Home > guest post > Ya’ make your own luck, n’est-ce pas?

Ya’ make your own luck, n’est-ce pas?

February 25, 2014

This is a guest post by Leopold Dilg.

There’s little chance we can underestimate our American virtues, since our overlords so seldom miss an opportunity to point them out.  A case in point – in fact, le plus grand du genre, though my fingers tremble as I type that French expression, for reasons I’ll explain soon enough – is the Cadillac commercial that interrupted the broadcast of the Olympics every few minutes.

A masterpiece of casting and directing and location scouting, the ad follows a middle-aged man, muscular enough but not too proud to show a little paunch – manifestly a Master of the Universe – strutting around his chillingly modernist $10 million vacation house (or is it his first or fifth home? no matter), every pore oozing the manly, smirky bearing that sent Republican country-club women swooning over W.

It starts with Our Hero, viewed from the back, staring down his infinity pool.   He pivots and stares down the viewer.  He shows himself to be one of the more philosophical species of the MotU genus.  “Why do we work so hard?” he puzzles. “For this?  For stuff?….”  We’re thrown off balance:  Will this son of Goldman Sachs go all Walden Pond on us?  Fat chance.

Now, still barefooted in his shorts and polo shirt, he’s prowling his sleak living room (his two daughters and stay-at-home wife passively reading their magazines and ignoring the camera, props in his world no less than his unused pool and The Car yet to be seen) spitting bile at those foreign pansies who “stop by the café” after work and “take August off!….OFF!”  Those French will stop at nothing.

“Why aren’t YOU like that,” he says, again staring us down and we yield to the intimidation.  (Well gee, sir, of course I’m not.  Who wants a month off?  Not me, absolutely, no way.)  “Why aren’t WE like that” he continues – an irresistible demand for totalizing merger.   He’s got us now, we’re goose-stepping around the TV, chanting “USA! USA! No Augusts off! No Augusts off!”

No, he sneers, we’re “crazy, hardworking believers.”  But those Frogs – the weaklings who called for a double-check about the WMDs before we Americans blasted Iraqi children to smithereens (woops, someone forgot to tell McDonalds, the official restaurant of the U.S. Olympic team, about the Freedom Fries thing; the offensive French Fries are THERE, right in our faces in the very next commercial, when the athletes bite gold medals and the awe-struck audience bites chicken nuggets, the Lunch of Champions) – might well think we’re “nuts.”

“Whatever,” he shrugs, end of discussion, who cares what they think.  “Were the Wright Brothers insane?  Bill Gates?  Les Paul?…  ALI?”  He’s got us off-balance again – gee, after all, we DO kinda like Les Paul’s guitar, and we REALLY like Ali.

Of course!  Never in a million years would the hip jazz guitarist insist on taking an August holiday.  And the imprisoned-for-draft-dodging boxer couldn’t possibly side with the café-loafers on the WMD thing.  Gee, or maybe…. But our MotU leaves us no time for stray dissenting thoughts.  Throwing lunar dust in our eyes, he discloses that WE were the ones who landed on the moon.  “And you know what we got?” Oh my god, that X-ray stare again, I can’t look away.  “BORED.   So we left.” YEAH, we’re chanting and goose-stepping again, “USA! USA!  We got bored!  We got bored!”

Gosh, I think maybe I DID see Buzz Aldrin drumming his fingers on the lunar module and looking at his watch.  “But…” – he’s now heading into his bedroom, but first another stare, and pointing to the ceiling – “…we got a car up there, and left the keys in it.  You know why? Because WE’re the only ones goin’ back up there, THAT’s why.” YES! YES! Of COURSE! HE’S going back to the moon, I’M going back to the moon, YOU’RE going back to the moon, WE’RE ALL going back to the moon. EVERYONE WITH A U.S. PASSPORT is going back to the moon!!

Damn, if only the NASA budget wasn’t cut after all that looting by the Wall Street boys to pay for their $10 million vacation homes, WE’D all be going to get the keys and turn the ignition on the rover that’s been sitting 45 years in the lunar garage waiting for us.   But again – he must be reading our mind – he’s leaving us no time for dissent, he pops immediately out of his bedroom in his $12,000 suit, gives us the evil eye again, yanks us from the edge of complaint with a sharp, “But I digress!” and besides he’s got us distracted with the best tailoring we’ve ever seen.

