My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

politics and pickup trucks

Yesterday I took an online poll by Polling Point. They asked me what I thought about the candidates for Governor (ugh) and Congress. They also asked questions about what I thought about my Senators, which is weird since neither of those guys is up for re-election next week. They asked how much money we make, whether we are married, whether we attend religious services regularly, and whether we have family in the military. All fairly interesting demographic questions, I suppose, although our answers make us look quite a bit more conservative than we actually are. But so far, so good, as far as survey design. They asked if I keep a handgun in the house or garage, which is politically interesting, but since that would be illegal in my city, I wouldn't have admitted to it even if it were true (I don't, because I don't believe in arming yourself for self defense - that's what we pay cops, judges, and jailers for. Under normal conditions, the state has an absolute monopoly on the legitimate use of force).

Then they asked if I own a pickup truck. Odd, I think. The gun question is not just cultural, but political. There is, after all, a sizeable movement in this country to ban or restrict ownership of guns. But as far as I know, there is no movement afoot to ban pickup trucks. So why ask something like that? What does it mean?

I guess they have identified pickup truck drivers as a certain demographic and want to determine how that demographic is politically different from the population as a whole. If so, I'm thinking somebody thinks strange things are going on with this demographic, considering the new tactics being used to try to sell pickup trucks in recent weeks.

Specifically Chevy pickups. There was a TV ad that ran during the baseball playoffs featuring John Mellancamp singing "this is our country" and a backdrop of footage from recent American history. The moon landing, Iwo Jima and Martin Luther King, and also 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, both the flooded city and Habitat-type people people rebuilding houses.

Several people I know, including Trope, find this ad exceptionally offensive, since it uses footage of catastrophes in which people died to sell trucks. While I can see this point, I don't really feel it; when I saw the ad the first time, I actually laughed at the non-sequiter of it all. Call me Irony Boy.

But thinking about it now, it's just another attempt to use patriotism to sell consumer crap, a tradition in this country going back at least a century. What's interesting is the form patriotism seems to be taking in the ad: identification of victimhood, suffering, hard times, a struggling once-proud auto industry, and American patriotism. In other words, the image is of a proud nation kicked around and suffering, a nation of losers clinging to memories of better days and hope for the future. A nation of Cubs fans. And this identity is supposed to resonate with the alleged pickup truck demographic. Apparently the song is a hit - Mellancamp played it live before Game 2 of the World Series in Detroit.

This seems radically different from the vision of American power that was used to convince so many people to run out and buy Hummers a few years back. Has their been such a big change in our national self-conception over such a short period?

Either the ad is grossly mis-targeted and won't sell any trucks, or this is going to be a pretty good election year for the Democrats. Identification with the downtrodden is the essence of liberalism. Identification with power is the essence of the Right.

2 comments:

Joshua said...

chicago hates pickup trucks. there is a citywide ordinance that requires a special parking permit (hard to come by), and they are prohibited from driving on LSD and any "boulevard", though, it is rarely enforced.

my guess is that it keeps all of those right-wing redneck folks out of the pristine democratic monarchy that is chicago.

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