Brand Provocation

Cadillac’s extra-obnoxious “Poolside” ad was, it now says, this:

The “Poolside” spot, created by ad agency Rogue, is intended to serve as a “brand provocation,” according to Craig Bierley, Cadillac’s advertising director.

Of course, the deeper story is the usual one. The ad is a piece of flattery designed to push the marginally comfortable into proving their upper-classiness by buying the $75,000 monstrosity it promotes.

Advertising Age interviewed Cadillac’s Mr. Bierley on the strong reaction to the spot. He said the spot’s been “misconstrued” by some viewers. He wanted to set the record straight. Among the misperceptions:

It’s aimed at the richest 1%

Not so, says Mr. Bierley. Rather than millionaires, the spot’s targeted at customers who make around $200,000 a year. They’re consumers with a “little bit of grit under their fingernails” who “pop in and out of luxury.”

26 Replies to “Brand Provocation”

  1. LOL! Well, this is a hall of famer for sure, but also remarkably honest AND sociologically accurate. The conviction among the “marginally comfortable” that the system is basically fine is indeed remarkably strong. Let them enjoy being kicked out of luxury by their new monstrous car payments.

    Marginally relevant, Ralph Nader hit a new low today:
    “Wanted: modestly enlightened very rich people”

    While an argument for a benevolent oligarchy can be made, I suppose, that’s probably the most juvenile way to go about it…

  2. Yes, I saw that Nader post, too, Marla. It is, as you say, a new low. Delusional in several directions, not least being the question of what a supposedly sane figure who purchased a stretch in the White House could hope to accomplish, given the continuing effectiveness of the Founding Fathers’ institutional stymies.

    As for the upper-middle class, the 2-through-10%-ers, it’s a fascinating and crucial topic, IMHO. Barbara Ehrenreich did Fear of Falling a long time ago. I’d wager the effect she named there is much stronger now, given the extra quarter-century of unchecked polarization.

    As for Cadillacs, I think 1%-ers consider them the cars of the poor, no?

  3. Yeah, but I have always been dead-against the anhedonic academic gasbag lecturers – the signature brand, to use a TCT forumulation, of the microleft.
    Nader and Chomsky, the two crown prince ascetics, of MIT and Princeton, forever piously intoning on this or that – now they might be right in certain instances, but they have not a cultural or political victory, in the proper sense of the term, between them, in the last 40 years. Dogcatcher in Cambridge, Mass? No. Corporate social responsibility? No.
    So they may live forever in some sainted repose as the repositories of Jeffersonian goodness, but the last “leaders” the dying left needs are more professorial avatars of the Anti-Fun Brigade.
    Isn’t the phrase supposed to be – No gods, no masters, no heroes? After all ,the Lincoln Brigade sustained 50% losses, and we live under whatever phrase you wish to approximate the immensity – market totalitarianism, the supersystem – and we are supposed to listen to some bilge about Oprah and Ted Turner being the saviors of the electoral system?

  4. As for myself, I see no problem with having heroes with a small “h”. In fact, I can’t imagine not having any. Chomsky > Nader, by far, in my book.

    Sadly, after his disappearance in the post-2000 deadlock and his evident recent decline, Nader is kinda non-heroic for me now. He could cut a lot of new ice by learning some of the obvious lessons from his own efforts, but he seems pretty proprietary about them, despite their moribundity. Take the NHTSA’s role in perpetuating the reign of the death chariots, for example.

    As for assessing potential heroes, I don’t blame them for losing. It’s the fight that counts, and part of the fight is helping others think through dominant ruses, ala NC. And who knows what seeming losses might factor into future wins, unlikely though that may be?

  5. Sure, I get your views, MD – nihilism is something deep in the psyche, not for those of a more lenient, adaptive bent.
    I do blame intoners and lecturers for the cheap self-ennoblement they give themselves, and the crowds for being docile venerators.
    Humans are capable of handling truth, being a very resilient and devious species, and yet so often they can be completely rational in critique but utterly fantastical in hero-worship, as in counterpuncher Michael Donnelly’s sad, pathetic windup to hard-hitting commentary, praising terminal bore Jill Stein here
    Future wins – I just can’t even imagine what they might be. In larger circles than just private endurance and low-level achievement? Nah – not happening.
    I do see your great efforts at to out the archdruid – there’s some good, righteous nihilism in the TCT arsenal.

