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That Cadillac ad isn’t about stuff?

If you’ve spent any time in the last ten days or so watching the Olympics you may have caught the ad from Cadillac and thought to yourself: wait -- what? To synopsize: pugnacious, squared-jawed guy speaks directly to camera about why the American way of doing things is so great, as he takes the viewer on a swaggering tour of his holdings: from the vista of his infinity pool, across the natural-lit expanses of his glass-sided home, and ultimately to his serene, manicured driveway, where a shiny new Cadillac ELR awaits the promised imprint of his imperial haunches. The ad is titled “Work Hard,” and on advertising site iSpot it’s summarized like this: “Why do you work hard, foregoing [sic] vacation, family, and personal time? For stuff? No, it’s for a sense of accomplishment.” 

Maybe the explanation is necessary, because the actual words—to say nothing of the accompanying images of male dominion (docile and quietly occupied daughters, winsomely smiling wife, immaculate open-floor layout)—do allow for other possible interpretations:

Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff? Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off. Off. Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy, driven, hard-working believers, that's why. Those other countries think we're nuts. Whatever. Were the Wright Brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there. You know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there, left the keys in it. You know why? Because we're the only ones going back up there, that's why.

But I digress. It's pretty simple. You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible. As for all the stuff, that's the upside of only taking two weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?

So: Inspiring, or repulsive? That’s the either/or quality of the debate that’s taken shape in the days since the ad first aired, but after repeated viewings I find it to be neither. Or, at any rate, not simply repulsive; plenty of commercials just by dint of their being commercials are repulsive. But the (quite literal) wink that comes with this ad pushes it into a different category. Come on, it wants to assure us, we know we’re being over the top here; we’re really just joking. But like anything that comes with a wink, there’s the other, underlying assurance to those in the know that it’s not a joke. Don’t be fooled by the appropriation of talismans of cool like Les Paul and Muhammad Ali—these are just two more acquisitions for this guy, accumulated cultural “capital” no more familiar to him than the art he’s purchased for his walls (as others have pointed out, doesn’t he realize that Ali forswore his given American name, converted to Islam, refused military conscription, and criticized U.S. policy on race and economics?). Don’t be fooled that he actually unplugs his little reward to himself—how much of an offset to a carbon footprint like his will an electric car provide? And then there’s the snotty French sign-off, which against the backdrop of international athletic competition underscores the current “maker” contempt toward any system not explicitly tuned to maximize personal wealth, American-style.

But it’s just a joke. And it’s not about wealth or stuff, even though the Cadillac ELR is, according to the advertising, “priced from $75,000,” home-charging station not included. 

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Ugh, yes, I did see that ad and say What the...??? and then forgot all about it. It's sort of a joke, but the only way it could really be a joke is if it were not really an ad for Cadillac. Like, if some sensible, non-flashy car company made that ad to make fun of people who feel compelled to show off their wealth by buying flashy Cadillacs, then, yes, it would be a joke. But as long as the point of the whole thing is to make you consider buying a new Cadillac, tone isn't enough to make all the gross wealth-worshipping and jingoism insincere.

I've been watching the Olympics a (little) bit, but I've developed the habit, innocuous for me but infuriating for everyone else in my family, of turning the channel during commercial breaks, so I've missed the spot.

Having now watched it, my take is that it's sort of a "Buy American" message for the well-heeled.   Plenty of luxury car spots are in urban settings (including SUV spots, which makes no sense to me at all), but this one is sort of exurban.  If I'm matching the colors correctly  on the bar chart at this site, it appears Cadillac is somewhere in the middle of the pack in luxury car market share, maybe in the lower half, trailing Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Acura, Audi - not an American name among the leaders.  I'd think of it as mildly red state targeted.

What's disconcerting is that, until he changes into his suit, he's wearing what I'm apt to wear in the summer when company is around, i.e. a polo shirt and khaki's.  

 

"Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right. We went up there. You know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there, left the keys in it. You know why? Because we're the only ones going back up there, that's why."

I'm sad when I think of how many times the sun has set over the Sea of Tranquility since Apollo 11 landed 45 years ago.  But we aren't the only ones going back...... the Chinese Chang'e ("Moon Goddess") program is beginning the long road to the Moon.......

http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showforum=74

 

Sorry, that's a pie chart, not a bar chart at the link I provided.

For something easier to relate to, let's imagine that this ad was about chocolate. What kind of person,  watching scenes of someone eating an obscene amount of chocolate, would think to themselves: "Yes, this makes me want to buy chocolate just like this"? Most people would be disgusted, but for the ones who are chocolate addicts, the mere sight would reflexively trigger the desire for chocolate.

