Chevrolet and the Power of Misplaced Norms

There’s a commercial on television nowadays for three Chevrolet SUVs, and inside the folksy feel-good ad is something insidious.

The ad spot, called New Couple (viewable on YouTube here) features a series of youngish couples in their late 20s or early 30s. They are being guided by a relatively non-threatening white man with an ambiguous accent in a navy blue V-neck sweater with an innocuous and clean short-stubbled beard (we shall call him Chevy Man).

Would you trust this man to prophesy to you the future of your family planning?

At the beginning of the spot, Chevy Man approaches a young couple and states “so you guys have recently started dating,” to which a series of separate couples filmed in separate takes reply with something like “uh, yeah,” and “coming up on about two months now.”

Chevy Man then proceeds to show the couples a series of three SUVs manufactured by Chevrolet, the legendary American automotive brand owned by Detroit-based General Motors. He begins by pointing out to the couples the Chevy Trax, which is a modest-sized crossover-style SUV, asking if the couples think it would be good for when they decide to “move in together.”

Now, this struck me as odd, and a bit creepy, because I don’t know this seemingly-innocuous white man, and I don’t necessarily trust him, considering that he is clearly hawking a manufactured product not really known around the world for its long-term reliability or quality of manufacture, so I am kind of thrown askew as to why he would be presupposing to me and my new squeeze about us moving in together. But there’s more here worth exploring…

Next, Chevy Man takes us to the Chevy Equinox, which is a mid-size vehicle a bit larger than the Trax. He points out to us brand-new couples that it “would be perfect for when we have our first kid.”

…What?

Who are you, Mr. White Man With a Corporate Agenda, and why the hell are you suggesting that I even want children in the age of climate change and systemic collapse?

The couples (which the ad states at the beginning are “real couples, not actors”) are also clearly thrown for a loop. You can sense their awkwardness as they are thinking silently to themselves, “uh, are we sure we wanted to sign this release to be featured on national TV?” One of the men in the couples tries to laugh off his discomfort saying, “haha, give me some time.”

Finally, Chevy Man takes us to the Chevy Traverse, which is a full-size SUV. He tells us that it’s for “when [we] have our five kids, two dogs, and one cat.” The first response the clip shows is a woman laughing out loud at the preposterousness of such a proposal. The viewer can’t help but think to himself “wow, what arrogance to think this is even remotely appropriate to suggest,” as the clip shows a series of surprise reactions from the clearly uncomfortable couples who, at this point, are probably waiting for the filming to be over so they can walk away, grab some ice cream, and talk about what a geezer this guy is.

Screenshot of ad. A woman laughs at a ridiculous proposal that she would even want five children while her beau thinks, “oh man, what a crock, why did I sign that release? This is clearly corporate bullshit.”
A young woman who looks like she enjoys garage concerts and throwing bottles at fascists awkwardly avoids eye contact and looks burdened and imposed upon by a white man she doesn’t know telling her that he expects her to have five children.

Now, Chevrolet earned its stripes in the era of post-war prosperity, with classic vehicles like the 1957 Chevy Bel Air and the 1959 Chevy Impala, rightfully among some of the most beautiful classic cars in existence.

However, the New Couples ad seems to demonstrate for the world to see that Chevrolet still believes our value sets and norms to be stuck in that prosperous and conservative era.

By presupposing to Millennial consumers that we are supposed to desire having plentiful children and buying a Chevrolet to park in our suburban driveways, presumably with a white picket fence and secure, good-paying office jobs not only demonstrates how out of touch Chevy (and presumably parent company GM) is with the market they are trying to reach, but it looks like they have been unable to wrap their minds around the manifold challenges facing our generation resulting from the quasi-religious belief enshrined in Disney’s 1958 classic hypermodernist short film Magic Highway.

Climate change and the end of modernist-aspirations-being-realistic aside, it is perhaps even more disappointing that a large corporate multinational firm like GM — who is supposedly supposed to bring the best talent to the fray — has lacked the creativity to transcend that 1950s dream (fantasy) of America and to integrate Millennials’ relatively nihilistic humor and worldview into the design and marketing of their products. Not to mention that the ad’s backdrop is clearly a parched, sun-drenched desert valley, probably in California, whose increasing water scarcity means ominous things for its future habitability.

The automotive industry is well-known among sustainable development professionals to be in dire need of dramatic reform, so perhaps such a swing-and-a-miss is not wholly unsurprising from an automotive leader like GM. Millennials largely do not like driving and try to avoid being dependent on motor vehicles for a number of reasons, not least of which is the great expense of owning and maintaining a car, parking it in the cities we increasingly prefer, and because of the economic sea-change led by on-demand services like Uber and Lyft.

Rap superstar Drake sums up Millennials’ contemporary urban mobility desires

Nevertheless, rather than showing Chevy to be an innovative or desirable company creating products modern consumers want, the New Couples ad merely shows that Chevy continues to fail to keep up with the times, and that despite the generous bailout from the government made after the 2008 financial crisis, the firm continues to design and create vehicles that increasingly do not sync with the dreams and desires of the generation who is rapidly acquiring the greatest purchasing power of any generation.

Now at this point it should go without saying that I find all of the Chevy Man commercials to be rather annoying, largely because of the plentitude of issues illustrated above. Every time one comes on our television set, I roll my eyes and think, “Jesus, the suburban media surround is reallll.”

But what bothers me even more about this particular ad is that you have a faceless corporation (Chevy Man might as well be an Agent from the Matrix), trying to impose upon us an unrealistic expectation that we are to go forth and prosper, preferably to the tune of five children apiece. This is lunacy. In the era of 400+ PPM carbon, when ever-increasing temperatures will make much of earth too hot to inhabit, it is comical to see Corporate America flail about with such obvious anxiety about the future of their consumer base.

The Catholic Church famously promoted large families and obstructed logical, health-based birth control and family planning policies, essentially because of a medieval desire to increase the number of people paying tithes to support church functions. This is now the obvious M.O. of Corporate America. In the face of a rising Asia and plummeting western demographics, American-based corporations are so fearful about losing future profits that rather than innovate technical solutions to meet the demands of modern consumers, they would rather push propaganda to get us to crank out more babies. It is okay to laugh at this and deny them what they seek.

Because, despite modern geopolitical headwinds, America remains a critical bastion of individual liberty, and this means that you and your family alone are responsible for deciding what is in your best interests. If it is not economical for you to procreate, you should not let advertisements from Chevrolet make you feel pressured to meet some kind of expectation that is increasingly out of reach for most people in America. They are an industry from an earlier era, selling you the apex of 19th Century technology. You do not have to listen to them or their ridiculous expectations or definitions of society. Those are for you and you alone to decide and define for yourself.

James Carli is a writer in New York.

James Carli is a writer and humanitarian fundraiser with a background in diplomacy, drug policy, and urbanism.

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