  6. Can’t say I agree with that one, Marla. To my eye, it reads like most anarchist stuff: Long on radical posturing, very short on the prospects that “Smash the state!” is ever going to be the basis for a major social movement, to say nothing of its prospects for thereafter improving the world.

    I think Chomsky could be just as equally criticized for over-stating the prospects for major actions. He almost always points out the comparative freedoms we enjoy. But, then, you can’t end any attempt at building rebellion by saying “give up,” can you?

    Personally, I think NC has about as much complex stuff in proper balance as anybody ever has.

    As for every news outlet operating under institutional limits, that strikes me as pretty trite, and does calling Goodman and Chomsky wealthy. Surely, they are both less-than-nobodies in this overclass we face.

  7. yeah, this is still confusing for me and brings me back to this disagreement about Bloom and his seemingly reactionary postures; but it seems that it is as true today as it was in Plato’s day that of all the *bad* regimes, democracy is the only one that allows you to be intellectually subversive and leave you alone (and even to make a good living out of it, unlike Socrates).

    But wouldn’t “Give up” would actually be an honest advice to political activists? If political idealism is suspect at best, and horrible and scary at worst, then what’s the point of squandering energy on perpetual defensive warfare on specific policies? “Stop GMOs!”; “Stop Keystone XL!”. Why not just let them HAVE IT ALL! In fact, giving up on any reforms might be the fastest way for the system to collapse. But would we really want that either?

    Well, even if some reformist successes happen from time to time, advanced capitalism produces pathologies so much greater speed and severity than the capacity of any engaged public to fight them in different policy subsystems that it does seem a bit suspicious to be told that you can fight back, and change everything, and that it is your damned fault if you don’t. One begins to wonder if it is impossible in principle (much like Plato’s ideal state, or anarchy, for that matter)

    MLK worked within the system, and accomplished virtually nothing (which is why he is so celebrated today – safe!). But, he was booed occasionally soon before he was killed, and he acknowledged these sentiments as valid – what did playing by the rules get them? The right to be opressed as much as the whites. And even that wasn’t the product of enlightenment or pressure perhaps, but rather of divisions and calculations within the elite – when the rioting begins to damage too much property, maybe it’s just good business to throw them a bone?

  8. Well, killing Jim Crow was nothing to sneeze at, and King was trying to raise the subsequent question of class/practical circumstances. So, I give that a pretty clear thumbs up.

    Not to deny that it’s a troubling topic. On one hand, few see big upheavals coming very much in advance. On the other, I’m not joking when I contend that this is “market totalitarianism.”

    I predict energy will be the breaking point, sometime in the next 25 years. We need to be ready to intervene, even against long odds.

    Keystone XL is not on-topic, as it deals with supply issues, rather than demand. Only the latter matters.

  9. All this is true – I’m just saying that the implication of this reasoning (i.e. to fight the symptoms being the only plausible choice) is that “liberal practicality” might be the only game in town, as much as we hate to admit it. Even if you “scale it up” massively, it will have to stop short of addressing the root problems of capital and accumulation require a massive ideological alternative, mobilisation and commitment that do not and cannot exist in principle.

    As for “the big upheavals”, I think they are a bit oversold – as J.K. Gallbraith quipped, every revolution in history is mostly like kicking in an already rotten door. We’re not there yet, and it might take a long while.

    The combination of both oil and population growth peaking around 2050 removes two essential pillars from the base of capitalism. But there is absolutely no reason to expect a humane and improved society. Old fashioned brute force might be much easier to apply against masses of disempowered and vegetating billions, while europe, and maybe some remnants of the US refashion themselves as the noble keepers of the glimmer of civilisasion soldiering on 🙂

  10. PS I’d wager that the notion that resources are scarce will be the end of us. Technologically, we already have everything we need to turn the earth into a decent place for every single human. However, it would be very difficult to convince people trying to scrap together coins to by food in that. I.e. when things get really bad, we are just as likely – if not more – to rally behind a strong regime to protect what’s left, rather than to acknowledge that there are plenty of resources and technology that could create much more value if “only” the idea of profit is given up.