What kind of person would watch this ad and think: "Yes, I'd like to have a Cadillac"? The ones who are addicted to stuff as status symbols (a pool that no one swims in, for example: what's the point, except to show off? Other than that, it's useless.) The ad is ridiculous but the message is clear: the Cadillac is a status symbol,just llike the rest of the stuff. If, like Jim, you thought Cadilac was middle of the pack among luxury cars, and were maybe tempted to dismiss it as not good enough for you, think again: the ad is telling you that it's a status symbol at a par with an infinity pool.  You care about showing off with stuff? Then Cadillac is the way to go.

I've noticed that Coca-Cola never advertises anymore in the U.S. except for the Olympics.  Why?  No doubt because it doesn't need to -- the market is already sort of saturated with the stuff.  But Coke advertises at the Olympics especially to gain afficionados in the newly-rich countries.

We also rarely see TV commercials for Cadillacs in the US.  Certainly not as many as other cars.  Why?  Because they aren't popular with the general populace and aren't going to be because they're all too expensive.  Better to aim at the rich and advertise in the glossy magazines that the rich favor for "success" symbols. 

So what's Cadillac doing at the Olympics?  Showing off its wares to the newly-rich in the  newly rich countries.

In New Orleans Cadillacs have never been popular even with the very rich.  Rich folks here drive Lexuses and the expensive European cars. Caillacs are considered the mark of the nouveaux-riche, and folks here want to avoid that.  Not so, I"d wager,  in the newly-rich countries,  where the rich folks are most likely newly-rich, and they are very likely to be self-made.  They'll probably like this self-congratulatory ad.  

The guy in that ad looks about 80 years too young to be driving a cadillac.

Ann:  if you think Cadillacs are too expensive, price out Lexus, Audi, Infiniti, BMW and Mercedes.  They are all over the place and cost, in general, significantly more than Cadillacs.

Abe is right:  Caddies are old duffers' cars and they don't need advertising.  Ditto for Lincoln Towncars.  And the people taken in by flashy ads wouldn't touch old duffers' cars to save their souls.

Jim P. --

Yes, the European cars are mostly terribly expensive too, but here they don't say "nouveau-riche", which is what the old rich want to avoid.  New Orleans actually has a good number of very rich (but not super-rich) who can afford the Europen things.  I suspect the same attitude of the old very-rich in other cities might be imilar.

Here's an article in the NYT about selling luxury cars to China. Note that it shows that Cadillac and other luxury car makers are targeting China.  Such cars cost THREE TIMES as much in China as they do in the U. S.!    And you thought the 1% believed in a free market?  Ha, ha, ha, ha... 

DealBook: U.S. Targets Buyers of China-Bound Luxury Cars

Jim P. --

Yes, the European cars are mostly terribly expensive too, but here they don't say "nouveau-riche", which is what the old rich want to avoid.  New Orleans actually has a good number of very rich (but not super-rich) who can afford the Europen things.  I suspect the same attitude of the old very-rich in other cities might be imilar.

Here's an article in the NYT about selling luxury cars to China. Note that it shows that Cadillac and other luxury car makers are targeting China.  Such cars cost THREE TIMES as much in China as they do in the U. S.!    And you thought the 1% believed in a free market?  Ha, ha, ha, ha... 

DealBook: U.S. Targets Buyers of China-Bound Luxury Cars

Since the recession ended ages ago for luxury car buyers, a local dealer is running four or more pages if ads every Saturday. My eye has been caught by the half page that offers leases of a Bentley or Rolls-Royce (Silver Cloud, no less) for $2558 a month. That is more than twice the minimum wage, which would kill the economy if we raised it. But otherwise it is so reasonable if you work in August and speak French, why would anyone fool around with a Cadillac?

If, like Jim, you thought Cadilac was middle of the pack among luxury cars, and were maybe tempted to dismiss it as not good enough for you

Hi, Claire, it's not what I think or prefer that I was referring to, it was just the US market share.  Cadillac is somewhere in the middle of the pack in the popularity (sales) rankings among consumers of luxury cars.  

Fwiw, I am not one of those consumers.  But my wife and I, on an anniversary getaway last summer, rented a Cadillac as our rental car for the long weekend, so I have driven one fairly recently.  It wasn't actually much of a splurge; for some reason, it was only about $10/day more than the compact car-for-the-masses we would normally get, so we said, What the heck.  It was fine, but the ride wasn't notably better nor the technology notably cooler than the Japanese (but made-in-America) unluxury-class cars we use for tooling about our suburban community.   So I guess I do sort of dismiss it, not because it's not good enough for me, but because the image and price tag are not of value to me, 

Cadillac has been fighting the Grandpa's-retirement-gift-to-himself image for decades now.  (My grandfather bought himself one when he retired back in the 1970s).  I think they've somewhat succeeded.  An old guy with back issues, or his wife with a walker, would have difficulty getting in and out of the low-slung thing we rented.

 

Jim, I realize that you are probably not a Cadillac consumer. I meant to refer to the page you linked to, not to imply that such was your attitude. I know you better than that by now!