Finally, he’s out in the driveway, making his way to the shiny car that’ll carry him to lower Manhattan.  (But where’s the chauffer?  And don’t those MotUs drive Mazerattis and Bentleys?  Is this guy trying to pull one over on the suburban rubes who buy Cadillacs stupidly thinking they’ve made it to the big time?)

Now the climax:  “You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible,” he declaims.

Yes, we believe that!  The 17 million unemployed and underemployed, the 47 million who need food stamps to keep from starving, the 8 million families thrown out of their homes – WE ALL BELIEVE.  From all the windows in the neighborhood, from all the apartments across Harlem, from Sandy-shattered homes in Brooklyn and Staten Island, from the barren blast furnaces of Bethlehem and Youngstown, from the foreclosed neighborhoods in Detroit and Phoenix, from the 70-year olds doing Wal-mart inventory because their retirement went bust, from all the kitchens of all the families carrying $1 trillion in college debt, I hear the national chant, “YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK!  YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK!”

And finally – the denouement – from the front seat of his car, our Master of the Universe answers the question we’d all but forgotten.  “As for all the stuff? That’s the upside of taking only two weeks off in August.”  Then the final cold-blooded stare and – too true to be true – a manly wink, the kind of wink that makes us all collaborators and comrades-in-arms, and he inserts the final dagger: “N’est-ce pas?”

N’est-ce pas?

Categories: guest post
  1. londenio
    February 25, 2014 at 10:42 am

    How else would you market a Cadillac? This post strikes me as misplaced hatred. I only saw the commercial after reading your post. It’s ok. It is almost self-mocking. People who buy Cadillacs may like this ad. I don’t think we make our own luck, but some people do, so it could work. More Cadillacs are sold, and perhaps the unemployment would then go down.

  2. February 25, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Any hint of self parody is a faint hint indeed. Astounding that so much stupid could fit into 63 seconds.

  3. Mel
    February 25, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Last year it was trucks, wasn’t it? With much of the same imagery. I don’t know how many trucks got sold, but somebody out there for sure knows how to sell expensive advertising to GM top management.

  4. Franklin
    February 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Self-mocking? Londenio, go back to the commercial and listen to the all-out macho chauvinism in his voice when he says “Because we’re the only ones going back up there, that’s why!” More important, the ad conveys four big messages: (1) we’re proud of American materialism (we work hard to get stuff); (2) ya gotta believe we make our own luck (notwithstanding that 60 or 80 percent of the country now lives in constant fear, yes constant fear, that any day they and their family will be thrown into poverty from bad “luck” over which they have zero control, like massive financial crises, imports or out-sourcing that throw them out of work, a plunge in the housing market that puts them out on the street, a drop in the market that leaves them impoverished in retirement at a time when no employer will hire unemployed 60-year olds; (3) we’re proud that other countries have a month off (in fact, those other countries typically have 6 or 8 weeks off, not to mention a year of paid maternity leave, etc.) and we only have two weeks off (in fact, the average American worker has 10 days off, and 30 million full-time workers earn a poverty wage and are allowed NO time off and NO sick days — if you’re sick, you either come to work or lose your job), and (4) we’re chauvinistic and parochial about the rest of the world, especially Europeans. Worst, the ad tries to convey that “we” all have share the obviously false beliefs of this guy who won the economic lottery — that we Americans subscribe to one unified and, yes, disgusting set of materialistic, nationalistic, social darwinian, macho values.

  5. February 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    This is why I don’t have a TV

    • Josh
      February 26, 2014 at 6:43 am

      I tend to agree with you. As far as I can tell, the US appears to have reached the level of economic development predicted by Keynes (and many sci-fi writers) where we can satisfy all reasonable material needs. What Keynes got wrong is:
      (a) we choose not to satisfy those needs for everyone
      (b) we invent and stimulate desire to continue consumption growth
      (c) he thought we would move on to focus our energy on intellectual and philosophical pursuits.

