Saturday, August 05, 2006

Volkswagen's Ego Emissions are Colorless, Odorless, and Very Dangerous

Volkswagen has an ad for its new Passat on page 11 of the current New Yorker that brags:
"How do you brag about a vehicle with low ego emissions?
You don't."
Ah, but you just did. Talking about something by saying you refuse to raise the issue is a slimy technique. Imagine a politician in a stump speech: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not a braggart. I won't stand here and tell you that, unlike my opponent, I served my country in the war, refused special interest money, and took a low-paying civil service job instead of exploiting my law degree for financial gain. But I won't tell you any of that here tonight, ladies and gentlemen." I swear I've heard that speech somewhere.

A television version of the Passat ad shows a hipster couple driving by a series of other drivers who announce their pop-psychology insecurities through bullhorns. One man is driving his particular car "because daddy never loved me," a statement he repeats mechanically. We're not supposed to notice how smug our hipster heroes are as they look at each other, wide-eyed and bewildered. The camera reveals the Passat: behold, the car for people who don't like cars.

The ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky even created a website (I can't in good conscience link to it) that "lets" people rate the "ego emissions" of everyday objects. Naturally, the Passat gives us a baseline of "1," so wouldn't you figure a school bus would rate somewhere in the -40 range? It's a 24. Maybe it's based on application. So if I'm driving a school bus but I never let anyone on board ... but that would shoot my "index" up in the hundreds. So maybe a covered wagon is lower. Nope: 26. The lowest transportation-related item I found was a bicycle, which was a 23. 25 people had voted on it. So obviously this was merely an empty exercise in branding, and I just fell for it.

However, my point stands. Beware when people talk too much about pretensions. I knew a guy who had a scene from Beckett's Waiting for Godot tattooed on his arm. He was your classic Brooklyn hipster, and he was very concerned with avoiding the appearance of pretentiousness. Let's call him Matthew, because he was the sort who preferred the long form of his given name.

Matthew and I got along at first, but then we clashed on the direction of the project on which we worked with five others. To borrow from the Crispin Porter + Bogusky agency, Matthew and I were two in the group with highest ego emissions. But Matthew was the one who proclaimed to be the one with the lowest. And I mean the lowest in the whole group. He demanded my use of the term sans be removed from a document our group produced. Too pompous.

With Matthew, all of our motives were subjected to his nervous-but-impassive pretension filter. I hadn’t been so insecure about my attitudes since a friend in high school chastised me for calling something “low class.”

In the same vein, I haven’t felt so looked down upon since fifth grade when I stood with some of my fellow boys as a sixth grader berated us as nerds in front of her eighth grader boyfriend.

Matthew forced me to reëxamine (note ostentatious umlaut) my security with my most basic attitudes and preferences. And in the end I came out much the way I was before. One's tastes and habits are worth examining, but not doubting, and they certainly aren't worth modifying to appeal to a wider audience.

My conclusion is this: those who truly avoid flamboyant rides buy Honda Accords. Better still, Toyota Camrys. Those who are insecure about their status, class, and judgments buy Volkswagen Passats and congratulate themselves publicly for avoiding that awful affectation, the BMW, even though they could afford it.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Andrew said...

"Matthew" is me, isn't he? I'll get you you pretentious son of a bitch.

10:30 AM  

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