We should all follow Shaq's example and drive a Buick.

When I was a teenager, someone had one of  those really big old cadillacs with the fins  that you could barrel down the road and everyone gets out of your way.  Felt like being in a rocketship.  

Claire, thanks for that. 

If the Cadillac came with the car-to-car missile option, I'm in. Driving is such a horrible experience, I'd rather avoid the whole accursed thing as an occasion of sin.

Regarding whether or not the ad is about stuff: I wouldn't want to defend too strenuously those who accumulate stuff.  I do think it's possible to reach a point in life where one can afford extraneous, luxurious stuff without the stuff being the main point of the pursuit.  I know some deacons who are in this situation.  Some people really are driven by things other than pure covetousness, and the stuff is sort of a consequence of whatever it is that drives them.   E.g. there really are people whose vocation - not just career, but vocation, and we might even go so far as to claim it's a sacred vocation - to lead a corporation, or a health system, or a university.   Or to star in a Hollywood film.  Or to paint or sculpt.  Or record pop music.   Still, I wouldn't want to push this notion too strongly, as I'm pretty sure that having stuff is at least part of the motivation for most people who accumulate stuff, and the ad in question doesn't seem to be aimed at artists.

There are few things less attractive than a professional athlete who pouts because he is offered $5 million per year but believes he is worth $10 million.  Yet athletes in that awkward position occasionally claim, "It's not about the money, it's about the respect".  I've never quite successfully unpacked what they mean by that, but I take it that, to the extent it's genuinely meant, it means that what really drives them is competing against their fellow elite athletes, and the money is, among other things, the unit of measure that defines their place in the hierarchy.

 

'pugnacious, squared-jawed guy"  in the ad.  

That's the character actor, Neal McDonough, who  plays crazy people.  He was the over-the-top-out-of-contriol- stone-cold killer Quarles on the series "Justified".  

I can't watch the ad without conjuring McDonough doing crazy; I think it was pretty funny. 

"it means that what really drives them is competing against their fellow elite athletes, and the money is, among other things, the unit of measure that defines their place in the hierarchy."

Jim P. -- 

Black Americans are rightly suspicious about not being properly respected.  It's not simply a matter of their own egos, it's a matter of what their children have to suffer in many schools.

But it also seems to me that it's not just the atheletes whose value is calculated by their salaries -- it's most Americans. And see the contracts of some of the captains of industry --  -- they sometimes get millions when they're ousted for running down their companies.)  In the US "success" means how much you're worth.

One more thing about stuff:  I'm sure that one of the main reasons we pursue money is because money can buy beautiful things, and people have a hunger for beauty.  Wanting beauty certainly isn't necessarily a bad thing at all.  

What's sad is that too many people haven't learned how to judge beauty, or, perhaps more important, what often happens is that when we find one beautiful thing of a particular  kind we tend to think that *all* things of that kind are beautiful.  For instance, some old Greek temples with columns across the front are obviously beautiful.  But that's no reason to think that *every* building with columns across the front will be beautiful.   And that happens with small things too.  And so we keep buying homely or even ugly things hoping that when we get home they'll be beautiful in a different place.  But sometimes that just makes the things seem uglier.  Sigh.

How to judge when a thing is beautiful?  As an old aesthetic teacher, I'll say that there aren't any surefire rules, but there are a few principles that apply in many cases.  Those principles should be taught in art classes in high schools, but, of course, that would mean offering more art classes and hiring more art teachers.  When faced with that, we turn stingy.

Hey, what's an infinity pool?  Seriously.  Anyway, I'd rather have chocolate.  Mmmmm....

But it also seems to me that it's not just the athletes whose value is calculated by their salaries -- it's most Americans. In the US "success" means how much you're worth.

Some people take that to an extreme and think that, if you're rich, it means that God is rewarding you for your goodness, that you're better than others in the eyes of God, that God loves you more. It's the ultimate identification of money with what's good. Conversely, if you're poor then it means that something must be wrong with you, morally as well as otherwise.

Oh, wow, Irene--I was trying to place him (he's looking a bit puffy). He is one of those Republican actors who tries to make a lot of hay out of being a Republican actor, so I doubt his being cast was accidental.

Claire --

As a matter of fact that is exactly what Calvin taught -- that God rewards the virtuous by making them materially prosperous.  This leads to thinking that prosperity is a sign of being favored by God.  Many scholars agree that this Calvinist doctrine has had a huge influence on American culture generally,  and this is one reason why the pursuit of wealth, even money-grubbing, is considered so important by Americans.

Thanks, Irene, for the ID. Items of possible interest from the actor's Wikipedia entry:

McDonough was set to star in the ABC dramedy Scoundrels, but was fired for refusing to do sex scenes for the show. He credits his family and his Catholic faith for his decision.