      Advertising is a big part of (b) and the commercials that are less obviously odious are actually worse (because they are more effective in their ultimate aim).

  6. Thomas
    February 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Insofar as “you make your own luck,” this ad is an unsubtle, elitist appeal to the prevailing strain of libertarian, social darwinism in American culture. It explicitly links this mindset to the financial success that enables you to buy a Cadillac.

    This is the mindset that still holds as a core belief that the economy should have been allowed to tank in 2008 with the subsequent, inevitable catastrophe viewed as a cathartic and purifying “fire,” ridding our economy of its less desirable, unprofitable segments and businesses. It’s the mindset that believes that the $800 billion or so spent on economic policies to bridge the worst years of the Downturn was a total failure — look, where are the jobs? The mindset that sees absolutely nothing of value in Obamacare, distorting health care reform’s short record with deliberately and verifiably misleading statements about people whose lives have already been shattered by its cracks and loopholes. The mindset that seeks Obamacare’s immediate repeal or, barring that, a Gulliverian-style onslaught of congressional philibusters, court challenges and tort reform maneuvers that will tie it up in perpetual litigation. The same mindset that nods approvingly at the gridlock in Congress as well as the sequestration. The mindset that associates the early but since recovered, bungled rollout of the online exchanges as confirmation of the worst excesses and shortcomings of centralized federal government.

    This mindset harkens back to the halcyon Reagan era and has repeal of all entitlement programs on the agenda as a top priority. Such repeals are not limited to social security, welfare, unemployment, food stamps, Head Start, you name it…aspiring to take everything back to the way America was in about 1900 when there was virtually no federal regulation.

    We can see what America was like 100 years ago in the mirrors held up by the developing world today: its political instability and absence of the rule of law — unsafe food supplies, drugs of highly questionable quality that might or might not work as intended if they don’t kill you first, air pollution, bacterial water, societies dominated by corruption, cronyism, favoritism, various legal entities including the courts, the military and the police completely compromised or beholden to the rich and/or well financed, criminals running wild, narrow special interests with self-serving agendas, etc., etc.

    This is certifiably crazy shit…but do I exaggerate? I think not. The fact is that you don’t have to be Sarah Palin, a card carrying member of the Tea Party or own a Cadillac to subscribe to this belief system.

    Back to the point of the thread…this ad for Cadillac is merely symptomatic of the fact that virtually ALL advertising is predicated on possessing the level of affluence so typified as a minimum threshold. It’s an indictment of an industry and its redundant, worldwide expressions. While many ads employ ethnic diversity of one kind or another, ethnic diversity is like Mom and apple pie masking an otherwise stunning lack of real cultural heterogeneity and diversity. This statement is confirmable — you don’t have to be a sociologist with a PhD to do it: Simply look at the characters portrayed, the environments in which ads are staged and filmed, the clothing worn, the apartments and houses lived in, as well as the possessions that form the mise-en-scene or content of any ad’s imagery to recognize all of this as an explicit statement of an ideal social structure that is not shared by all.

    Then step outside of this hermetically sealed, sanitized, affluent and stereotyped visual isolation chamber into the exclusionary reality that the majority of Americans as well as world citizenry face, their implicit absence from portrayal by marketing’s juggernaut. The mass of people living around the poverty level with little or no access to credit and beyond the ubiquitous cell phone virtually no footprint on the “grid” and, therefore, virtually no representation. From this perspective, even a seemingly innocuous ad for an analgesic is a reminder not just of their predicament but more importantly of their hopes and dreams.

    Obviously owning a Cadillac is no confirmation that you are a subscriber to or are down with the pernicious agenda just profiled despite the fact that Cadillac’s research is suggesting that you are implicated if for no other reason than by their selection of this motif as representative of purchasers. Nor, after Festinger, does this seem like an ad directed at post-purchase dissonance reduction.

