America: Where Nobody Knows Your Name

Every once in a while, you experience one of those sublime moments when an advertisement pulls back the curtain just enough for you to see what the marketers are really trying to sell you. Usually, they’re smart and try to convince you that when you buy a new smartphone you are really buying coolness, innovation, and style. Apple sells you romance, beauty, and meaning hoping you’ll drop $499 on an iPad Air. They use intangibles like coolness or beauty to convince us to buy what is an inherently cheap substitute for the real thing.

But with Chevrolet’s newest Cruze commercial, you know exactly what you’re paying for: efficiency and loneliness.

 

When you think about it, the commercial ambivalently points to the  that most American of values: efficiency. Yes, efficiency can save us money and can save us time and it can shorten our work hours because we can pack more value into every minute or squeeze more value out of every dollar. But at what cost?

For Chevrolet, the cost of efficiency is community, as it has been in the car business since Henry Ford started pushing out Model T’s. The car is about the individual, it’s about personal expression and getting where you want to go, when you want to go there, without being bogged down by any kind of social commitments like a shared public transportation schedule. It’s about ‘finding new roads,’ and ‘grabbing life by the horns,’ and spending lots of money doing it.

But ultimately, when you think about it, what’s the real message of the commercial. Doesn’t everyone love the Cheers theme song? Doesn’t everyone, just sometimes, want to go where everyone knows your name? Out of the characters in the commercial, who would you rather be? The nameless guy who saves a few bucks at the gas pump but who spends his savings on his car payment for a brand new Chevy, or Stan? Everyone knows Stan. Everyone wants to say hi to Stan and everyone wants to know how he’s doing. I’d want to be Stan. After all, the song doesn’t go, “sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name/and they’re never glad you came.” We want to go where people know our names and they’re always glad we came and we don’t want to spend money on a technology that by its nature degrades our sense of community, right?

Of course, the premise of the commercial is the very opposite. The Chevy marketers assume that we value efficiency above all else. Let’s all just take a moment to enjoy the implications of the assumption that what we prefer is to be efficient and lonely and ask ourselves if this rings true to us. If it does, let’s remember that the core of Christianity has never been about efficiency or power or saving a buck. And if we don’t see a problem with sacrificing community for efficiency or fraternity for a dollar, let’s ask who is actually supplying our values.

Gas Stations where nobody knows your name

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Up&Up. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is benjamingrobertson.com

Comments

  1. Jerry Klein says:

    I liked the commercial and googled it. I stumbled upon your article and loved it. It’s definitely better to be Stan. Community is what’s missing from much of society today. Well said.

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