  11. This website attempts to establish a safe site in the anthro waste stream, but this waste stream has become the civilization. All the discarded Happy Meal toys, all the forever pinging somewhere dumb emails from 2001, all the next useless corporate drone plans and robot software codes, whatever is in store for us, is heading towards what Marla says, “there is absolutely no reason to expect a humane and improved society.” Sorry, folks.
    There is some fun in all this waste stream, and even a decent ad or two, like in a recent “Thanskgiving” one in which the absurdly way older and plain husband (or grandfather?) yells at his beautiful, trimmer, way way younger wife, “You could catch a pass IF YOU WOULD PUT THE PHONE DOWN!” Our Beloved Left (OBL) has run out of ways to counter this corporate humor, but we still retain our faculties of skepticism, opposition, and chirping.
    Energy’s collapse future as revolution? Robert Loughlin’s “Powering the Future” dispelled for me that possibility.

  12. Even if human society collapses on energy, which this one doesn’t think it will, some new kind of protoconscious society will eventually develop, and face these same issues–so, your thoughts aren’t intrinsically wasteful.

    Gandhi asks us to be the change we want to see, and in that, all we western internet bloggers are taking his advice: we continue living comparatively comfortable lives, whining a little, but doing nothing to actually challenge the system. We’re perfect models of the place we live, not resisting because we believe in our own atomized lives and their 30-100 year expiration dates, and are just trying to cram in as much pain-avoidance as we can in those few decades. Until we learn to see beyond that, our societies never will, so intergenerational environment management will continue to be, by definition, short-sighted.

    Moving back inside that model, though, “peak oil” is (A) a marketing illusion, and (B) even if it were true, the oligarchs would simply release one of their held-back upgrades to fill the supply gap as soon as “peak oil” began affecting their day-to-day control of the world. Remember that, in the days of internet yore, the “peak oil” people predicted that society would begin to crumble just after the year 2000. Like the Christian doomsdayers of the pre-union-crushing days of the early 20th century, the peak oil predictionists are unpaid corporate propagandizers, justifying ridiculously increased prices at the pump…and making us all privately glad that our leaders are controlling the “few” remaining oilfields.

    Don’t buy that shit. The Earth will continue exuding oil from its deep magma filters at roughly the same rate it has for the past million years, and society will become exponentially more decent when we’re ready to stop putting up with the alternative.

  13. “We’re perfect models of the place we live, not resisting because we believe in our own atomized lives and their 30-100 year expiration dates, and are just trying to cram in as much pain-avoidance as we can in those few decades. Until we learn to see beyond that, our societies never will”

    Well, if there is an argument why in some respects the Enlightenment and modernity are in some respects a big step backwards, this is it.

    Every single pre-enlightenment civilization has looked beyond the horizons of comfort and self-preservation. But the modern west? Nah, it’s all about self-preservation.

    (I assume the stuff about magma extruding oil was sarcasm 😀 . Yes, there are energy options, but none suitted to maintain this specific type of civilization, with the exception of nuclear; which will also represent the most centralized form of corporate-state control over life, but so is every other technological alternative (these highly toxic and complex solar panels still need centralized production lines to come off of)

  14. FWIW, I’m not a big fan of pre-Enlightenment societies, especially not the ones that occurred between Mesopotamia and the Enlightenment. I also don’t grant that pre-Enlightenment societies weren’t about the same basic human emotions and desires as modern societies are. And I don’t at all concede the idea that being ruled by unchallenged “faiths” claiming to be ascetic made actual people of such ages and circumstances anything but the usual mixed bag of tendencies, with self-preservation and advantage-seeking right there at the top of the pile.

    If you’re talking about regulating and punishing such self efforts, then hunting-gathering is surely the best arrangement. But that requires immense and hugely catastrophic regressions, even if you think it’s possible.

