

We don't know WHY the porn-buyer feels ashamed. The ad seems to me to be mixing up shame about sex in general with shame about buying/watching porn. Specifically, the fact that they include the bit with the sex toys (and the nature of his reaction to them) seems to imply that anything to do with sex is embarrassing. But are sex toys the same as porn? I definitely do NOT think so, from my feminist perspective - the ethical issues surrounding their production and use are the same as any other product. Porn is different.

What do you think?

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