We have to talk about an advertisement on the airwaves during this holiday season for Ford Motor Company’s Escape SUV. The ad, called “Setting an Example,” sets a perfect example of how not to behave when enjoying the Great Outdoors, while comically portraying a hallmark piece of middle American mediocrity as a tool for salvaging our dying wild spirit. And therein lies its subtle, irritating genius.
Voiced with the milky baritone of Malcolm’s dad, Seinfeld’s dentist, and famed drug dealer Bryan Cranston, the commercial opens with the wild cry of a hawk over a landscape so rugged Ted Kaczynski would tear up with yearning if he weren’t making a new bomb in response to the chopping sound in the distance.
The flash cutting is so rapid and the landscape so dramatic, I get excited that I’m finally watching a commercial for the long-anticipated re-release of the vintage XJ Cherokee by Jeep as an apology for the milquetoast oversocialized versions they’ve called “Liberty” or “Cherokee” ever since needlessly killing off a stalwart…
…in the name of some ill-defined sense of “progress.”
…But I digress… As the vehicle plummets ever deeper into the mountain expanse, my excitement at this ad grows…
Then again a second time… I hear it instantly a million times over and over again in my head…
CHOP. THUNK. SLICE. WTF???
A hatchet, probably from Walmart, chunks into a young tree trunk. MURDER!
It’s at this point I stop thinking about whatever car they’re trying to sell me and realize that my inner trail steward is COMPELLED to write a public service announcement about why going into the backcountry and felling live trees is a HUGE NO NO from a wilderness stewardship perspective. If every desperate housewife in cities and suburbs across America felt compelled to take their nine year old daughter into the woods with a hatchet to cut down saplings as an “example” of how we used to be woodsmen, my heart breaks for our struggling forests already burdened with stress from overcrowding by city folk ignorant of Leave No Trace.
Specifically, Principle 4 of the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, as defined by the Center for Outdoor Ethics, states:
Leave What You Find
Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
Avoid Damaging Live Trees and Plants
Avoid hammering nails into trees for hanging things, hacking at them with hatchets and saws, or tying tent guy lines to trunks — thus girdling the tree. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable. The cutting of boughs for use as sleeping pads creates minimal benefit and maximum impact. Sleeping pads are available at stores catering to campers. Picking a few flowers does not seem like it would have any great impact and, if only a few flowers were picked, it wouldn’t. But, if every visitor thought “I’ll just take a few,” a much more significant impact might result. Take a picture or sketch the flower instead of picking it. Experienced campers may enjoy an occasional edible plant, but they are careful not to deplete the surviving vegetation or disturb plants that are rare or are slow to reproduce.
If you don’t believe me, you can and should read all about Leave No Trace and its 7 Principles on the website of the Center for Outdoor Ethics, here: https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/.
After the murder scene, we see a clearly aggravated thirty-something mother single-handedly dragging her felled prey toward her parked vehicle, as Cranston’s voice haughtily voices over, “You could have gone down to the nearby tree lot and picked out a nice little spruce for the holidays, but you’ve got a Ford Escape with four-wheel drive, and an example to set.”
Now, as a married straight man with divorced friends, aside from my anger at the wanton disregard for wilderness ethics, what I see here, now, is a woman who looks like she had to grab her daughter and get out of the house after discovering her husband’s affair. This woman grabs an ax, drives to a national forest, finds a motherfuckin’ tree, and lets the poor thing have it. I’m actually surprised Ford cuts away before we see this poor woman collapse beside her car in sobs while her daughter asks “Mommy? What’s wrong?”
Needless to say, I am NOT thinking about a car, much less one as hysterically non sequitur as a Ford Escape, the suburban mainstay from a company with a bad record of transmission failures, perhaps best known in the New York area as being a Yellow Cab.
I lose it. This is the ultimate soccer mom fantasy ad. The target audience, the weekend warrior princess who is as sad as her cheating husband that their dreams of striking it rich enough to peace out to an off-grid cabin deep in the woods were interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy and the reality of office politics. This ad is inherently designed to sell Ford Escapes to the early middle-aged women who are looking for an escape from the drudgery of relationships, children, work, and ultimately, the gilded cage called civilization. And these women can achieve this escape, simply by purchasing this accessible, “off-road” capable, finely-tuned machine from the apex of the Second Industrial Revolution. All for the budget-friendly MSRP of only $25,980.