Tuned In

As American as Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Profiting from Human Misery

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The drawback with not watching sports, I’ve written before, is that, if you’re a TiVo-using ad-skipper like me, you never find out what commercials are on the air now. So it was not until I watched the World Series that I discovered that, in American culture, we are now apparently cool with using disaster and mass murder to sell trucks.

A spot for the Chevrolet Silverado, scored to a new John Mellencamp song, "Our Country," is mixed with the sort of blandly patriotic, hardworking Americana images Chevy has used for decades. ("Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet," went the old jingle.) Mixed in with them are shots from American history–Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, building up to an aerial view of flooded houses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the Manhattan skyline, crowned by the twin blue beams that made up the Towers of Light 9/11 memorial.

This being a family website, let me just say that my response began with "What the" and ended with something that rhymed with the type of vehicle being advertised. Memo to Chevrolet: Hundreds of people died on the Gulf Coast in Katrina. Thousands of people died in their office towers in New York City. And yes, maybe they embodied many of the American attributes of strength and resilience and nobility or whatever other virtues you want to flatter us with. But they damn sure did not die to sell your freaking trucks. (An earlier report on the ads in Jalopnik–which seemed just as flabbergasted by the 9/11 imagery–said Chevy was dropping the reference, as well as a picture of a mushroom cloud that was reportedly in earlier cuts of the spot, but the towers of light were plain as day in the broadcast I saw. See also the New York Times’ early mention of the ads’ disastersploitation, and an ad review and video of the spots in Slate.)

I’m not sure what’s more horrifying: the commercial, or the fact that it’s barely amounted to a cultural blip. (Hey, I guess, if you can use terrorism to sell Republican congressional candidates, you can use it to sell anything.) According to Adweek, in connection with Mellencamp’s Farm Aid, the ad campaign included a caravan that traveled raising funds and collecting nonperishables for charity. Which is, uh, nice. Nicer would be, however well-meant the overall campaign, not to use two mass killings of Americans to make a buck. Or even not to make a buck: if Chevy were donating every dime of Silverado profit to charity, the ad would not be much less repulsive. (See the ad here,
courtesy of car website Jalopnik; the supertitles about Stephen Colbert
are not part of the original ad, but it was the one copy of the full
spot available on YouTube.)

Another old patriotic Chevy tagline used to go: See the USA in your Chevrolet. Not like this, I don’t want to see it.