Cadillac, a luxury American car-maker, plays cultural provocateur through its recent commercial for a new high-end hybrid that ran extensively during the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Like many of the ad blogs and YouTube comments it’s eliciting, I must admit to being equally uncomfortable and entertained by the commercial. If you consider it satire, Cadillac’s ad is a brilliant send-up of American cultural values and its legendary drive for hard work and to push the boundaries of science, industry and technology. Ultimately, we can distill Cadillac’s message into a few things: make your own luck, get rich, own an enormous home, and, lest we forget, buy an $80,000 Cadillac.
Many hope that Cadillac was going for camp appeal with this TV spot. How else can you explain the patriotic braggadocio by the ad’s leading man (veteran actor, Neal McDonough) as he struts through his multi-million dollar home – past his happy and hardworking kids and wife – en route to his electric Cadillac? Here’s part of what he says:
“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.”
And then, concluding for good measure with a dig at the French:
“As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two
weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?”
But for those who don’t see it tongue in cheek, the ad has whipped up a whirlwind of controversy as representing what many interpret as the worst of American stereotypes presented as virtues: materialism, arrogance, and xenophobia. This ad is clearly for a pro-American audience, but perhaps not for American viewers who wish to distance themselves from such values.
Here’s why Bustle finds the ad insulting:
“Instead of a car zooming down a highway, we get
(a somewhat recognizable American actor) explaining that
Americans are better than people from other countries
because we work harder…and don’t take August off.”
However, it’s important to be clear that cultural norms; the values that comprise mainstream American culture, are simply norms. There’s no good or bad when it comes to norms, and empirical data show that communities, as groups of people with shared experiences, do tend to think and behave in certain ways. That’s what culture is — the result of centuries of history that have contributed to a unique value system that generally serves its people in positive ways.
It’s also important to understand that while many people might connect quite strongly with the values espoused in this commercial, there are plenty of Americans who subscribe to very different ideals, or a less extreme philosophy than the one presented by the Cadillac character. Cultures also change from generation to generation, so it’s important to consider this: who buys Cadillac’s these days? What generational cohort do they belong to? What if Cadillac only wanted this ad to speak to potential buyers, instead of influencing an audience it knows doesn’t connect with the brand?
In the end, the joke is sort of on Cadillac. That’s right. In case you weren’t aware, for all the robust American ideals the automaker presents, Cadillac is named after a Frenchman! N’est-ce pas?
I’m curious how our international friends might feel about the commercial—offensive, funny, or a bit of both?