While the hubbub has died down a bit, I can’t stop thinking about “The Cadillac Man” commercial. It ruffled a lot of feathers when it first aired during the Olympic Games in February. Not only did this new “American icon” insinuate that only Americans are hard workers, but derogatorily characterized other countries as being lazy; especially targeting the French with a snarky “N’est-ce pas?” dropped at the close of the commercial.
In the 1950’s, advertising created the Marlboro Man—the quintessential rugged American who typified what women supposedly wanted and men aspired to be. Of course, in retrospect this icon was selling an ideal via a product that ended in death—literally for some of the “Marlboro Men”—putting smokers at risk for lung cancer and other smoking-related health risks per the landmark report published in 1964 by the Surgeon General.
While the Cadillac Man’s persona might not be attempting to purvey a product that puts a generation at physical risk akin to the health danger risks Marlboro Man’s cigarettes did, this “souped up American dream” icon could well be putting America’s souls at risk.
Having lived in France for 4 years growing up, I can identify with his not-so-tongue-in-cheek criticism of the French workweek. Yet there is something quite sad about blatantly epitomizing our drive to achieve materialistic prosperity as what makes us exceptionally American.
“Why do we work so hard? Work hard, create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible.”
It’s not the jabs about work ethic that have me in knots. It’s the objective that’s troubling. Although the Cadillac Man is projecting a high-minded illusion of the deep significance work—citing the Wright brothers, Steve Jobs and walking on the moon as his raison d’être—his cockiness about the trappings of prosperity as one “works hard” to amass affluence seems to be the troubling aspect of this marketing campaign. This characterization seems to me to be an exploitation of Americanism.
While American valuesare based in a Judeo Christian ethos, we have extrapolated bits and pieces from our European originations and evolved our ideology into one that is uniquely our own, known as American exceptionalism. Sociologist Max Weber—who studied contemporary society—found that many of these Judeo Christian ethics attributed greatly to the rise and success of American capitalism allowing our culture to flourish. Imagine the future of the Western world should the opposite of these values be attributed to and applied by our society?
In a global economy that touts rampant consumerism, I am thankful to be driven by a different pursuit.
As true believers in Christ, we find our significance in the person of Christ.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
What a relief that He already owns all the riches this world tries to claim as its own. Not only are we given all access to His unending resources, the honor of bearing His name, but our utmost privilege of finding satisfaction through life by bringing glory to Him.
“Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made,” (Isaiah 43:7)
What a relief not to be encumbered striving to chase after the elusive goal of living the “American dream,” where we boast about our job title, an exhausting 6-day workweek and never taking time off, all to afford a high-end lifestyle while living a low-purpose life.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20(NIV)