Television advertisements are typically understood as brief pieces of video art selling us whatever product happens to feature most prominently within them. This propaganda is generally considered benign because the bias is already understood, and most people accept that capitalism requires the spread of information on products in order for those products to sell. We tend to think that the product is the focus in advertisements because the product is what the seller would like us to buy. Unfortunately, that is entirely false. Advertisements stopped selling products a long time ago. What they sell now is a desirable yet entirely constructed lifestyle, and the product, we are told, is supposed to help us achieve it.

I’m going to go over this Superbowl ad for Jeep 4x4s for two reasons. It exemplifies this thesis with a nauseating abundance of proof, and it plays in my local movie theatre all the time so each time I see a movie, I have to sit through it. Full disclosure, I genuinely enjoy this ad. The song is catchy, it is conceptually well thought out, it has great production value, and it projects its message so well that I am more impressed than I am enraged.

Before going any farther, you should really watch the ad or this blog won’t make a lot of sense.

I’m going to give my own breakdown of this ad, so keep in mind that this analysis will be through my own lens. Others will encounter different ideas, and that is quite probably by design. My goal isn’t necessarily to show you what this ad is about, but to show you what it isn’t about. So, onto the ad:

4×4 by land, 4×4 by sea, 4×4 by air cuz I like to fly free

First off, we are shown a series of different landscapes and roads hinting at the capability of 4x4s to cover any terrain with ease, even though we have yet to be shown an image of this vehicle. Then it covers the sea and air, which cannot possibly be related to a Jeep because Jeeps are not boats, nor are they capable of flight. This means that land, air, and sea are not indicative of the vehicles capabilities to explore, but illustrate freedom without restriction. We can go anywhere and do anything. I mean it even says the word “free” right in the lyric.

This is like the opposite of a Jeep. Advertising one vehicle but showing a different one?

This is like the opposite of a Jeep. Advertising one vehicle but showing a different one?

The hot air balloon is likely used to distance the viewer’s thought process away from the banality of regular air travel toward the more novel, and therefore more exotic and fun, type of flying. Freedom, in this context, must be understood as without restrictions or responsibilities, and wholly predisposed toward hedonism.

4 by 4am that’s when I rise, sneak up on the landscape catch it by surprise

I see this section as promoting the type of person who we all want to be: the person who gets up early to do their chosen passion, in this instance hiking, instead the slovenly jerk who never gets anything productive done.

It's like that scene from The Lion King when Mufasa tells Simba that he will rule over all that the light touches, but with Jeeps.

It’s like that scene from The Lion King when Mufasa tells Simba that he will rule over all that the light touches, but with Jeeps.

Already we’ve established a clear link to hedonistic freedom, and now we’ve made a connection to the kind of person that could maintain the lifestyle of continued access to that kind of freedom.

For my country how it all started out, for the brave in every boy scout

I took a lot of screen captures from this section, so I’m going to break it down image by image.

The very first look at an actual Jeep, more than a quarter into the advertisement, and it's right next to a God damn American flag.

The very first look at an actual Jeep, more than a quarter into the advertisement, and it’s right next to a God damn American flag.

Jeep is an American company, but it is a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, an Italian-controlled multinational corporation. I’m sure that is irrelevant to this imagery. Anyway, if we consider the railway as a part of how the country started out, this is again another reference to freedom. The railway connected the continent, and allowed European settlers to manifest the shit out of their destiny. The first image of the Jeep next to an American flag on a train, talking about how the country started out, solidifies my argument that this advertisement is not selling Jeeps, but Americanized “freedom”.

Speaking of

Speaking of “Freedom” in desperately needed quotation marks…

Americans love their troops, and associating what I’m guessing is an allusion to World War 1 to the foundation of the country, 141 years earlier, is a way to gloss over the war that actually founded America: the genocide of the Native Americans. Not wanting to distance themselves from how great war is, Jeep decided to whitewash American history in order to link themselves to patriotism through warfare.

Boys with their toys

Boys with their toys

Jumping from images of soldiers to an image of a young boy firing a weapon shows the more subtle aspects of advertising. Beyond showcasing past and present (and future when you recognize that this is an image of a child) representations of the nobility of warfare, we’re also shown that young boys ought to be groomed toward violence and warfare. I say “ought” because culture is normalizing, and if this normalizing culture produces these images, then it is “normal” to adhere to them. Normalcy breeds conformity.

For the fun of it cuz you know you can, 4×4 more air, more sea, more land

Though we are shown a Jeep driving through snow, this section is essentially identical to the first. Images of extreme, fun activities that are not related to driving a Jeep in the slightest.

Less relevant to a Jeep than even a hot air balloon.

Less relevant to a Jeep than even a hot air balloon.

You know what’s fun and cool? Snowboarding, surfing, and spelunking. Look at all of these cool, fun things! None of them are related to driving a Jeep. At all. But if you consider what people might want to do if they had greater hedonistic freedom, then the imagery becomes much more appropriate.

4×4 doin’ it yourself cuz you want it done right

We can do it!

We can do it!

This is a woman using her Jeep to clear a path. Remember what I said about normalizing? This ad is showing it is normal for women to do things on their own. You might think that it is contradictory to empower women in a scene so soon after they had associated men with virtuous violence. Regardless of the value the people at Jeep associate with feminism or violence in masculinity, by definition an advertisement is doing its absolute best to pander to its target demographic. Feminism is popular, so having a woman performing traditionally masculine activities by herself panders directly to that. This is how advertisers choose what to normalize. This isn’t about feminism, nor is it about patriarchy. It’s about making money.

