Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dupes In Detroit

If you like the "Imported from Detroit" ad from Chrysler, then you are a sucker. The seductive images pave over the working class struggle. Delusional words from another civic booster:

“Now we’re from America but this isn’t New York City or the Windy City or Sin City and we’re certainly no one’s Emerald City,” says the voiceover of a moving Superbowl ad that seemed to be about Detroit’s toughness and pride rather than about a luxury car.

The ad was a hit but I had just spent a week in Detroit meeting with friends and grantees in the midst of a snow storm that the locals shrugged off as “only” dropping 8-12 inches of snow.

So you need to hear me when I say that’s Detroit swag. There are people who LOVE Detroit! Young do-it-yourselfers are choosing this city over any place else because they are feeling Detroit.

20-something Emily Doerr, who plans to open a hostel in the city this spring, brims with affection when she says “Detroit is a gritty defiant place and it’s not like any other city. It’s beautiful but strong. Gritty, defiant, unique and cool is an attractive combination to young people.”

The Super Bowl commercial, then, is a shell game. Detroit’s pain isn’t the result of some existential crisis of faith, but a direct consequence of the amoral, profit-seeking behaviors of Chrysler itself. And the prospect of “taking pride” in producing luxury goods for the elite class of business professionals who benefited from this structural economic transformation is cold comfort to the millions of impoverished families trying to keep warm by the dying embers of an industry that no longer has any use for their deep-running know-how.

Karl Marx, that keen critic of class relations, called this sleight of hand “false consciousness,” and there’s something downright evil about the falseness of the promises made in Chrysler’s ad. Not only is pride out of the question, but economic rebirth certainly won’t happen just because wealthy and upper-middle-class Americans “believe” in our work force enough to purchase the goods they manufacture. The argument makes about as much sense as “trickle-down economics” (a term coined by another keen social critic, Will Rogers).

The truth is, working people don’t benefit by serving wealthy people; they benefit by organizing, and by serving themselves and one another. They find pride not in abstract and lofty ideals of American greatness, but in concrete and achievable accomplishments in their own lives and communities. Shame on anyone who allows himself to believe otherwise, and shame on Chrysler.

That Detroit grit or swag is false consciousness. As we passively watch the ad and let the positive emotions wash over us, we naturally align Chrysler with all those good feelings. We will rush out and buy American cars, stringing the capitalist world-economy along for another year or two.

With that said, don't you feel dirty for liking the ad?

1 comment:

DBR96A said...

Personally, I like the ad because it's a pair of middle fingers -- one from the city and one from the automaker -- directed at everybody who's written them off. A city the size of Detroit doesn't just up and blow away, even though some people ignorantly wish that to be true.

By the way, Chrysler will have its entire product portfolio overhauled by 2012, and they've already released some new vehicles to rave reviews by automotive publications. In just another year or two, it'll be obvious just how badly Daimler f***ed Chrysler, because Chrysler is doing much more with much less as we speak.