24 Feb 2011 Update: for those of you searching for this so you can plagiarize, you realize that isn’t very smart, since I’m on the first page of results. Losers.
Most Super Bowl ads gravitate towards humor, because when done right, it is easily memorable. For serious ads that talk about the state of the economy, it is hard to move away from the boring and depressing and transform into the uplifting. However, when an advertising agency manages to pull it off, the impact is phenomenal, with more force than a couple jokes. In two staggering minutes, the Chrysler ad did just that—magnificently transforming the struggle into a soaring hope and defiance.
I have done formal analysis on works of art before (Jonghyun and SHINee), and though I will follow in the same informal vein, this will also talk about the political, social, culture ramifications, rather than just on the aesthetics.
This commercial opens with a series of shots of Detroit, all seemingly shot through a car window as it drives through this city. An old, gravelly voice starts the narration, and right from the beginning, presents us with defiance. “What does this city know about luxury, huh?” he comments sardonically—definitely a rhetorical question. He further strengthens this defiant theme by using colloquialisms, mostly notably “hell and back” which creates this sense of groundedness and roughness, but at the same time, relatability. He’s one of us, who have been hurt by the recession, who have all been to hell and back at one time or another. We instinctively start to trust and sympathize this narrator, and consequently, Detroit and Chrysler.
During this narration, a rather industrial and bleak landscape of Detroit is shown, but its bareness adds structure and force to the message. For example, when the narrator says “hell and back” we first see this anachronistic and useless wall standing without window panes, and then we see a shot of a lonely American flag blowing in the wind against a gray sky. Subtly, this montage accomplishes two things (a) forms our conception of hell and the uselessness and dejection that we feel in it, but also (b) remind us of our roots and our struggle together as a nation. We have been to this hell, and we are still standing as a nation. Though everything else may have been stripped away, our bare bones are still here.
After all the bleak industrial vistas, we move on to monumental statues, focusing on an arm cast out of iron, making a fist. “You see, it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel,” says the narrator. In this moment, he has shifted subtly from being one of us to being our guide through this ad. The iron hand further solidifies this theme of defiance and the strength to survive. A call to history is made when a montage of the Detroit murals is shown, and then abruptly, the Chrysler building in Detroit stares down at us as we look at it from the car, impressive and expansive—representative of the American tradition of towering corporations built from nothing but hard work. It is not a coincidence the shot is carefully panned to include an American flag. The shift from the past to the present seems to indicate that yes, we have done this all along, we have succeeded all along, and we will continue to work hard.
During this period, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem starts playing, building anticipation. If you have ever listened to Eminem, his rapping always sounds borderline angry and well, defiant. In the particular song that is featured, he raps:
No more games, I’ma change what you call rage
Tear this motherfucking roof off like 2 dogs caged
I was playing in the beginning, the mood all changed
I been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage
But I kept rhyming and stepwritin the next cypher
Best believe somebody’s paying the pied piper
All the pain inside amplified by the fact
That I can’t get by with my 9 to 5
And I can’t provide the right type of life for my family
Cause man, these goddam food stamps don’t buy diapers
And it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life
And these times are so hard and it’s getting even harder
Trying to feed and water my seed, plus
Teeter totter caught up between being a father and a prima donna
Baby mama drama’s screaming on and
Too much for me to wanna
Stay in one spot, another day of monotony
Has gotten me to the point, I’m like a snail
I’ve got to formulate a plot or I end up in jail or shot
Success is my only motherfucking option, failure’s not
Mom, I love you, but this trailer’s got to go
I cannot grow old in Salem’s lot
So here I go is my shot.
Feet fail me not cause maybe the only opportunity that I got
This all screams of defiance. This all screams of overcoming his pain, overcoming the stigma of society, and becoming his own man through his own actions. Eminem is a son of Detroit, someone who is on his way to “Recovery” and on his way to redefining himself and his success. He has had struggles with alcohol and drugs, but if his album sales have been any sign, Eminem has overcome. And so will Detroit. Detroit, however ugly and coarse its reality is, will overcome, and in this act of defiant survival against the odds, there lies the valor, there lies the elegance, and there lies the luxury.
This theme of luxury expands when Eminem drives to swanky Fox Theatre, lights ablaze. He walks into the theatre, and gets onto the stage, where a primarily African American chorus sings his song, and Eminem turns to the camera, jabbing at the camera with his hand, “This is motor city, this is what we do.” Eminem wears a plain black pants and jacket with a light shirt, and his face itself is so stark and white—the symbol of Detroit and its grit and strength to pull through. Of course, the chorus represents various positive connotations of religion and community. However, Eminem, the individual, is the one that stands before them—we’re all in this together, but we all individually have that drive.
The narration and spoken words stop there. The ad ends with the written words “Imported from” and after a poignant pause, “Detroit.” This part always makes me shiver. When we think of luxury, we think of Italy, France, fancy chocolates from Switzerland. We never think of America, much less Detroit. Yet, the belief that such an industrial and weathered city, out of their sweat and tears, can produce a polished, top-notch product is undeniably romantic.
Most of this commercial directly parallels not only the path of Chrysler, Detroit, and Eminem, but the United States as a whole. The United States is still battered from the recession, and most people still do not feel it is over—though companies are making great profits again, they are not hiring. Though the unemployment rate has decreased to 9%, black unemployment is still 15%. We have been losing momentum to countries like China, and have been generally falling behind in economic growth and education. Like the car companies, we must pull ourselves out by our bootstraps, knowing that America has been in the business of innovation for a very long time, and despite what the present is like, we can and will continue to be innovators, the enjoyers of the highest standard of living in the world. We have that iron will, that resolution and hardiness.
So thus goes the American Dream. We have been living the dream for years, and it’s not time to give up on it now. Have pride in your work, in your persona, in your mind. Believe in Detroit. Believe in America.