There's been so much on the web and TV about the big car ad of the Super Bowl ("Halftime in America"), I thought I'd weigh in about a different one -- a spot that relies more on the bizarre than the authentic to make its point.
I'm thinking about the Chevy spot that invokes both the Mayan and Biblical (it's raining frogs!) apocalypse -- and our dreaded year of 2012. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out:
Of course, this satiric way of claiming that a Chevy lasts longer than a Ford has been accused of exaggeration. As reported by brandchannel, a representative for Ford Trucks lodged this protest:
"They [Chevy] cite R.L. Polk data on longevity -- not durability. If you look at R.L. Polk's data on durability ... there are more Ford trucks on the road with more than 250,000 miles. We've made our point and we'll always defend our products."
You might expect religious folks, at least those who believe in prophecies of the end times, to get upset with this scenario too. For the spot takes an episode of sacred history and uses it cavalierly, for ironic purposes (and, of course, to make a buck).
Though I suppose even fundamentalists -- at least in the West -- are numb to this by now (and probably find it funny themselves), because hey, that's what modernity (not to mention advertising) is all about.
Nevertheless, there is more than a grain of truth in this spot. Chevy, after all, did survive a crash of nearly apocalyptic proportions. What saved the company, though, was not simply the durability of their trucks, but the same thing that saved Chrysler: a little Keynesian economics (in the form of government funds). (Ford refused the bailout offer.)
Also, there's something about the way the main character shrugs off the loss of "Dave" that mirrors the dopey "whatever" attitude of the survivor in all of us -- happy to be one of the lucky ones who made it (as the theme song suggests), but powerless to do much about the daily catastrophe.
What Comes After the End?
But what I think the spot is most accurate in portraying is a contemporary mindset. Astute observers of the apocalyptic imagery running through our pop culture, such as Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, have remarked about how easy it seems to imagine the end of the world.
What's difficult, perhaps impossible to envision, they argue, is the end of capitalism -- a system responsible, in their eyes, for this continuing sense of dread in the first place.
The spot's closing line captures this idea perfectly: "Chevy Silverado" the (Tim Allen) voice-over intones, "from the beginning of your work day, till the end of the world. Chevy runs deep."
And the images act out this sentiment in a literal fashion: the world around these characters is crumbling, but their trucks keep going and going - like Engergizer bunnies. What survives the end of the world? Products, in this case trucks and twinkies. (Perhaps their preservatives have made them invulnerable?)
But despite the spot's hyper-bullishness about its brand, it nevertheless seems bruised by the times. It's as if the humor is there to help relieve a lurking anxiety.
Because even if a few brands survive the next meltdown, what's the point -- if the rest of the economy is (as in the spot) annihilated? Of course, the commercial's humor assures us this could never happen. But then, you've got to ask yourself, how did the apocalypse end up in a spot to sell a truck in the first place?
Back in 2008 it seemed, at times, the conomic end was near. At the very least a spot like this proves the trauma of the deepest moments of "The Great Recession" hasn't left us just yet.
And that trauma continues to color thoughts about the future. In fact, the jokey quality of the commercial seems flavored by a bit of gallows humor. It even made me think of Robert Creeley's classic poem "I Know a Man":
I Know a Man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, -- John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going
The authors of this commercial would, of course, make an addition to this poem. In their version, there would be an extra line; the poem would end by saying:
"and make sure you're driving a Chevy."
Also of Interest:
Click here to see my review of poet Nick Piombino and artist Toni Simon's collaborative book, Contradicta, at Evergreen Review Online: