Many watch the Super Bowl just for the commercials. And from a social observer’s point of view, the ads are more important than the big game in revealing social mood and national character. The Super Bowl is the most watched event on television, and among the lower classes, its popularity is likely close to universal. In most cases, this results in the most vulgar, insulting, and stupid advertising imaginable...
In the past two years, though, I’ve been more impressed by the Chrysler corporation’s serious, filmic dramatizations. Instead of avoiding the stigma of Detroit—and, more subtly, the 2008-09 bailouts—Chrysler has dared to embrace it. The company depicts itself and its city as having “almost lost everything” and “been to hell and back,” and thus more rough and tough and experienced in the ways of the world than those pretty boys in Stuttgart and Tokyo. Chrysler is attempting the ultimate “soft sell”—the name of the company and its products go unmentioned—while everyone else does the most egregious “hard sell.”
Hard—Buy this compact Fiat, you wimpy Beta, and maybe it will have pity sex with you.
Soft—We are all Detroit now.
Last year, Chrysler presented something like Detroit qua “Negro Fascism”—certainly a gutsy play for luxury-car buyers! This time around, Clint Eastwood was hired as the narrator, and he didn’t disappoint, putting on a gruff and leathery persona that might intimidate Dirty Harry. Ironically, the sell was even softer.
The message was this: Clint admits that many watching the game are unemployed or underemployed (i.e., not in the mood to buy a new car). He then promises that, much as Detroit made an inspiring comeback in returning to industrial-powerhouse status, America, too, should remember that its best days lie ahead.
Since most people have never actually been to Detroit, Chrysler can get away with such a pitch. The reality, as Paul Kersey points out, is that while the Big Three automakers might be able to produce solid products, Detroit never made a comeback; indeed, its game is over.
Much will be made about the Clint Eastwood's "Halftime in America" commercial during the Super Bowl. Few will point out that the city in which his 2008 movie Gran Torino—Highland Park—was set in has already had the lights turned out in it:
Highland Park, home of Henry Ford’s first moving assembly line, was once a well-off enclave of 50,000 residents. Ford left long ago, and Chrysler’s corporate headquarters moved away in the 1990s. Now it has fewer than 12,000 residents—half the size it was just 20 years ago.
So for this city, a shrunken tax base and financial crisis have been long in the making, and the recent national downturn has only made matters worse. More than 42 percent of Highland Park’s residents live in poverty, unemployment is high and the median income here is nearly $30,000 below that of the state.
“To understand our street lighting situation is to understand the wealth that Highland Park once had; it was a situation where we had the best of almost everything and an abundance of lights,” said Rodney Patrick, whose father insisted on moving his family to Highland Park in the early 1950s because of its advantages — its status, in his words, as the shining city on the hill. “But we don’t have the residents to have the luxuries we had when we were a city of 50,000.”
Highland Park is 93 percent Black, mind you.
But then “Half-Time in America” isn’t just about Detroit and the rust belt. Indeed, it's about a much broader social consciousness regarding the future of the United States.
In 1984, the Reagan-Bush election team announced that it was “Morning in America.” Socionomically speaking, for the GOP middle-class base, this meant that run-away inflation was over; the Dow Jones was in a secular bull market; companies were hiring; and Americans could feel proud again.
“Half Time” is something like “Mourning in America.” In terms of the Kübler-Ross Stages of Grief” schema, it suggests that, collectively, Americans are somewhere between Depression and Denial.
Chrysler must have recognized that it couldn’t advertise its cars with a “We’re #1!” rock anthem. It must be true to the time. But “Half Time” is, nevertheless, a world of illusions and wishful thinking. A nation-state doesn’t “come back” from public and private indebtedness amounting to 350 percent of GDP—from a financial oligarchy bent on stripping the country bare—from a demographic transformation into a Third World nation—and more. To reformulate F. Scott Fitzgerald, there will be no second half for America. The sooner the Founding stock comes to grips with this fact—and begins charting a different destiny—the better.