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Posted by Thomas Shevory at 10:51AM   |  9 comments
Detroit NASA Image

Thomas Shevory, Ithaca College

Chrysler’s recent advertisement, featuring Eminem, has been getting considerable attention. Detroiters have apparently embraced its portrayal of their city as tough, gritty, and determined.  Detroit, after all, became infamous in the 1980s and 90s for Devil’s Night, the week before Halloween, when gangs of itinerant youth roamed the city, burning random swaths of buildings, just for the fun of it.

Eminem, of course, is well-known for his roots in the Motor City.  The quasi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile, featured him and Detroit underground hip hop artists.  It also celebrated the eight mile stretch between downtown Detroit and the border crossing to Windsor, Canada, an area that had long been abandoned by industry and residential community. 

That eight mile strip, was, by the way, also the birthplace of techno.  Three African-American teenagers, the sons of Detroit autoworkers (the Belleville Three) set up shop there in the 1980s, drawn by the cheap rental space. Their experimentations with early digital drum machines and keyboards helped move the previously arcane world of electronic music from small recital halls into club spaces and onto dance floors.

The advertisement, which is hawking the Chrylser 200, a luxury car, circles around the concept of luxury itself and suggests that it’s not just “who it’s for, but where it’s from.”  “We’re not New York City,” the resonant voiceover states, “We’re not the windy city…and certainly not the empty city.” The sound track features a sample of Eminem’s “Losing It.”  At the end, he steps out of the car, into an auditorium that has a full gospel choir on stage.  He turns to the camera and states defiantly: “This is Detroit, and this is what we do.”

It might seem a bit strange for an automobile corporation, like Chrysler, to embrace someone with Eminem’s pedigree. At one time he was among the most vilified popular musical performers in the U.S. And his latest CD, Recovery, marks the return of his old sexist, homophobic, alter-ego, Slim Shady. In any event, he has lost little, if any, of his capacities for spewing vitriol and deletable expletives, although now softened with the occasional expressions of regret. (And I say this as a fan.)

But that seems to be the point of it all. Detroit, like Eminem, has been in recovery—economic recovery.  A long time coming perhaps, but now it’s returning to form, unapologetic and as badass as ever. 

This is all in good fun. And I certainly don't begrudge Detroiters their fifteen minutes in the pop cultural sunlight. I would love to see the city undergo a true renaissance. But it's not clear that the route to Detroit's success is a new line of Chrysler luxury cars.  And it would have been nice if the ad had alluded at least once to the multi-billion dollar bailout package that the corporation received from taxpayers to keep it afloat (for the second time). While originally a Bush initiative, support for it contributed to Democratic congressional losses in November. Some of the same money helped presumably to offset the costs of broadcasting a high-end television advertisement, featuring a global pop superstar, on Superbowl Sunday.

 


9 Comments

Really interesting post: especially the closing comments about the bailout package. It's interesting to ask how a representation of "Detroit" represents a multi-national company bolstered by US taxpayers.

Eminem's comment that "we're certainly no one's Emerald City" obliquely references the cognitive dissonance of the advertisement's odd take on patriotic self-promotion. The gritty, dark and desaturated lighting of the commercial that persists until he enters the movie palace suggests that we should read his voice over as a contradiction and see the transformation of Chrysler as if it were a replaying of the transformation Dorothy sees when she goes over the rainbow.

The thing that stood out most to me (having gone and watched the clip) was the guys voice who backed the commercial. So typical in the way of mainstream voiceovers, coming off as very big budget and hollywood. The style of the commercial wanted so much to be creative, having employed Eminem and Detroit as their personal Chrysler twist. But in the end it was just another car commercial, with its overly dramatic shots and brooding music choice.

Despite the effort to recreate its audiences view of Detroit's reputation, I felt like the spectacular nature of the music, shots, and celebrity appearance meshed so strangely with what Detroit is so known for that I came away from the commercial almost laughing. A product's utilization of a town which is depressed in many different ways makes me question the integrity of this advertisement.

Who knows what will happen to the auto industry. I can't really say and predictions vary from source to source. I guess we will have to wait and see. Maybe we can plan better this time for problems in the economy!

When dealing with such a temperamental system as capitalism, we as individuals must prepare for recessions. Save your money, buy stuff you can afford! After all, its you who got us into this mess...well somewhat. That and unchecked private business intrusion in governmental powers.

I think the most interesting thing about the commercial is the way in which it sells the car. It is obviously not a cheerful spot, which will make you feel happy-go-lucky about buying the Chevrolet 200--as Leah points out, it is gritty and dark. It almost seems like the ad is catering to an audience of grim, determined patriots who would feel moved in an almost nationalistic way to buy the car. Instead of feeling excited and giddy about buying the vehicle, they would feel almost as if they had received stern orders-- "this isn't pretty, but it's something that we HAVE to do." Maybe I'm taking this too far. In any case, whether this advertising strategy works or not is up in the air.

I have seen this commercial and must admit that the first time viewing it, I was confused about the connection Eminem supposedly has with Chrysler as a company. I realize that he is from Detroit, and Chrysler is also based in Detroit. However, I saw the using of Eminem's music in the commercial more as a way to delve into the niche market of young, successful urban dwellers - certainly not a revolutionary advertising concept.

Chrysler's clear objective was to re-image their brand, pinning their new car edition as edgy and up-and-coming. In order to do so, they had to spend millions of dollars on air-time and paying an international superstar like Eminem. This is reminiscent of what occurs big Hollywood films, in terms of positioning or marketing a film within a genre or category. For example, movie stars like Julia Roberts are paid extravagantly to play roles such as hers in Eat, Pray, Love. Women of a certain demographic love her acting style and the melodramatic nature of her films, so a film company will pay her generously in order to position the film within a certain crowd. Simply, this all comes down to knowing your audience, which is an important piece of advice when it comes to anything really.

I think this is another example of any press is good press. It doesn't seem to matter in the world of capitalism who you associate with your products, as long as they are famous and not currently under heavy heavy fire for something. Eminems lyrics might not carry the exact image that Chrysler wants for its products but numbers show that people only care if they recognize a famous face and song. It's interesting however to note that while in some instances having a controversial figure is overlooked for their relative fame, someone like Tiger Woods can be dropped over controversial behavior simply because its the hot news topic of the moment.

This is an interesting example of how a city in economic crisis is tryng to re-vamp its image by using Eminem as a spokesperson for their car industry. I can see how it could be difficult to make the connection but simply this is about taking advantage of a consumerist society with these "stars" representing city's and difficult times. It makes Eminem seem more relatable on a level of crisis and recovery, and consumerism in the U.S. society.

8 Mile is not a stretch of road. IT IS A ROAD. 8 Mile Rd. is the border of Detroit and Warren. You obviously don't pay much attention to this "pop" star.



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