If you have never experienced Colonial Williamsburg, it is a destination that should be on your vacation plans. Nestled on the peninsula between the York and James rivers, Virginia’s colonial capital was restored in the early 1900’s as a living museum. A visit to the town will give you a glimpse into the early history of America — from the lives of the well-to-do to the slaves that worked in the houses of the rich and on their plantations. But a Super Bowl ad run by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the non-profit group that maintains and runs the day to day operations of the historic area, is causing some people to ask “why?”
The ad was run in the mid-Atlantic region, so if you live elsewhere you didn’t get to see it. It aired just after halftime, and featured shots of some “defining moments” in American history. Some of those moments are iconic, and spark a sense of pride in many Americans, such as the famous shot of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw narrates, and he observes that “we’ve come a long way in 200 years” as viewers watch that image, as well as shots of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, soldiers paying their respects at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, the Wright brothers’ flight and more. The footage is shown in reverse, hinting that all of those things go back to the beginning of the nation. OK, so far, so good.
Brokaw talks about “our sacrifices, our breakthroughs, and yes, our heartbreaks.” As he speaks the last words the audience sees the collapse of one of the World Trade Center towers in reverse.
One of the areas where the ad was shown was New York City, and New Yorkers took to Twitter to express their displeasure. New Yorker Greg Andersson’s reaction was typical of what was said.
Another user tagged the commercial as this year’s version of the controversial Nationwide Insurance commercial from 2015:
Actor and Brooklyn native Anthony DeVito thought the commercial should have mentioned Virginia’s slave-holding past.
Yet another Twitter user noted that there was one thing missing from the Colonial Williamsburg commercial — pictures of Colonial Williamsburg.
The ad was released on YouTube several days before it aired. Colonial Williamsburg CEO Mitchell Reiss explained it, saying,
The ad is meant to show that the America we know was not inevitable. It took courage. It took leadership. It took pain and sacrifice.
And yes, there were other images of death in the commercial. But those all related to soldiers and wartime. The 9/11 footage was the only part that showed an event where American civilians died. Colonial Williamsburg spokesman Joe Straw defended the commercial in a statement to the New York Daily News.
We understand and respect that some of the images depicted in the ad are jarring. However, the small data point of people who objected to some of the imagery in the ad does not represent the total viewership. Not even close.
In that statement, did Straw basically say to New Yorkers, “Get over it?”