4×4 top down stars keep you up at night; four stories that were meant to be turned, for the dares and the thrills that you earned

I don’t really need to get into these sections. It’s all more of the same. Open night sky and freedom; extreme hedonistic pleasures, yadda yadda yadda. I’m not even sure if the lyrics are right, but this portion is basically filler.

exotic-and-extreme-travel

If you haven’t noticed the trends by now, you might as well just buy a Jeep.

The earned thrills may be related to the bootstrap mentality that anyone who has access to this kind of freedom, if it exists at all, must have gained it through meritocratic means. America.

4×4 conquest, 4×4 dreams, 4×4 wakin’ up and crossin’ those streams;

Again, mostly filler, but I want to address one part.

Feminism, racial diversity, and patriarchal expectations of masculinity. This ad really has got it all.

Feminism, racial diversity, and patriarchal expectations of masculinity. This ad really has got it all.

We have our very first racial minority, and it’s a black person in tandem with the word “dream”. Now this ad is associating itself with Martin Luther King as part of its Americanism. A more symbolic kind of freedom, along with the normalization of race and gender. And apparently Ghostbusters? Your guess is as good as mine on that one…

4×4 everyone with 75 years

This ad is celebrating the 75 year anniversary of Jeep. I’m not sure of the grammar, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it says.

Happy Anniversary Jeep! Much love, a white woman in a Native American sweater.

Happy Anniversary Jeep! Much love, a white woman in a Native American sweater.

I don’t really want to get into cultural appropriation, but I’m sure if you care about that you have many choice words about it that you can insert here. What I’m going to focus on is the environmental tinge this image is seeped in. This ad is trying very hard to appear progressive in its imagery of women and racial minorities, and it is now trying to jump on the green bandwagon by having someone native-esque literally inside of a tree. It’s not like automobiles are responsible for 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and 63% of greenhouse gas emissions from private households in Canada.

4×4 the waves that’s how we say cheers

The peace sign. So much hippy symbolism in an ad for a pollutant.

The peace sign. So much hippy symbolism in an ad for a pollutant.

In addition to freedom, we now have community tacked on at the end. Sure there have been multiple people in scenes up until now, but it has been predominantly individual-focused. Now we are shown real human interaction once both of them are inside a Jeep. Owning a Jeep isn’t about being able to drive from point A to point B at speeds dictated by State law, it’s about belonging to something bigger than yourself.

That’s how we live, 4x4ever

Perfectly sums it up. It’s not about the Jeep; it’s about how we live. Like I said, they aren’t even trying to be discreet about telling you what kind of lifestyle you ought to be living. But an important thing to keep in mind isn’t even the lifestyle they are showing you, but the lifestyle they aren’t showing. There are no seniors, for example, because age is associated with decrepitude and having socially plateaued which is antithetical to Jeep’s freedom-oriented theme. Rather than try to combat stereotypes, the ad ignores the demographic altogether. The one couple is also a heterosexual couple, which shows that as progressive as Jeep is trying to be, they are sticking to relatively harmless progressive tropes in order to get that across. A black woman aspiring to claim a divine light isn’t pushing any boundaries. It is a safe progressivism that allows Jeep to acquire as large an audience as possible, without alienating anyone.

What does any of this mean, though? Well, it’s an advertisement. I can observe as many social inferences in it as I like, it doesn’t mean anything until it’s applied to the fact that Jeep is still trying to sell a product. Only, they’re not selling Jeeps. When I said that an advertisement is selling whatever features most prominently, I wasn’t lying. It’s just that what features most prominently is an ideology of freedom, hedonism, Americanism, and community. A consumer wouldn’t buy a Jeep because they needed a Jeep, but because they feel their lives are lackluster, empty, and confined. Buying the Jeep is supposed to fulfill what the advertisement is selling, after all, and so someone who feels held back by their job, or who is lonely or stuck in a rut, will see this and think, “All those happy young people, that could be me!” and then buy the Jeep. They “earn” that freedom, youth, and ecstasy by going into debt to buy a car.

A Jeep obviously can’t fulfill any of those desires. A Jeep is a private vehicle. Private vehicles get you from one place to another more quickly than walking and less grossly than public transit. In fact, associating freedom, exuberance, human connection, etc. with a material product means that those who succumb to the cultural normalizing, accepting what the media tells them is normal, will never actually achieve those important aspects of human existence because they will seek them through meaningless crap instead of creating them within their own lives. When people talk about capitalism deadening human development, this is a big part of it. All that normalizing I was talking about is done in the context of selling something, and that something needs to be bought in order for this paradigm to function. Therefore, this propaganda is not actually benign. The bias isn’t toward the superiority of the product but toward the normalcy of the ideology bent toward its use. Ads are designed to cater to the fulfillment of our natural human urges by suggesting we buy something that cannot possibly fulfill them. If we were fulfilled as human beings, we obviously wouldn’t need to buy anything more, now would we?

This type of critical analysis isn’t limited to advertisements. Advertisements are just the most obvious and the most malicious. You can look at news articles, movies, comics, public speeches, etc. and see this kind of subtle normalizing everywhere. What ideologies are they promoting? What aspects of human life are they avoiding? What are they saying is normal? Abnormal? What is the impact of these hidden ideologies on the overarching message of whatever media you are consuming? What are they selling you?

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