    What I’m saying is not meant to be an appeal to some vague lumpenproletariat…nor is it to say that just because someone is poor, their fate is sealed in misery, ill health and crime and they wallow in envy at each and every commercial. Quite the contrary, the ideal cultural vision as portrayed in advertising is part and parcel of the air everyone breathes…an articulation of the values sought after by billions of people worldwide — excluding Islamic fundamentalists of course. The decline of Russian communism and cargo cult like worship of consumerism as portrayed in Mikhail Bulgakov’s satiric novel The Master and Margarita is testimony to this, as is the slow evolution and eventual explosion into consumerism in the last 25 or 30 years in Mainland China.

    To me it’s merely a statement of the obvious.

  7. Min
    February 25, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    “I can do a year’s work in nine months, but I can’t do nine months’ work in a year.”
    — J. P. Morgan

  8. February 25, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    What an absurd ad. Thanks for rightly defiling its soul.

  9. Richard Séguin
    February 25, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    This disgusting commercial is right out of the Fox News playbook, whose talking heads regularly heap scorn and hate on France with a fixation that almost suggests mental illness. What’s the relationship of Cadillac to Fox News? Cadillac is an old person’s luxury car; Fox News biggest audience is old people.

    • Klassy
      February 26, 2014 at 7:11 am

      Fox? Try every mainstream media outlet. And Cadillac is aiming to skew younger (I think they have had some success with this) and I believe this commercial is aimed at the younger “make your own destiny crowd”.
      Anyway, thanks Cathy for calling out this dreadful ad. Raised my hackles, it did.

  10. Peter
    February 26, 2014 at 5:53 am

    sleak?

  11. J B
    February 26, 2014 at 8:42 am

    I was struck by GM’s simultaneously running an antithetical ad for a van/ passenger car, that showed and seemingly celebrated the ‘new’ diverse American family, not your ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ version. Same corporation? Both ends of the Rainbow? Reaction to the The Cadillac Ad overpowered observations regarding the opening ceremonies at a party we attended during the leading edge of 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. Universally, passionately reviled. Tribalism at its best!

    Relax, we’ll all be on foot looking up at the moon sooner than later…

  12. Savonarola
    February 26, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Disgusting, but also incredibly stupid and ineffective. It panders to a particular kind of socially insecure moron, when you think about it: it insinuates that a MotU would be caught dead in a Cadillac. He would not. So it is aspirational to a kind of macho guy who is very status conscious, but lacks the moxy to be the real deal.

    There are very, very few of those left to market to any more, because everybody is very rapidly sliding down one side of the roof or the other – filthy rich or poor. Niche marketing (there’s that French again) can’t be reaching that many people. And yet. . . .it’s got to insult the hell out of more people than it impresses. Seems wantonly stupid to me.

  13. Mr. McKnuckles
    February 26, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you. The ad makes me a bit queasy every time I see it.

  14. Thomas
    February 28, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Guys! Bashing this specific ad completely misses the point that it’s an indictment of an industry…the global marketing contagion that has insinuated itself so far into our awareness that it’s part and parcel of the air we breathe. That this ad is premised on a vision of social structure that simultaneously assumes a high level of affluence — the 1% everywhere — while at the same time excluding everybody else is the norm.

    In point of fact, this specific ad is no worse than anything else on the air…

    • Franklin
      February 28, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      I agree, Thomas, that the marketing contagion is exactly as you say — part of the air we breathe. And maybe an ad like this one is even less pernicious for being so overt about its social-structural assumptions. Still, it seems important, at least every now and then, to take the world by its shoulders, shake it, and scream that those assumptions, and the images they motivate, are outrageous. And maybe the worst of the genre is precisely the one that shows why the air is unbreathable.

  15. squashed frog
    March 7, 2014 at 4:28 am

    From the other side of the Atlantic, no cadillac for the frogs (but perhaps some bits of frogs on cadillac tyres). I haven’t seen the commercial but it does not do full justice to the laziness of frogs : it’s five weeks per year, guys! And we manage to get either July or August off. With the family. Outrageous!
    But don’t despair: some “Fils de Pub” famously declared a few years back (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WLDcwM8WAs), “if you’re 50 and you don’t have a rolex, you’ve wasted your life”. Could have been a cadillac.
    It either that or a total waste in the August sun. You chose.

  1. February 26, 2014 at 6:56 am
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