McDonough portrays the role of "Jesus" in "The Truth & Life Dramatized audio New Testament Bible," a 22-hour, celebrity-voiced, fully dramatized audio New Testament which uses the Catholic edition of the RSV.

So, not only crazy people... I think the memory of this ad might make it hard for me to take The Truth & Life Dramatized audio New Testament Bible seriously, though.

Dare I confess?  Mea culpa, mea culpa - my husband and I own "luxury" cars.

My husband and I don't watch commercials (record everything - even the Olympics) so we can fast forward through the stuff we don't want to waste time with, so I didn't see this one.  We buy "luxury" cars not to impress anyone, but for quality and safety. We are not "rich" - nouveau or otherwise. I suppose the demographic would be called "upper middle class professional".  I bought my car (a smaller Lexus crossover SUV)  more than 7 years ago, when it was three years old. Since it was used, I paid about the same as for a new "middling" car. I love this car - it is solid, rides beautifully, is very comfortable on long road trips (we like to go places and it's often far more convenient and cheaper to drive than to fly or take the train or whatever).  More than 10 years old now, I suspect I will definitely still be driving it in 5 years, and, hopefully, in 10 years or even longer.  My husband is a car and driving lover, with a lot of knowledge and appreciation for quality automobiles, especially those that handle really well. He is a BMW fan. During the last 45 years he has driven BMWs exclusively - three of them.  Last year he bought a "new" BMW - a 2008.  His previous car was a 1989 and the original, a 1969. He bought all of them used and they last for years and years - decades actually.  We most likely have spent far less on our cars over the years (buying used, quality cars) than the people who buy "average" cars, especially if they buy them new. 

When my children were young, and we were on a tight budget, I was sometimes attracted by cheap, but very cute, children's clothing. Sadly, I learned that the quality was often so bad that the seams pulled apart, buttons disappeared, or the garments became shapeless and faded after a couple of washings.  When they were babies this didn't matter so much - they grow so fast. Later I learned to spend a bit more for quality - not to buy labels (I never bought "fashion", for me or my family).  When amortized over the number of wearings (or over the number of years of automobile ownership), higher quality can turn out to be the most cost efficient.  That said, my husband (the engineer) would never even think of buying a Cadillac.  It might boast some "luxury", but he thinks they don't have either the quality or the handling characteristics of a truly "good" car.  I can testify, in five cross-country drives over a ten year period, I was greatly comforted by the fact that the cars I drove were safe, comfortable and handled very well. Reliability was of concern, because some trips meant passing through some fairly isolated spots (in Utah at one point, my AAA map told me there were no "services" for 135 miles and reminded travelers to gas up before hitting that stretch of road. Spotty cell phone coverage in a lot of these areas too).   Driving across the country on different routes each time was a truly amazing experience - there is no other way to gain a true appreciation of the rich diversity of our country and of the amazing beauty of an entire range of landscapes than by driving. Truly "awesome".  But, you don't want to drive across the country in an uncomfortable car with poor road handling.  The handling aspect was especially appreciated when driving over passes at 10,000 feet and higher in the Rockies and Grand Tetons, with no guard rails many times in spite of sheer drops of 1000 ft or more and hairpin turns the whole way. I came to really love cars that just hugged the road in those turns - very assuring.

 I guess this ad, though, is really aiming at the luxury consumption aspects of car ownership rather than the practical, long-term value of driving quality cars and that is a different issue than simply owning "luxury" cars.

59th  and Lexington circa 1970.My mother and I were about to cross the street coming back from Bloomingdales.[I agree nothing wrong with liking quality stuff.My father every year for christmas or my moms birthday,which was a few days before christmas , would buy my mom one beautiful dress from Saks.It always fit and looked beautiful.No closets filled with clothes and nothing to wear for my french mother.I wish I had taken after  her in that regard].  When a Cadillac almost hit my mom.My motherl looked at me, snickered in her very french way and said to me"'Cadillac"Then poked her head in the car and shouted in her yes french accent;Capitaliste!The "american"[the worlds real snobs as the commercial acknowleges and embraces ]a Donald Trump look alike in his gas guzzler was smugly arrogant and did not bat an eye.My mother; afead of her times?

McDonough and Cadillac come to terms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gahe8lY6rMc

Funny story, rose-ellen :-)

I just watched the closing ceremony of the Olympics.  Wonderful sort of abstract visuals at the very end of the program.  Then what?  Coke commercial -- Cokes, Cokes, Cokes. Unlike the Cadillac commercial, the Coke commercial didn't say a thing -- just showed images of Coke bottles full of Coke.  Didn't have to say anything.

Get lost, Cadillacs.

 

Irene - I'm sure you've put your finger on a layer of the commercial that flew right over my head.  I haven't watched  "Justified".  Not quite recognizing actors in commercials is par for the course for me.