Cadillac put out an ad that debuted during the Sochi Olympics that’s not only selling their $75,000 car, it’s also selling the American Dream. Not the American Dream where you and I hope to pay off our bills, send kids to college, and retire without starving to death. The upper end American Dream, the one where you work harder and harder for luxury goods, for pool cleaning bills, for your hot, patronizing wife.
It opens with the actor, Neal McDonough, back to the camera, facing his pool, as if he is smack in the middle of an existential crisis. He looks at the camera, which has snuck up on his and surprised him. “Why do we work so hard? For all this stuff?” Right off the bat, two assumptions. That we naturally work hard — that isn’t even a question worth asking, apparently— and that by working hard, we are rewarded with adequate compensation.
By we, of course, he means college-educated people in lucrative careers. He does not mean people working 70 plus hours on minimum wage just to afford rent. The people he’s talking about work hard by choice. He’s talking about people who are already successful and work harder for some reason. That reason can’t be all this stuff, can it?
Then he talks about how people in other countries dare to stop off at the cafe after work and take a whole month off for vacation. As if working were more important than enjoying a life. People value experiences more than stuff. Vacation is good for employee health, though you’ll be lucky to get two weeks. Nobody regrets working too little while on their deathbed.
And then there comes the sell on the American Dream. He tells us why we work so hard, not what we are working for, mind you, but why we love to work for its own sake. “Because we’re crazy driven, hard-working believers, that’s why.” And later, “You work hard, you create your own luck, you’ve got to believe anything is possible.” This isn’t pitching the car; this is pitching that the American Dream still rewards hard work, that it’s something worth believing in.
You have to work hard and believe, you guys. Things aren’t going great and you are working all the time? You have no faith, infidel. Clearly, any deviation here is a sign of weakness. This is an echo of free-market dogma: the poor are poor because of their own fault.
And that “create your own luck” line? Coming from a guy playing the game of life on the lowest difficulty setting, straight white male, is a bit of a bridge too far. We don’t play in a level playing field, so extolling someone to create their own luck when they are down is an extra kick.
The Cadillac advertising director, Craig Bierley, responded to a lot of the criticisms, but his response here was even more wrong-headed. “You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in possibilities. It’s really about optimism.” Optimism, when wielded without a reason to be optimistic, can be harmful to your mental state.
The ad closes with McDonough getting into his sweet ride and saying with a wink, “As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.” Guess what, everybody! It is for the stuff. We work hard, don’t take off August, and the benefit of that lifestyle is stuff.
So, let’s review: We work crazy-driven hard (which we will regret on our deathbeds) and take less time for vacations (which, if we get them, are good for our health) because we believe in success (at least in straight while male success) so that we can buy luxury goods like this car (which won’t make you happy).
Europe sounds pretty great right now.