07 February 2011

Keep Detroit Beautiful: A quick(ish) aside about the Motor City

Super Bowl Sunday. The culmination of a season's worth of football, all leading up to the clash between a division rival and a rapist-led team from Pittsburgh. Oh joy.

Well, at least there's the ads right? Usually, that idea tends to annoy me to no end. Super Bowl commercials are usually a lot like New Years Eves. Everyone gets really hyped up about them, excited to have the greatest night of their lives. Then, the disappointment of the fact that the night wasn't life-changing sets in and ruins everything. At it's core, New Years Eve isn't that much different from any other night where you can wrangle a group of friends and loved ones together to get drunk and make bad decisions. Same with Super Bowl Ads. They're ads. They're selling you shit. They're usually 30 seconds with minimal entertainment value. Watching the Super Bowl to watch the ads is like eating a half slab of St. Louis style ribs for the super-exciting opportunity to gnaw on a bone.

Usually.

Last night was a bit different. For one reason. Sandwiched between the 30 second clips of products being hocked with lowest-common-denominator slapstick was a gem:



Fucking right doggy.

Chrysler put together one hell of an ad. As a transplant from the Detroit area, it strikes a hell of a chord. It is rare for one of the companies we've bled and sweated for, that we've supported and carried on our backs - often to our detriment - finally stands up for us and lets the nation know we're not dead yet.

For the last few years, I've been living in Chicago. There's a lot of benefits to residing in this city. I'm willing to admit that. The public transportation is outstanding. The downtown is absurdly well developed, and it's usually pretty safe to walk through much of the city at any time, day or night. It's right on the lake, with decent beaches. Public services are for the most part above-par. Nice parks, plenty of cops and firefighters, hospitals aplenty, shit there's even a free fucking zoo.

Pass.

There's just something that this city is missing. Maybe it's because I tend to value the scrappy underdog (present dominant dynastic company excluded). Maybe it's because of the influx of people from all over that waters down a bit of the city's defining character. Maybe it's because it's just not home. Whatever it it's missing, Detroit's got it.

There's a character to the region. It's the same character that built the auto industry, and in turn the nation,  with muscle, sinew, and ingenuity. It's the same character that built the war machine that stopped, not one, but two world wars. It's the same character that has continued to struggle and churn out damn fine machines for a nation more interested in cracking jokes than lending a hand.

It's the same character that doesn't usually take credit for any of that shit.

That's why its nice to have a company like Chrysler stand up with a message that says "fuck you, we'll be fine" and "show some damn respect" all at once. For two minutes on Super Bowl Sunday the whole nation got a slight glimpse of that character. The whole nation got a message from a region who's blue-collar pride all-too-often prevents us from asking for the helping hand that we desperately need. Sandwiched between Pepsi and Bud Light trying to get us to buy their shit by showing people getting kicked in the nuts, was an ad with a message.

That's not to say the ad is without it's faults. Many may question the utilization of Eminem's star power to help deliver the "Keep Detroit Beautiful" message. He can be a polarizing figure. His past has been far from squeaky clean, and perhaps in an ad that seeks to celebrate the bright spots of Detroit, someone like Em could mar the message a bit.

Personally, it was spot on. Who better to take those reigns? Who else has the swagger and attitude to pull off "Hey, fuck you, this is Detroit and you don't have to understand it"? Would that message have been anywhere near the same with Icky Thump slowly building to a crescendo and Jack White's pasty ass pointing at the camera? Perhaps you'd rather have Kid Rock donning the Stars and Bars and somehow finding a way to rhyme his message about the D with "Matchbox 20"? (Is there any more dated lyric than "Got More Money, than Matchbox 20 / Get more ass, than Mark McGrath"? Yeah... me too, Bill.)

When it comes down to it, Eminem fit well. Yeah, he's not perfect. Yeah, he's done some shitty things in the past and hurt the people that rely on him. Though, by all accounts he's doing what he can to pick himself up by his bootstraps and get better.

Sound familiar? That's Detroit. We've got our faults and our flaws, but we know it, and we're doing what we can. While Bob Seger would have been safe, he wouldn't have been as poignant.

I've got no problem at all with the spokesperson. Though I have to admit, I'm a bit torn on the ad itself. Two solid minutes on Super Bowl Sunday doesn't come cheap. Many estimates peg the cost of the ad near $9 million. Hell, you can almost pay Brian Campbell's salary with that kind of coin. Other things you can buy with $9 mil?

Textbooks. Busses. Cots. Space heaters. Meals.

The Chrysler ad was one hell of a message. Shit, it was downright moving. But it was still an ad. When all is said and done, Chrysler's bottom line wasn't to wake up a nation that views Detroit's struggles as a punchline. They wanted to sell a car. It was a damn effective ad that had a great message, but the message wasn't the point. If Chrysler's end game was to help the city that cash could have been otherwise deployed. Estimates of Detroit's homeless near 18,000. Real unemployment in the city knocks on the door of 50%. One third of the lots within the city limits are fucking vacant.

Ungood.

In a climate like that, $9 million goes a long way. If this ad was about something more than selling 200s... well... it wouldn't have cost $9m. I know it's entirely unreasonable and could only exist in a pretty absurd pipe-dream - but how awesome would that ad have been as a joint venture between the big three? Split the cost. Maybe pick one car from each fleet to feature.

Imported from Detroit. Ford. Chrysler. GM.

But, I guess in the real-world we're stuck with things being less than perfect. We're stuck with the dichotomy between loving support for the Big 3, and a grudging distaste for many of the things they've done to hold Detroit back. We're stuck defending the industry that sometimes doesn't do enough to defend us. But they're ours and we won't stop. They're Detroit.

And while the ad wasn't exactly perfect, it was still damn cool. I'm sure Chrysler will take some serious flak for spending that kind of money on an ad after a "bailout." More evidence of the need of a message like this. We'll continue to take shit from people who want to pretend that they went through great personal sacrifice to "bail out" Detroit with what basically amounts to a high-interest loan. We'll continue to be a punchline to those who somehow think systemic crime, violence, and poverty is funny. We'll continue to be blamed for our symptoms while the disease is not only ignored, but celebrated.

That's fine. Keep it coming. We've got thick skin and we'll continue to persevere. Why?
  • Because this is the Motor City, and this is what we do.

4 comments:

  1. Just some random thoughts on the money issue... I know $9 million is a lot of money, but for a giant corporation, it's really not. Yeah, it's a lot for an ad, but if it can help revitalize Chrysler, it might be worth it. Their job is to sell cars, and if they can't do that, they can't help anyone. If that $9 million helps revitalize their corporation, it will result in more jobs and Chrysler being able to help out the community even more.

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  2. Totally agree. Keeping it in mind helps to not get too carried away with the whole "Chrysler is looking out for Detroit" thing. Chrysler is looking out for Chrysler. Luckily, that helps Detroit.

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  3. Fair enough. I have this dream world where something like this actually works, jobs are created, and I can move back to my home state because detroit will offer the same kind of opportunities I can get here.

    Red Wings related note. It makes me sad when the Wings don't sell out the Joe and people rip on them. Everyone I watched hockey with in high school lives in Chicago or north carolina or nashville or phoenix or New Mexico. I'm sick of everyone having to leave the state to get jobs. I'd love to be in detroit with my friends being the next generation of Wings season ticket holders.

    I don't know if this Chrysler ad will make any difference but I hope something does.

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  4. This is damn well done.

    Sidebar - I'll now be spending the rest of my week trying to work sinew into a post.

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