Archive for February, 2010

How Audi’s Super Bowl Spot Changed What Cars Stand For

Audi’s Super Bowl spot, in which the “Green Police” harass ordinary citizens who do not comply with the laws of authoritarian environmentalist state (one that bears some resemblance to every major metropolitan area in America), was a viewer favorite. In fact, it was one of the few spots during the game I found mildly entertaining. But what was most interesting about it was its radical redefinition of the semiotics of the automobile (I use “semiotics” in the sense that Roland Barthes did–i.e., the study of signs and symbols in language and systems of communication).

Mark Steyn explained the shift in today’s Orange County Register:

Not so long ago, car ads prioritized liberty. Your vehicle opened up new horizons: Gitcha motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure … . To sell dull automobiles to people who lived in suburban cul de sacs, manufacturers showed them roaring round hairpin bends, deep into forests, splashing through rivers, across the desert plain, invariably coming to rest on the edge of a spectacular promontory on the roof of the world offering a dizzying view of half the planet. Freedom! But now Audi flogs you its vehicles on the basis that it’s the most convenient way to submit to arbitrary state authority.

Just so we’re clear, I think conserving our natural resources is a splendid idea. I yield to no man in my admiration for Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir. Yet a part of me–a deeply American part–weeps at the idea that  the traditional meaning of the automobile has slipped through our fingers. The meaning that was epitomized by driving 110 mph across West Texas, burning 100 octane, steering with your foot and not giving a damn what anyone thought about it.

If we’re to believe Audi–and a lot of people seem to–the days when your car was a symbol of liberty and independence are over. In the words of Mark Steyn: “Resistance is futile. You might as well get with the program.”

February 15, 2010 at 4:21 am Leave a comment


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