I sort of hated the Neal McDonough Cadillac ad when it debuted during the Super Bowl this year, not least because my strongest association with McDonough is of his psychotically violent criminal character on Justified, and being exhorted to capitalist fervor by him is kind of terrifying!
But I’ve been interested to see the embrace of the ad by conservatives, and the attacks on it by liberals. “I find the screw-you-Pierre brashness of this ad to be refreshing, in a way; it ought to be shown to foreigners to tell them that this is how many, many Americans think about the American Dream,” Rod Dreher wrote in the American Conservative. “It is by no means how all Americans think, but there is a profound truth in this ad.” Sonny Bunch says he loves the attitude that: “We went to the moon and got bored so we came home. We might go back — if we’re bored at home. We’re Americans: We do things hard and fast and best.”
I think Sonny is going a bit too far in dismissing the ad’s focus on acquisitiveness, which has drawn some criticism from liberals who see the ad as a kind of one-percenter triumphalism. At the end of the ad, after all, McDonough, who starts off by saying that the stuff isn’t the reason to work so hard, does remind us that “As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.”
But one thing I do find really fascinating about the ad is that it’s for a hybrid car. The ad doesn’t say this explicitly, but when McDonough tells us that “You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible,” he does so while pulling the Cadillac ELR’s plug out of the car’s socket and preparing to drive it. That Cadillac is selling its luxury hybrid cars as an example of vigorous American innovative drive, and a reward for that devotion to work, rather than pitching it as a socially responsible thing you do for the earth rather than for yourself actually strikes me as proof of how far these vehicles have come in the public imagination. Seeing environmentally beneficial scientific advancements as awesome and consumptively desirable rather than as effete seems like real progress.