Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Hoping Detroit Fails

The backlash has begun. SmartPlanet links to a Mother Jones piece that rips the Chrysler ad I discussed yesterday. The critique has become, in my view, a vacuous cliché:

But there's a lot to dislike here: the fact that a major bailout recipient is dishing beaucoup bucks for a one-off ad to boost its image; the cynical racism (or at least colonialism) of positioning Chrysler as a tough, gritty, 8 Mile-style brand that's perfect for what marketers call the "urban core" demographic; and using Detroit poverty porn to hawk your product while simultaneously trying to deride the media's recent Detroit poverty porn.

The charge of exploiting "poverty porn" is reminiscent of the scathing rebuke of the Levi's campaign that sells jeans using Braddock's ruin porn. That's an important connection to make. The Associated Press offers a watered-down version of the concern:

"Detroit's ascendancy mirrors Eminem's own struggles and accomplishments," Chrysler brand CEO and President Olivier Francois said in an e-mail to the AP. "This is not simply yet another celebrity in a TV spot. It has meaning. Like his music and story, the new Chrysler is 'Imported from Detroit' with pride."

Of course, the tagline is not without some irony: Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA now owns 25 percent of Chrysler, and the ad was produced by Wieden + Kennedy, a Portland, Ore.-based agency known for its work with Nike. Chrysler switched after its previous advertising agency, a famous firm called BBDO, closed its Detroit office.

Does Wieden + Kennedy ring a bell? Mother Jones went after the Nike connection. I immediately thought of the "Ready to Work" campaign that featured Braddock. In fact, the Chrysler ad seems similar in its use of Rust Belt Chic. The agency is located in Portland, OR and has its finger on the pulse of the urban frontier. The swipe at the emerald cities in the definition of Detroit cool is ironic.

The other thread running through the negative reaction to the Chrysler ad is Fiat's ownership stake and the US government bailout of the American auto company. Why are taxpayers propping up a foreign company?

The [Nike] shoe waiting to drop is Chrysler abandoning Detroit for Turin, Italy. We bail you out and then you spit in our face, raking in corporate profits. Detroit is left with only a sleek ad, 15-minutes of fame.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Fiat and Chrysler, has been forced on the defensive after causing a political firestorm in Italy by suggesting he could move the Italian company’s headquarters from Turin to the US and saying Chrysler’s bail-out loans from the US government carried “shyster rates”.

His comments come just a month after he won tough labour concessions at Fiat’s flagship Turin plant on a pledge that he would not move production to cheaper sites in North America or eastern Europe.

Fiat is a symbol of Italy’s industrial might, and business leaders say any decision by Mr Marchionne to reduce its presence there would have a disastrous effect on the country’s already weak image as a place for foreign investment. Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the opposition Democratic party, demanding an explanation from Mr Marchionne said it was unacceptable for “Turin and the country to become a suburb of Detroit”.

The above is from yesterday's news cycle. After all is said and done, Turin might be the city left high-and-dry. Detroit will be the one stealing jobs from abroad. Of all the pontificating (good and bad) about the Super Bowl spot, not a single blog post or article mentions the shitstorm rising from Marchionne's comments. There is no consideration of the bigger picture.

"When I was elected, I thought I knew what was going on, but I got here and found out [that] in the short term, things were way worse than I ever imagined," Bing said. "Financially. Ethically. From a policy standpoint. We were on the brink of a financial calamity."

Twenty-one months into the job, that's where the city remains. With no salvation in sight, Bing, 67, has embarked on a mission few in his position have ever had to take on: dramatically shrinking a major American metropolis. To do so, Bing has issued an open invitation: anyone with a proposal, plan, theory - a notion, even - is welcome to try to save his crumbling city.

The people trying to save the city tended to respond positively to the Chrysler ad. Maybe poverty porn sells a few cars. But it can also rally many to the cause. The Mother Jones invective is what is postcolonial, exploitative. I'm from the Rust Belt. Don't tell me what the score is. I'm not being seduced by ruin porn and I'm not buying your lefty propaganda.

A crumbling Detroit is supposed to teach us how capitalism is evil. Those wielding Marxist theory want Detroit to fail. It is supposed to fail. The idea that nothing good can come from the promotion of consumerism is oppressive ideological thinking. I'm not interested in Mother Jones telling me what the ad means. I can decide for myself. I can be inspired and still point a damning finger at Chrysler. Doing so doesn't make me a hypocrite. It means I'm an active consumer of media. That cuts both ways as far as Mother Jones is concerned.


The Urbanophile said...

Looks like you didn't have to wait long for your Marxist critique.

Jim Russell said...

I knew it was coming. I'm surprised there hasn't been more of a backlash. If anything, the circumstances are worse than the Levi's-Braddock partnership.

I'm happy that many Rust Belt boosters like the Chrysler ad. What's your take?

Jonathan said...

I don't think the ad does much for either Detroit or Chrysler.

Nobody is buying a Chrysler because it's made in Detroit, any more than anyone is buying an iPod because it's "designed in California." Are people in Detroit, not just mythological figures in Detroit, actually better-than-average auto builders? If they're not, why make believe that they are?

Kate G said...

Thanks for your post. The Mother Jones piece irritated me too.

There was quite a spirited debate about this ad going on yesterday on Rust Wire's Facebook page.

Anonymous said...

don't ignore this fact: that ad borrowed images heavily from chicago and new york, excepting, maybe, the smoking sewer gas.

DBR96A said...

That's the irony of it all: everybody talks about how Chrysler is "Italian" now, even though Fiat controls no more than 25 percent of it, and Fiat is more likely to become "American" than Chrysler is to become Italian.

We have too many ignoramuses in this country.

The Urbanophile said...

It's not just the Marxist, the right wing didn't like it either:


I liked it myself.