“That Doesn’t Just Happen”

The quasi-official explanation for the existence of cars-first transportation in the United States is an extension of American Exceptionalism: “Americans are having a love affair with the automobile,” it is said, is all there is to know about the making and meaning of mobility in this, the best of all possible societies.

Now, one important sub-axiom of love affair doctrine is the presumption that capitalists, being mere order-takers, have played no independent part in the extraordinary, continuing paving of the continent. “What would you folks like,” our heroic Henry Fords are said to always ask. “Oh, cars…hmm. Cars, you say? Oh, yes,…cars, cars, of course! — excuse us, we hadn’t thought of that. Tell us more, so we can give you what you desire!”

This would surely still be the main explanation an organization such as the Ford Motor Company would give, if any public servant were ever so brazen as to inquire into the insane trend toward escalating manufacture and sale of pickup trucks.

Why is this suicidal thing happening, oh dearest Ford? “Well, it’s what the people demand!,” you can hear them say.

Consider, then, this image, which shows an advertisement Ford Motor is now running in the trade magazine Automotive Age:

Ford ad

You could spend hours decoding the few dozen words in this one. But, still, consider the plain meaning of the first two sentences:

F-Series trucks have been America’s best-selling truck for 43 years running. That doesn’t just happen.

No, indeed. It does not.

How They Sell Overkill

Under the capitalist-dictated regime of cars-first transportation, the private automobile is all about selling people as much stuff as possible, never mind the consequences.

This ad from Volkswagen directly states one of the bedrock propositions of this endeavor: “More room means more fun.”

One might reflect, in reviewing this shameless, preposterous piece of mental manipulation, upon the thing that has for many decades been the leading cause of death for American children and young adults. That would be automotive collisions.

Propaganda and Delusion

CityLab reporter Laura Bliss writes about “the realm of speculative transportation.” It is a useful concept, denoting the raft of lavishly hyped promises about “autonomous” and “electric” automobiles.

One question this burgeoning realm suggests is how much of it, at the planning/managerial level, stems from delusion, and how much from propaganda.

Surely, delusion is there. People who make comfortable livings from working on deadly products find ways to not just justify it, but spin it as visionary.

Yet, the habit of including preposterous techno-promises in the automotive marketing mix did not emerge last week. It is as old as the overclass push to sell cars.

This fact strongly suggests that the use of car-of-the-future promises is also knowingly propagandistic, i.e., that car-makers consciously use images of impossible futures as cover for keeping the existing meat-grinder going.

Alas, since business corporations are private tyrannies, the extent to which the realm of speculative automobility is a carefully planned marketing tactic remains unclear. It would be extremely fascinating to lay hands on the evidence, though.

Childlike, Indeed

It’s something of an insult to children, but it’s hard not to be struck by the profound childishness of American culture. That outcome is largely a result of the social primacy of corporate marketing, which has long been the main engine of off-the-job ideations and activities in this society. Big business marketing places a premium on encouraging juvenile mindsets, which optimize the brain for absorbing and acting on implanted sales stimuli.

Selling corporate capitalism’s most important product, which promotes and embodies childish fantasies about pure independence and unlimited resources, is squarely part of the infantilizing wave. To wit, this shameless TV ad:

Speaking of kids, you have to wonder what our grandchildren will make of such amazing narcissistic idiocy, should they somehow get lucky and inherit the capacity for remembering and studying human history. And this stuff is very carefully planned, not a mere accident.

Cars Versus Kids

As current host of the nation’s biggest single advertising platform (the Super Bowl), NBC Sports Group has, according to today’s Advertising Age, done some extra research:

NBC analyzed the ads in the last four Super Bowls (2014-2017) based on 575 variables like creative messaging and structural elements. It then looked at the effectiveness of each ad based on five performance metrics: creative appeal, ad cut through, creative engagement, brand social and brand search. NBC will use these results to help guide advertisers on their Super Bowl creative.

Turns out that this research shows that:

If you want your Super Bowl ad to be a success, less is sometimes more. Don’t, for example, include both a puppy and a cute kid. For automakers, featuring children works best, while animals perform especially well for food and beverage brands.

So, let’s ompare and contrast, shall we, dear DbC reader?:

Item 1 — “For automakers, featuring children [in TV ads] works best.”

versus

Item 2

This ranking, which is produced and published (but never actively emphasized) only very occasionally by the (Satanically mis-named) National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, has certainly not changed since 2002. As the NHTSA explains, the long-standing fact is this:

Motor vehicle traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in every age from 3 through 33 for both sexes combined. [emphasis added]

So: In America, associating children with the machine that is the clear #1 death threat to children is the #1 way to sell said machines.

American Culture c. 2017

Robert Heilbroner reported that “At a business forum, I was once brash enough to say that I thought the main cultural impact of television advertising was to teach children that grown-ups told lies for money. How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?”

The problem, of course, goes even deeper than this. It isn’t just the surfeit of lies, but also the legitmization of an overall attitude that celebrates irrationality and defies grown-upness.

Consider how this recent General Motors Corporation advertisement somehow both dismisses and flips the middle finger to a question that, if we had an ounce of healthy democracy left in this society, would actually be at the center of national debate: How in God’s name can we still be making cars, to say nothing of “luxury” cars?

To extend Heilbroner, how strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that, despite continentally obvious prospects of calamity, simply refuses to face up to the simplest costs of its core, defining technology?

Laugh of the Week

If you look around — I’m not going to do them the dignity of linking anything, you’ll see that Ford is now trying to rescue its long-moribund Lincoln nameplate for supposed “luxury” cars.  Take a look.  It’s damned funny stuff.

My favorite howler from among great long strings of them:  Here’s what Ford’s James D. Farley, Jr., the pitiable head marketer for this new junk-push, told The New York Times yesterday:

The name Lincoln has very strong meaning for this country. What he stood for as president was independence, fortitude and elegant thinking.

Yes, the president who pushed railroads, preserved the nation-state, and said, if he could, he would do so without abolishing slavery was all about cars, “independence,” and guts.

The “elegant thinking” part?  Well, that’s just pure comedy gold…