A car commercial

A man in the backyard of his modernist house, shorts and shirt, relaxed of a sort. Everything is rectangles and moulded concrete, the blue of the pool set off by neatly shorn grass and surrounded by a tall hedge. He appears strong, muscled, thick and broad, surveying his property and wonders, Why do we work so hard? For stuff? He talks of Europeans taking August off, August!, stopping for a leisurely café after work, enjoying life. But not America. America is hustle, and so the man moves bravely, resolutely, with solid strides.

Inside the house, more rectangles, grey, wood, space, opulence made to look like a factory perhaps. America is high-fiving your child who sits on the couch with a tablet with a sibling beside her entranced by paper of all things. America doesn't need cafés or August, just more hard work. The rest of the world is free to judge, because those idiots hate stuff and none of them were the Wright brothers, Bill Gates, Les Paul or Ali.

We're in the kitchen now, rectangles, and there's the wife with a hand off, it's a go-go household after all, and the moon. It's our moon, America's moon.

The man changes into a suit and is at his car, it's a Cadillac, it's electric and it's a just reward for hard work. "Work hard, create your own luck and you gotta believe anything is possible," except taking August off. If you think that's possible you're a fool, and probably foreign. "As for all the stuff, that's the upside of only taking two weeks off in August, n'est pas?" WINK.
The commercial is a wonder, usurping decades of anti-consumerist rhetoric and revelling in it. Stuff for the sake of stuff, owning for the sake of ownership, and being able to one up the Joneses without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. Define yourself through possession and keep striving because enough is just a rest, a chance to gather strength before launching to the next enough. Oh, and it's downright unAmerican to think otherwise.

And the ad is for an electric car of all things!

People like to buy stuff, it's undeniably fun. There are colours and smells and a sense of satisfaction, not to mention the incredibly powerful self-narratives that can grow around the regular use of the most inane household item. Try to write off consumption and you risk looking like a judgemental wiener and wrong, because the last few centuries seem to suggest it has staying power. But consumption can be depressing too, like when you're told about the environmental or social damage our desire to buy the latest cellphone might be causing. Or the unsatisfying and empty existence you find for yourself once you've climbed aboard the status treadmill (apparently it's also called the hedonic treadmill, but calling it that sounds like you were so busy not buying stuff you had to read the dictionary to fill your time).

On all fronts this commercial just says, yeah, I've heard about hedonism, isn't it great? Want to come over later? We're going to make fun of Europeans, murder August and burn it on a pyre of the stuff we don't want anymore.

That's what it says!!!

This is the point in the writing where I've said some things, really just summarized a commercial and added the bare minimum of commentary, and although I want to write more I'm going to walk away ... in just a few paragraphs, right after I make an ass (maybe?) of myself trying to extrapolate. Here goes:

The car commercials I'm used to tend to have a car driving down a pretty road, maybe there's some cool music. If there's an underlying message it's that this truck makes you a man, or fuel efficiency makes you green. Instead this ad feels like it's defending a way of life.

It's saying, remember World War II? Which we won. And the Cold War? Which we also won. Out loud it's saying, the Wright brothers, Bill Gates, Les Paul, Ali and the moon, but we know what it's really saying. The commercial is also saying, we won the wars by living the right way, working hard and buying stuff. That's how we did it then and that's how we're going to keep doing it, because we're the best! The commercial doesn't want you to stress about economic shifts, the environment, monetized politics or collapsing international relations. It wants to distract from an uncertain future by looking back and reminding people that it's all good. What we're doing is fine, don't ask.

I'm not saying all those bad things are as bad as the most ardent evangelists claim; even attempting to argue that would take at least 6 blogs. And as a person who likes the odd piece of stuff, I probably just wear the same cardigan for longer than most, I don't want to come across as judgemental. Heck, I even like the commercial and have watched it a bunch. I'm just saying, that's what it's saying.

I saw the commercial while I was visiting LA, a weird place full of delusion and cars. Everyone is going to be famous and they all just need to drive across town to an audition all the time to make that happen. To do that day after day requires the kind of gung-ho, I'm-the-best attitude this commercial exudes, and it also requires a place that won't be crushingly depressing when the dream doesn't work out on the first couple hundred days. LA might be the ultimate post-modern city, where every day is like the one before and every place is no place, and it's also a pretty great city, in part because of its weather. The light and the ocean/desert air makes everything you do in a day feel indulgent yet productive. My first three days there I napped at least an hour every afternoon and I've never felt so accomplished.

This commercial is like how LA's weather lets you deal with what might actually be a pretty pointless life. It's easy and it feels good and lets you think everything is going to work out fine. You just need to keep doing what you've been doing, working hard and taking two weeks off in August. Remember, you're the best. Sure it might be the start of a century long mega-drought, but you've been living beyond your aquatic means since forever, so who cares. The sun is shining, the surfing looks good and more stuff.

Fuck August.


  1. Good pointssss James ! Watch out, you'll be soon seen as a terrorist if you are not following the Main Stream :-)
    The man makes me think about Bret Easteon Ellis' American Psycho hero...