A Super Bowl ad promoting tourism in Colonial Williamsburg made a questionable choice in showing video of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Colonial Williamsburg's Super Bowl 50 ad features iconic scenes in American history. (Colonial Williamsburg)

The commercial, which aired in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, begins with reversed footage of achievements throughout American history: the first flight, the inauguration of President Obama, suffragettes, missions to space. A narrator calls upon us to “reflect upon our sacrifices, our breakthroughs, and yes, our heartbreaks.” On “heartbreaks,” footage of one of the twin towers is shown in reverse, with a fireball rebuilding itself into a complete building. “Where did our spirit first take shape?” asks the narrator, before the motto — “It started here. Colonial Williamsburg” — appears.

Obviously, the imagery has upset Super Bowl viewers who found the reminder of the tragedy distasteful.

Others mined the situation’s absurdity for humor:

Update on Feb. 8, 12:13 a.m.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation issued a statement about the reaction to the commercial from Joe Straw, their public reactions manager:

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Colonial Williamsburg released an extended online version of its advertisement through its various social media channels. The ad garnered thousands of likes and shares alongside hundreds of positive comments within the hour. Youtube reviews alone ran 10-1 in favor of the ad. Its popularity, and the discussion of the events depicted in the ad, led to the conversation “trending” on Facebook.

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. We have received an outpouring of support on social media for the ad and its simple, powerful message: All that is past is prologue.  Our ad is meant to walk viewers backwards through time, challenging them to reflect on how our collective history and struggles shape who we are as Americans today. We cannot forget our sacrifices or our tragedies even as we celebrate our accomplishments. Colonial Williamsburg does not shy away from these difficult moments in our history because they have made us who we are just as surely as our many triumphs.

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