Rosenblum: The truth about beauty, brains and Super Bowl commercials

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2013 - 11:23 PM
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Beauty and the nerd: Go Daddy’s “Perfect Match” ad featured a kiss between supermodel Bar Refaeli and character actor Jesse Heiman.

If you're feeling guilty about your reaction to the now-infamous Super Bowl smooch (something like, "Oh, Gawd! Turn that off!"), you're in good company.

If you missed it, the commercial by perennial provocateur GoDaddy, a Web-hosting service, featured Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Bar Refaeli (representing beauty) getting to know geeky Jesse Heiman (representing brainy "Walter"), in an intimate and noisy way.

Sexist? Oh, yeah. But my guilt came from another place. It came from the upsetting realization that, no matter what we tell our kids, sometimes we're lying through our teeth.

It's what's inside that counts -- until we see what's outside on a 56-inch flat screen.

Reaction to the open-mouthed kiss nearly created another power outage, this time via online comments and tweets.

"Bar Refaeli you are not that broke! #callme," was one. Other reactions could be summarized in a word: "Gross!"

Realistically, as some commentators have noted, most of the world looks more like Walter than Bar. Besides, the Walter character is likely to use his considerable intellect to become richer than any of us, and I hope he does.

But the truth about beauty, or lack thereof, is sometimes mean, and thinking about it drags us back to high school when we jumped toward the lockers to let the football quarterback and his Homecoming Queen girlfriend walk past.

"We don't like to see ugly people do things that are sexual," said Elizabeth Aura McClintock, an assistant professor of sociology at Notre Dame, who is researching the importance of, and myths around, physical attractiveness.

Better for viewers if Walter had been kissing a nerdy girl, she said. "But why would anyone put that on TV?"

McClintock's main reaction to the commercial was to be offended by its "horribly sexist" nature.

"The woman represents sexy and the guy represents brains. She must be stupid," McClintock said. "But I rather doubt that's why the general public was offended." 

C'mon. We were mostly offended because that's just not the way things happen. (Suddenly, we're outraged by a lack of truth in advertising? Go figure.)

In the real world, people match up at or near their level of physical attractiveness. (I've also heard that we match up based on equal levels of function or dysfunction, so I wouldn't blame you for tossing the newspaper at this point.)

In one experiment, a group of young adults was rated on physical attraction from 1 to 10. (I did say the truth about beauty can be mean, right?) Most everyone tried to connect with the 10s and 9s, but ended up matched with someone within one or two numbers of the rating they received.

"We're all attracted to the most attractive people," McClintock said. This is mostly true for men, she said, "who go for the prettiest girl in the world, even if it's a pie-in-the-sky dream. Men do realize their chances are slim, but what's the harm in trying?"

Soon, most of them end up down the road with the rest of us, she said, "forced to compromise."

But, are we really compromising?

There was a time, before the industrial revolution, when mates were chosen less on beauty and more on practicality. They were healthy. They came from good stock. Their families got along. They could milk a cow like nobody's business.

Not always, but much of the time, they found in one another a good mate and a lasting alliance that had little to do with outward appearance, McClintock noted.

Despite what GoDaddy's edgy ad suggests, that's still a desirable and wholly attainable goal for most of us today, including you, Walter/Jesse.

GoDaddy's ad did succeed in one way. The spot was among the top three most talked about commercials, and the company reported its biggest Super Bowl sales day ever. That means that lots of people likely went to the GoDaddy website, whose home page features six staff members billed as the company's "Winning Team."

Five men, one woman, multicultural, nice-looking but not over-the-top. Friendly and familiar. In fact, people who look a lot like you and me.

Now that's smart business.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350

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