What Drives You

I’m probably the last person in the world to talk about this Cadillac commercial. I saw it while we were watching some of the Oscars. So obviously it was aimed at fancy people. Or people who like to think they are fancy?

I honestly had to ask myself for a moment…is this for real? So I looked it up in my spare time ie: a month later.

It’s for real. If you live sheltered from commercials like I do and haven’t seen it, it’s here:

Or if you’d rather not let this beautiful man ruin himself for you with this script, the transcript:

Why do we work so hard? For what? For this? For stuff? Other countries they work, they stroll home, they stop by the cafe, they take August off. Off. Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that?

Because we’re crazy driven, hard working believers, that’s why. Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever! Were the Wright brothers insane? Bill Gates? Les Paul? Ali?

Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? That’s right, we went up there, and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there, left the keys in it. Do you know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there. That’s why.

But I digress… It’s pretty simple. You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything’s possible. As for all the stuff, that’s the up-side of only taking two weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?

The first ever ELR.
Cadillac

So once you’ve soaked that up, I’ll just let fly with my personal analysis of this. Heavy on the sarcasm.

Unfortunately, they lost me in the first lines. Implying that strolling home by a cafe is…undesirable somehow? Perhaps driving home in the dark in the stop and go traffic of many suburban commuters is better? Ok sure. Let’s say that. Cafes are awful and strolling is the worst.

And taking August off? How horrible that must be for those socialists with their healthcare! I’m actually surprised we didn’t get a healthcare jab in this commercial somehow. They are probably going to the cafe during that month! THE CAFE!

But to answer the question posed to me by Cadillac: why aren’t we like that? Is it, as they posit, because we are “crazy driven, hard working believers”? The short answer is no. But let me explain.

The first problem with that explanation is that it assumes that people who are driven and hard working do not want rest. Or, more important, need rest. Or that that ambition is mutually exclusive with leisure or work-life balance. I know plenty of passionate people who work hard and also love taking a vacation, more than one vacation, or *GASP* strolling home. With a cafe stop.

I know even more people who work harder than they should because they have to, because their wage is not sufficient or their hours aren’t enough. Or because if they don’t’ work those hours they will lose face with their employer and lose their place in the rat race. They are hard workers working too hard with little reward and they are not driving expensive cars nor, I would imagine, is that their end game. All that hard work didn’t result in a Cadillac of any sort and they still only get two weeks off.

The second issue is the assumption that those crazy Europeans are not hardworking or driven. Period. And the balance in their lives is somehow proof of that. Working hours that allow for strolling is proof of laziness. Taking a month of vacation is proof of laziness. This assumption is further bolstered by the list of American inventors or icons. As though no one in Europe has ever innovated, invented or excelled at anything. And how could they? They are at the cafe on vacation in August!

And finally, as we reach the climax of the message and finally see the amazing  car this man drives, the point is hammered home. We have an embarrassingly low number of vacation days on average so that we can have a fancy car. And that this is worth it. That this desire for luxury goods instead of a balanced life is somehow quintessentially American.

I guess the car makes the long commute more bearable? It’s the cafe on wheels perhaps?

So I’ll drop the sarcasm and tell you honestly, this message makes me more sad than mad. Because it implies that hard work is a value only for those looking to accumulate status through financial success and material worth. It says that Americans are some how not only proud of this premise, but possess it exclusively. It shows us some of the things that make it shitty to be American and try to tell us they are virtues. It denies the reality that efficient work is often balanced by sufficient downtime.

The truth is that most people in most places put value on hard work. But only in America are we told that this is special only to us. Proof of hard work, we are told, is not the work itself but the status symbol that the work purchased. We are told and tell ourselves that we, Americans, work harder than other nationalities perhaps to console ourselves for the terrible balance we achieve with our home life. Perhaps as an excuse for the way taking sick days is a sign of weakness in much of corporate culture.

The truth is that working hard does not have to mean sacrificing time at home (notice how the man in the commercial passes his wife like she is some kind of stranger?) but that in the American culture of work it is important to at least portray that you are defined by your work or career.

The truth is that lengthy vacations, family leave, and sufficient sick leave are common in countries with a higher quality of living than the US (yes America, that not only exists but is a long list) and somehow their economies roll on.

I’m not saying there is something wrong with you if a car or a house or a name your material object here makes you happy or if part of what you work for is those physical items of comfort. I get that, and I too want nice things. But I am saying that if you had to choose more time off or a car there is evidence to suggest that the former is the one that would really add to your happiness.

The truth is that dismal amounts of vacation time are not, or should not be, a source of national pride. Working into the ground for a car need not be a point of national pride.

Is a Cadillac now a fancy car, by the way? I’m farther out of the loop than I’d like to think on this issue.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “What Drives You

  1. Honestly, if you didn’t tell me it was a “real” commercial I would think it was something all together different.
    But what do I know, I am a cafe strolling, 8-week holiday taking, part-time working, cycling to work European he laughs at. Maybe I just don’t get it :)

  2. I hadn’t seen this commercial before, but it makes me mad, for all of the reasons you mentioned. I’ve never considered a Cadillac to be a car driven by wealthy people. I consider it to be a “wanna be” luxury car. People who drive Cadillacs are trying too hard. Unless they’re pink. Then they’re cool. LOL

  3. I think the commercial is actually pretty comical but I think its because I can see through the BS and know who their target audience is (not me)…and boy did they nail that right wing, conservative, capitalist, ‘Merican on the head. Its very cheeky and yes, it does exemplify and perpetuate some poor qualities that have been ingrained in us (Americans) all of our lives. I guess the thing that bums me out is that there are an overwhelming number of people who watched that commercial and thought…YES, CADILLAC! It really is a good commercial, I think the correct consumer is reached and it bolsters their belief system and validates it to an extent as being a source of nationalism/patriotism. The problem is it does further an ideal and a new audience is now being influenced, but everyone needs to choose their own lifestyle and some people will realize that the American dream is not for them, and others may continue to believe that second place is the first place loser. I for one am looking forward to taking two months off and hitting as many cafe’s in Europe as possible this summer. Then, happily returning to my 2005 fuel efficient, low maintenance Japanese car which will no longer be subjected to the horrific commuting you reference, ever again.

    • I totally agree Dom (it’s set now, I’m calling you that forever), there is definitely a target for this ad and for that audience it does nail it. But is it annoyingly bordering on hipster if I’m depressed by that? haha The Ford rebuke was smartly done but just doesn’t do enough to erase this as the ‘typical’ American dream/mentality. Boo.

      • Exchange “hipster” with its predecessor, “emo” and I think we have a match. I will say this…I get why it depresses you if you are anything like me. Example, there was a Redwing Boot commercial on the radio a few years back that pretty much stated…you aren’t a real man unless you are doing manual labor…people that sit behind a desk aren’t REAL MEN…I heard this as I sat in traffic, commuting to my desk job. I was already questioning the what does it all mean bit and, is this what I really want…and for someone to appeal to an audience by knocking down another (that I happened to be a part of it) struck me reaaaal wrong. Some companies would rather alienate a certain customer by reinforcing the ideas of its target audience and I am sure in both our cases it worked…yours saying…yeah screw those lazy socialist life enjoyers (or whatever) and mine saying. yeah screw those pansies who use their brain! Anyway. I should probably not blow up your comments section anymore! I hope you and the fam are back stateside and enjoying a beautiful walk to the cafe!

  4. Robin

    Took the words right out of my mouth with this one! The first time this came on when Chris and I were in the same room I said the same thing – have you seen this!? It’s nuts! It’s either one of the mose depressing things I’ve seen lately or it’s a joke.

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