    I prefer to fight to make modern selfishness more mature and social. That will also require some major sacrifices along with a lot of gains, though the sacrifices would happen mostly at the tip of the economic pyramid. Hence, their unmentionability.

  15. As for abiogenic oil, the rather obvious disproof of that notion is the lack of Great Lakes of Petroleum throughout human and geologic history all over the planet. If the Earth’s core produces oil at a rate that has any chance of making modern usage levels sustainable, then why was the Earth not flooded with oil when the first australopithecus took its first upright step, to say nothing of when the Brits finished burning up their forests and started scratching up coal? Why would a deep, hot, unceasing oil pump have respected those last few yards of soil for hundreds of millions of years or more?

  16. I agree with most things said about the pre-E, societies, and the actual practice of religion or any other core virtue depending on type of society has been rather corrupt, yet nonetheless at least nominally there was a real, defined value to aspire to. In a word, such societies promised salvation, every once in a long while enabling pretty impressive feats of self-overcoming. If revelation is good enough for some of the finest intellects of humanity (e.g. Pascal), then it’s good enough for me (not that I seek it or have a chance of attaining it)

    We, on the other hand are promised nothing. All we’ve got the cost-benefit calculations. Our morality is either sentimental or mercenary. Whether selfishness can ever be made enlightened is debatable, but even if it was manageable, then what? There will always be a sizeable portion of the population who will find the well ordered, rational, well-fed life repulsive and will be ready to fight for some ideal. And if people can’t be heroes, some of them would prefer to be villains than to succumb to turning the entire world in a wonderful, safe, sleepy suburbia.

  17. Again FWIW, I hold to a less psyche-based view than you, Marla. First of all, not only does power corrupt, but the more corrupt seek power. To my mind, that suggests the problem is the existence of unaccountable structures. Permitting those will always bring trouble. Democratizing collective affairs will minimize the shenanigans.

    As for what people really want, I think there’s an ocean of unsatisfied desires even in this society, and that a great chunk of them are pro-social. Pro-sociality is simply verboten by corporate capitalism and its governing imperatives.

    As I’ve said many times before, I also attribute a very large part of popular passivity to the sheer existence of television, which is inherently addictive and mind-addling.

  18. Marla, yeah, the Enlightenment is played up now as a revolution of science v. religion, but actually, it was both anti-science and anti-religion; it represented the time when science and religion became blended, scientists trying to justify church authority by experiment, and religion trying to justify worldly hierarchy by faith.

    There were certainly positive aspects to human society that occurred during the Enlightenment, but crediting those changes to the sociocultural agenda of the Enlightenment princes is like giving Bill Gates credit for how enjoyable Mike’s blog is–yes, it’s related, and maybe a necessary condition, but the connection is coincidental as well as tenuous.

    Every single pre-Enlightenment civilization didn’t look beyond, as you suggest, but neither were they all run by Cotton Mather and his inbred foamy-eyed patrician cousins, under a state of constant inquisition, as others may see it. The most important distinction post-Enlightenment is how completely sure we all are that our priests understand the workings of the cosmos, and that nothing exists beyond our current sensory perceptions (and elite-approved records of others’ perceptions). That’s certainly a loss, as it leaves the controllers of those records in a position of great power…kind of like the scribe/pharaoh dynamic of popular takes on ancient Egypt.

    This one wasn’t being sarcastic about the oil; as Michael suggested, that’s a conspiracy theory out there. The most popular intro is probably this book.

    Generally speaking, the story of oil has a lot going against it, even before you look at the incredibly rapid “science” that popped up within the past 100 years to explain the story. Just from a social perspective, the dino-oil myth:

    1) Is really simplistic, and easy for common people to understand (“dead dinosaurs!”);

    2) Justifies doomsday warnings and makes people likely to cling to tough warrior-kings who can provide what they’re told they need;

    3) Justifies realpolitik and the game of states, because of course everyone has to fight over it;

    4) Justifies arcane corporate policy and erratic worldwide price shifts under the control of a tiny handful of elites;

    5) Justifies higher military budgets…etc.

