Saturday, February 8, 2014

"As long as we keep our heads down..."


Maserati Super Bowl Ad Exploits Working People to Sell to the 1%

Those of you who subject yourselves to my FB status updates are already aware of the visceral negative reaction I had on viewing the Maserati "Strike" ad that aired during the 2014 Super Bowl. The ad offended me deeply and immediately, and as I sit struggling to express this in a blog post, I find myself even more disturbed and upset than I was then.

The ad (linked below, all rights reserved), directed by David Gordon Green (George Washingtonand featuring Quvenzhan√© Wallis (The Beasts of the Southern Wild), juxtaposes working-man images with the narration of a "poem" by a young African-American girl who passes along gritty L.A. streets and into idyllic open spaces. The words speak of overcoming giants in schoolyards and alleys, of keeping your head down and trusting your heart, all so you can "walk out of the shadows / quietly walk out of the dark / and strike." Inspiring words indeed for the struggling America that the images portray, and all the more inspiring given the strength and determination that this America now requires of a fireman and a factory worker and a fisherman and a ballet dancer, workers whose wages have remained flat for a decade, workers in the bottom 90% of wage earners who for the first time earn less than 50% of the national income while the top 1% control over 20%, workers, in the case of the fireman, who have watched 750,000 public sector jobs like theirs disappear in the past 3 years.

Only this ad does not portend to inspire these people or anyone like them. This ad simply exploits them. This ad absconds with the grit and resilience and determination of these Americans and uses it to sell supercars to millionaires. At the moment Quvenzhan√© Wallis ominously whispers the word strike, a Maserati Ghibli, a car that sells for over $66,000 and hits a top speed of 177 mph, blasts onto the screen with a deafening roar. This is what "walks out of the shadows." This is what "quietly walks out of the dark." You workers we were just showing, you struggling gnomes whose salaries haven't risen in decades, you can just continue to "keep your heads down" please, and don't you ever, ever, ever think about a strike.

What's most depressing about this, worse in fact than the ad itself, is the reaction to it. The advertising industry, of course, loved it. LBBOnline called it "a poetic reflection about the spirit of Maserati as they step out of the shadows and onto the global stage to strike." And the LA Times pointed out how marvelously effective it was:
"By brand, searches for Maserati went up 700% on kbb.com after the ad “Strike” aired in the first quarter of the game. By model, searches for the Ghibli that starred in that ad went up 4,250%, according to kbb.com."
Even African-Americans, if one is to view Shadow and Act - Cinema of the African Disapora and The Urban Daily as representative samples, had virtually no reaction at all other than being "surprised" and
"touched" that an African-American had been chosen as a highly visible spokesperson.

And the New Yorker, though it thankfully placed the ad at the top of its "Worst" list of Super Bowl ads, had little to say in criticism beyond this:
"This was’t an ad for a plain, hardworking American sedan but for an Italian sports car, which has a base price of about sixty-six thousand dollars. “Beasts [of the Southern Wild]” was about society’s outcasts making do at the margins of society—connected to the forgotten people of Hurricane Katrina. The Ghibli is supposed to be a Maserati for a more “average” consumer—but it’s still a Maserati, not a jerry-rigged swamp boat.
"So the New Yorker's criticism, in short: It wasn't a very good ad.

All of which leaves me asking with some desperation, How stupid are we? Are we now so securely pinned under the thumb of the 1%, politicians purchased and in the bank, banks anointed and set free to rule, rules, regulations, workers—indeed, work itself—demonized to the point of impotence, that we cannot for even a moment recognize a blatant exploitation of the only things that haven't been taken from us: our pride and our self-respect?

Just think for a minute about the one word Maserati chose to define this ad: strike. And think about what that word used to mean to working people.

It is a very scary world we live in, and not because we can't afford Maseratis.