By BOB VICKREY
Special to Circling the News
Maybe we could blame the late actor Steve McQueen’s portrayal of a daredevil policeman in the 1968 movie “Bullitt” for all those outlandish television car commercials we’ve watched in recent years.
In the classic film, McQueen’s character, Frank Bullitt, speeds through the streets of San Francisco in his dark green V-8 four-speed Ford Mustang chasing the bad guys at breakneck speeds, cresting the city’s hilltop streets and careening wildly off the walls of buildings in what eventually becomes the ultimate movie chase scene.
Automobile companies have always gone for the flash and glamour in portraying their cars as being fully equipped for speed and power. And they now seem more determined than ever to incorporate the element of adventure and danger into the equation.
We’ve already learned that the new Hyundai can outrun a Jaguar (the animal, not the car.) We’ve watched a Chevy truck withstand the Apocalypse and a Chevy Sonic survive a bungee jump from a bridge. A Kia Optima can evidently break through concrete barriers into another dimension, as yet another example of the performance we have now come to expect from our automobiles.
Judging by advertisers’ depictions of these off-road challenges, Southern California drivers seem pretty serious about escaping the traffic jams they confront on the San Diego freeway. Evidently, they’ve discovered shortcuts on narrow dirt roads through mountain forests and streams that I simply can’t find on any map. Maybe there is a GPS system that includes these places. If so, I’d like to own one and take the closest off-ramp.
I’m betting the folks at Ford go for my new commercial I just sent them:
The New Ford Tirade 6X is finally here! From our 600-Squander Series, this six-wheel-drive behemoth gets a hearty three miles to the gallon and goes from 0-to-60 faster than you can say, “Eat my dust!” You can count on it intimidating your neighbors—and particularly those who kicked sand in your face back in high school.
If the advertisers are correct in their portrayal of average drivers’ habits, I’ve decided that many Americans have much loftier goals for their transportation needs than what I generally require in my everyday driving. During my daily trips while running errands, I cannot recall a single instance when I’ve been required to crash through a brick wall or detour across the Ballona Wetlands to reach my intended destination. Maybe that’s just me, and reflects the slower pace of life I’ve adopted in recent years.
I must admit that I’ve always taken some perverse pleasure in driving alongside some guy in congested freeway traffic who is stuck behind the wheel of his $180,000 Porsche Turbo and hitting a top-end speed of about eight miles-an-hour.
His dispirited look in my direction says it all, as he is forced to acknowledge that he can’t go any faster than my aging Dodge minivan ($19,500 window-sticker price.) It must be quite frustrating for this poor chump who was promised his “ground-jet” could potentially reach speeds of 190 miles-per-hour. (It’s now difficult for many of us to conceive of a Porsche-less civilization that likely dates back to the Chumash Indians.)
We have been constantly sold on speed, power, and durability with in-your-face ads that proudly boast aggressive and downright combative attitudes in our driving habits. The auto companies’ current goal in advertising appears to ask: “Who will be the last man standing?”
We’ve already been offered models like the “Land Rover Defender,” the “Avalanche” and the “Armada.” So any day now, I expect the contentious branding in advertising will raise the stakes and become even bolder, which will lead to my new ad airing soon on your home screens:
Feeling especially threatened these days? Then get behind the wheel of the new Dodge Revenge-Tantrum. After driving this destructive monster, you’ll feel in charge of your life once again when you can begin shouting obscenities at other drivers who are blocking your lane. At Dodge, we’re not just on the cutting edge of technology—we’re here to help you get EVEN!
What the automobile industry celebrates in their commercials and what we preach to our children about safety seems to be completely at odds in the ultimate message. Every parent explains the importance of respecting speed limits and wearing safety belts. However, their kids are getting mixed messages from watching some grey-haired dude suffering from mid-life crisis doing “wheelies” and kicking up dust clouds in his new Mustang convertible.
I much prefer the recent Subaru commercial in which a father is reluctantly handing the keys of the family car to his young daughter (whom he pictures as a young child), and offering her last-minute instructions on her first solo outing. However, upon second look, he sees that she is now a mature young woman who is reassuring her dad that she will be a responsible driver.
Any parent fully understands that they eventually must trust their children to observe the lessons taught during childhood. We ultimately root for that young daughter to act on Dad’s loving advice and to disregard the car companies’ irresponsible daredevil approach to driving.
Just for the record, I was a huge Steve McQueen fan—as was just about every other moviegoer of my era. But we need to keep in mind that McQueen was only an actor and “Bullitt” was just a movie. However, since driving involves real life, it would be fitting if the Madison Avenue advertising folks would finally acknowledge the distinct difference between fantasy and reality.
Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. You can read more of his columns at his website: http://bobvickrey.net/