    And Michael, we’re dealing with cycles in the millions of years, here, which means no constants. There are hurricanes, and then there are calms; the wind blows, then it stills. During any particular epoch, the place could get covered in petroleum, water, ice, lava, sentient apes, hibernating bacteria, or swarms of collectivist silicates. The absence now of, say, sentient apes, does not mean they’ll never be there.

    …and that said, the “dinosaur and plankton” theory is ridiculous, because it’s unlikely that so many dinosaurs died in just the right spots and not others, or that so much plankton was condensed into only certain reservoirs in certain nations, and not spread across Pangaea in accordance with, say, paleontology. Interestingly enough, in fact, big oil has been primarily behind modern paleontology, trying to build up the “dinosaur movie” and “instant comet death” scenarios in order to create a narrative that fits into the “sudden modern oil” structure.

    When we consider dinosaurs, remember that the “comet death, then geology, then oil” theory fails to explain the geologically verifiable fact that, when the dinosaurs died off, it occurred simultaneously with a worldwide shift in shallow seas. Dinosaurs thrived when Earth was covered in shallow seas, and dinosaurs passed on when Earth sank the seas back in and produced more mammal-friendly dry land. That wasn’t the result of whichever tourist-destination crater you can find; it was part of a massive cycle of sea movement that couldn’t have been started or stopped by even a mile-wide comet, or a years-long dust cloud. Entire continents moved as part of the dinosaurs’ passage.

    So, Earth doesn’t produce at a fixed rate, with profits every quarter–it does it like everything else natural, in spurts and stops, with lots of relaxation in between. No weekends, no starting bell, no closing whistle, no time cards, just life. And that bothers the holy fuck out of the 20th century petro-barons, who want to rewrite geological history to explain how widgets were created in order to become extinct and create other widgets that will then run out justifying widget development.

    (For the record, I dislike the practice of oil-burning; a passion for it is not why I like abiogenic oil. The idea that we’re supposed to “burn it up” via internal combustion is a necessary part of the same narrative that says that oil is dinosaur waste clogging up the ground, waiting for BP to use it, in sort of a white man’s chemistry burden way.

    Remember: if BP, Exxon, Henry Ford, Saddam Hussein, major western research universities, and Barack Obama all agree on something, that’s a little bit of a clue that they might just be full of shit, and that you should look elsewhere for the truth.)


  19. Personally, I don’t much care whether petroleum is biogenic or not, though I think the opinion of honest experts (there are some of those) is massively in favor of that explanation. Meanwhile, if oil is abiogenic but only produced in spurts, then peak oil is still a real thing, since one could never count on a new spurt occurring. I also don’t in the least believe that capitalism would tolerate massively phony prices for raw petroleum. Exxon, after all, is mostly a petroleum processor, not a major primary extractor. And oil exists to serve cars-first transportation and suburban housing, which are the main engines of the system. Oil is the tail on that bigger dog.

    I also don’t concede that Obama and other leading figures believe in peak oil as a terminal crisis. To the extent they think seriously about such topics, I think they believe the claim that some new technology will make oil obsolete.

    FWIW, as always…

  20. I don’t care in the sense that it would alter my policy desires one way or another. Even if oil was free and everlasting, it’s dangerous to extract, smelly to utilize, and causes us to get cancer.

    As you say, FWIW–if we graph all the things we all talk so often about, though, we see a definite 20th century correlation between:

    1) Individual-use cars and vehicle fatalities;

    2) Modern armies and modern empires;

    3) Eugenics, global capitalism, and social darwinism;

    4) The sudden privatized discovery of ways to exploit dwindling dinosaur carcasses…

    (and, of course, my occasional favorite, Market-Style Evolution.)

    Fast food restaurants, federal highway projects, departments of public safety, car dealerships, white flights, suburbs, total war, media-driven elections: all creatures that, like the chicken and the egg, may have been either the cause of, or result of, the oil boom. They’re so intrinsically linked, though, that I doubt oil is the single exception on the list where big business has the party line right.

