That Nationwide Commercial is a Symptom of a Bigger Social Ill (for reals)


This kid will never get married.


I'm a red-blooded American, so yeah, I watched the Super Bowl last night. And ate nachos. And french dip sandwiches with juice that sopped into the crusty bread with cheese on top that was just crunchy enough to make the textural interplay between soft and hard interesting AND delicious. Also ice cream. Also chips and dip. And yeah, I also watched the game and rooted against the Patriots, BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT YOU DO ON SUPER BOWL SUNDAY.

But I was really there for the ads. I teared up when Always successfully unsettled the stereotypes against girls in their old, but still good, Like a Girl commercial. Fighting against anti-girl rhetoric while selling something? Sure, I'm in. (Who says capitalism is bad?) I was confused when Nissan seemed to imply a new car made up for missed childhood. And I was tickled enough to giggle a little when Steve Buscemi decided to kick it with the Bradys for Snickers.

And then in between jokes about screaming animals and Kardashian spots, we had that Nationwide commercial about dead kids. I lost my appetite and had to put down my french dip sandwich long enough for all the crusty bread to become soggy. And then when my appetite DID come back? About a quarter later? I HAD TO MAKE A NEW SANDWICH. The travesty, guys.

But seriously, what a bleepload of a commercial. As a mother, I was not offended merely by it's exploitative nature.  Commercialism by nature IS exploitation. The message of dead babies while families are watching together - many of whom have lost children in the way depicted - was pretty disgusting. Abhorrent once it was followed up with a call to profit in the form of Nationwide's logo. However, that was not, in my opinion, the most nefarious part of the commercial.  No, the worst part was the impossible burden it placed on reality and the families that live within it.

It was a 48 second spot of a dead child talking about the things he'll never be able to do because he died in an accident. This was then followed by images of accidents - a full bathtub, poison under the kitchen sink, A FALLEN TV WITH GLASS SHARDS ALL OVER THE FLOOR. (At this point my five year old looked at me worried, "Mom! Did that kid get crushed by a TV? CAN THE TV KILL US?" Only if you keep trying to watch SpongeBob on it, kid.) The spot closed with the Nationwide logo and a call to Make Safe Happen. As if any accident, any abnormality, any tragedy can only occur because of things you failed to do.

Well, you know what, Nationwide? Your smug certainty isn't needed in my uncertain world.

You're feeding into a narrative that I've heard all too often as I've begun raising my kids. The one that gets parents investigated by the police for letting their kids walk home alone. Everyone is a predator, childhood should be handled and delivered in an air conditioned, controlled environment. The one that leads to measles outbreaks in three states. All you need to do to be healthy is wash your hands. Also, I'm protecting my children from autism. Also, those diseases weren't that bad, they were NATURE! And these vaccinations aren't NATURE. (Damn right, they're not. Thank goodness. Nature can be terrifying.) Also, I'm making safe happen for my child, who cares what happens to yours. The one that has parents handing their kids iPads instead of insisting they go out and climb trees. Sure, all that tree climbing leads to wonder and independence BUT THEY COULD BREAK A LEG! Isn't there a tree climbing app??

The very best piece I've found written on this new phenomenon is The Overprotected Kid. Read it. It's worth your time.

We can't choose between a completely safe world and a world of threats. That choice doesn't exist. We can teach our kids how to navigate a reality chock a block full of danger, but we can't make safe happen. Not really. We can use common sense (don't leave your kid alone in the bath, keep that rat poison in a well guarded place, bolt your TV to the wall, etc). We can try. We can, when we're lucky, succeed in keeping our little charges mostly unbroken. But, we can't make safe happen because we don't live in a safe world. The ad warns about preventable accidents. You know what? Most accidents are considered preventable when viewed in hindsight. That's kind of why they are called "accidents" not "inevitables". But the dangers that lurk aren't products of our failure, they are symptoms of mortality. And no matter how much we try, at the end of the day all we can do is guard against a state of being that will...despite our very best efforts...eventually hurt and take some of our babies. This isn't anyone's fault. Moms and Dads, this isn't your fault.

It's just life.

And it seems to me that an insurance company, of all organizations, should understand that harsh, but standing, truth.