    As we seem to agree, though, it shouldn’t matter where it comes from vis–à–vis our policy choices. Why I like abiogenic oil as a theory is that it offers a profoundly different psychological take on the world: if oil is as abundant, natural, and naturally varying as sunlight, then there’s no reason that we have to rely on powerful capitalists to sell it to us. Oil scarcity, like other resource scarcities, justifies capitalism and oligarchy, while a collective gaean oil generator justifies an entirely different, egalitarian and just, kind of future society. That’s why academic business is so desperately keen on maintaining the dead-dino genesis.

  21. But Arkie, think a bit more on this. Why would the lords of reality permit their lifeblood to become artificially expensive? And why would Texas not still be the world capital of production? On top of that, there are honest analysts. Peak oil is real.

  22. Yeah, temporary (a few human generations) peak oil may be a thing. However, the underlying philosophy of free (communally rather than privately produced) sunlight and oil will be important in more battlespaces than the 21st century. The more things we allow them to claim extractionary authority over, the more difficult it will be for later generations to conceive of sharing among all. I’m all for eliminating oil use, but I don’t want them to be able to construct a history of natural scarcity, where industrial lords are the only ones able to save us from cave-dwelling and 30-year lifespans.

    In answer to the first question, artificially expensive is just fine for them, since they control the value of money. They use soldiers to get all the oil they need, and to establish the value of the “dollars” that they print to “pay” for it–they’re not at all upset at higher transaction costs, because they create the money via fiat, and other peoples’ children die in the wars.

    Your Texas point is a good one, though…stumped. 😀

  23. it reads like most anarchist stuff: Long on radical posturing, very short on the prospects that “Smash the state!” is ever going to be the basis for a major social movement

    And this reads like classic Marxist ad homming: throw out some cliches about “anarchist posturing” and smashing the state and hope no one reads the piece in question and sees how dishonest you’re being. Please do point out where I said anything about smashing the state.

    I built a case for the case for how the same, or similar institutional constraints operate on media and left celebrities closer to the margins. You haven’t offered anything in rebuttal other than that millionaire Chomsky and Goodman aren’t as rich as our overlords.

    This hardly speaks to Chomsky’s lifelong symbiosis with the military nor the fact that it is largely mainstream media that imbued him with icon status. It doesn’t speak to Goodman’s funding sources nor the discipline to which Pacifica has subjected her. It doesn’t speak to the likelihood that any ruling class with any brains is going to spend at least a little effort in keeping the folks on the margins in line. While Chomsky insists the PM doesn’t apply to him, everything else he writes pretty much endorses my view. His piece on how Norman Finkelstein was ruined by the constraints on academia reads almost like a confession.

    I also made a case for how Chomsky whitewashes state repression. Since investigating him further, I am especially certain I got this bit right. Imagine if someone that hero-worshiping, academic nitwits didn’t reflexively defend said shit like this:

    “the state may try to repress you, but they can’t do a lot…I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression.”

    At the time Chomsky said this, Anwar al-Aulaqi, his son and Samir Khan had been dead close to a year; Chelsea Manning was in year two of pre-trial imprisonment; the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was in its 11th year of holding Islamic anti-imperialists without charges; CIA torture whistleblower, John Kirakou had recently been arrested for disclosing classified information to journalists; and six months had passed since a wave of violent police assaults closed down Occupy encampments all over the country. As ever, close to one million African Americans were living in cages.

    But then, you’re fine with Chomsky ignoring all this, laughably endorsing starry-eyed pep talks in lieu of simply speaking honestly. This would be idiotic if Chomsky were in any way shape or form an empowering figure, but last I checked the closest thing to a tactic he ever offered is Safe State voting.

  24. Tarzie, you can’t talk as wildly and solipsistically as you do and also claim to be an advocate of speaking plainly and honestly. As for the severity of domestic repression, you are comparing a handful of people to the non-domestic actions of the United States. Chomsky doesn’t whitewash the former. He says they are flea bites compared to the killing and torturing “we” have done around the globe over the decades. If you hate Chomsky and want to dismiss him as just some variant of Ted Koppel, go ahead, and good luck with that.

    Meanwhile, you seriously say you won a Pulitzer Prize? For a commentary on Chris Hayes? When was that?

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