David R. Henderson  

Chrysler's Disgusting Ad

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Education: Free Matters... Taxing the Rich: Strang...

Last night, I saw one of the most disgusting ads I have ever seen on TV. In it a father played by Jim Gaffigan models for his son a threefer: (1) disrespecting property rights, (2) being unaccountable for it, and (3) implying that the property rights of "the rich" don't matter. Way to go, Chrysler.

This link takes you right to the particular ad I'm discussing.


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COMMENTS (30 to date)
Andrew_FL writes:

Have you seen Toyota's Prius ads glorifying bank robbers?

Jeff Oxman writes:

Not to mention abusing a really excellent song.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

The point of it is he's a bad father isn't it?

Josiah writes:

I think you're missing the point, David. The joke of the ad is that Gaffigan is being a jerk.

Glen Smith writes:

I have always thought it sad that most of the fire for class warfare is stoked and created by those who most often whine about it.

Greg G writes:

Daniel Kuehn and Josiah are right.

The ad is NOT suggesting that Gaffigan is a good dad. The joke is that - even though he thinks he is connecting with his kid - the kid never listens to him or even looks at him at all.

Chrysler is not trying to make a political or economic statement here. They are just using a comedian to make a joke in hopes you like the way the car looks and remember the brand.

Please stand down on this one David. Bryan can handle the job of being overly literal by himself.

Benjamin Cole writes:

Well, if the property was zoned private, in free markets it would have been built up with high-rise condos. Highest and best use, and all of that. Obviously, the neighborhood has used government zoning to prevent people from living along the coast. I just described nearly every coastal town from San Clemente to Newport Beach to Santa Monica to Santa Barbara to Pacific Grove.

If the scenario suggested is accurate (and after all, the commercial is make-believe, so we can say it is), then perhaps the degenerate Dad has a leg to stand on. The dopey Dad can afford that rather nice car, so perhaps he could have afforded a high-rise condo (for the better-off, not the out-and-out rich), with some public gardens along the water.

Dad is striking a blow against government property zoning, which is a violation of property rights and commercial freedoms!

Dan W. writes:

What Mr. Henderson is really trying to say is don't park on his ocean front lawn and think you can get away with it by pretending to be a foreigner. What most of think is a funny joke is a personal threat to those on the Monterey Peninsula.

JK Brown writes:

The ad is a very bad mix of Gaffigan's ironic dad character from his TV show based on his family life. He has 5 kids. It doesn't have the payoff of his show where he ends as the doting father that gets it right in the end.

RPLong writes:

I think those commentators who suggest that Henderson is being too literal ought to give the advertisement a second thought. The question isn't what to ultimately conclude about Gaffigan's character's behavior, the question is why does the joke "work?"

There are a million ways to depict a "bad father" or a "jerk;" so why does the ad settle on this particular angle? The answer is simple: because there's something in what Gaffigan says and does in the ad that Chrysler's target demo can identify with. They wouldn't have published the ad otherwise.

That's what Henderson is calling out, and that's what makes the ad, as he says, "disgusting." I don't think Henderson missed the point at all.

David R Henderson writes:

@RPLong,
There are a million ways to depict a "bad father" or a "jerk;" so why does the ad settle on this particular angle? The answer is simple: because there's something in what Gaffigan says and does in the ad that Chrysler's target demo can identify with. They wouldn't have published the ad otherwise.
Exactly. Thanks, RP.

Greg G writes:

RPLong,

>---"The question isn't what to ultimately conclude about Gaffigan's character's behavior, the question is why does the joke "work?"

It really sounds to me like the joke DIDN'T work for you and David so maybe that means you are not in the best position to judge why it might have worked for someone else.

It seems to me you are overthinking this. Job one for any ad is simply to be noticed and remembered. Most ads fail at this so ad writers sometimes go to extremes to overcome this hurdle.

Using a famous comedian as a rather unsympathetic product advocate is one way to try and make an ad stand out from the crowd. I really doubt that there was any intention to convey a controversial political or economic philosophy. It is usually a terrible marketing strategy to needlessly offend people.

The ad depicts an idiot driving a nicer car than you might expect an idiot to be driving, parked in a much nicer location than an idiot might be expected to be parked in. The message is - maybe you can afford to drive this car even if you thought it was out of reach for you. That what they are hoping you identify with - not being a bad dad and not hating rich people.

Those on the left are often accused (and often justifiably so) of being too sensitive and easily offended. This might be a case where you guys are guilty of that.

Mark Bahner writes:

Hi,

While on the subject of annoying things on TV, this re-run of a Blue Bloods episode appeared on TV here in NC this past weekend:

Season 6, Episode 1: Let's abuse good Samaritans and do bad investigative work

In the episode, two good Samaritans inform the NYPD about a potential bomb threat. The NYPD proceeds to abuse the people who **came to the NYPD with information**. The NYPD also performs the nearly the exact same "lineup" procedure used in the Duke Lacrosse case. (Don't get me started. ;-))

Since the Reagans are "good guys," it seems somehow the writers must think that's proper police procedure.

Why So Serious writes:

This is why libertarians get mocked and laughed at around the internet (and probably off of it).

They're so sensitive and always have an ax to grind that something as benign as a car commercial gets them upset.

Michael Stack writes:

Libertarians may well get mocked and laughed at, can't argue with that.

The "oh you're so sensitive" angle annoys me though. Imagine if instead of making fun of property rights, the ad made fun of minorities.

Would you then use "don't be so sensitive" as a response? I doubt it. What it really depends on is whose ox is getting gored, and if you don't care about property rights, you probably don't care about this issue. But that's not libertarians being overly sensitive, that's caring about other issues.

Greg G writes:

Michael,

Libertarians are not the only ones who "care about property rights." Most people care about property rights.

I care about property rights. I just don't believe the ad is "making fun of property rights." I think it is making fun of the clueless dad who is portrayed as someone who is NOT really a great dad and should NOT really be seen as a role model.

Are you worried that the ad is disrespecting good, accountable dads by by having Gaffigan portray an unaccountable dad who is failing at connecting with his kid?

Thank you for this opportunity to publicize Hammer's first theorem of humor:

You can't crack a joke without risking offending someone.
Humor is not about happiness or joy. Rather, humor is about coming to grips with weakness (or loss or powerlessness). When people laugh together they:
  • Show that individually they feel the weakness somewhere inside themselves;
  • Join with others in acknowledging the weakness;
  • Gain a community bond, a joining in readiness to proceed in spite of the weakness.
When a person does not laugh at an attempted joke, that person is either:
  • really and seriously hurt by the weakness upon which the joke plays, and not empowered enough to get past the weakness, or
  • not willing to surrender in acceptance of the weakness, i.e. resolved to keep on fighting to overcome the weakness.
I too am put off by the ad, and feel community with David in resolve to keep on fighting for property rights.


Michael Stack writes:

Greg g - my comment was not directed at you, it was directed at "Why So Serious". I completely believe you and agree with you that you may be fond of property rights, and yet not have found the ad annoying.

I was only pointing out that the argument "don't be so sensitive" is often deployed not by folks who are less sensitive in general - rather, they are less sensitive about *this particular issue*.

Urstoff writes:

...why does the ad settle on this particular angle?

Because that's what the writer thought of. In another ad, he has all of his kids watch his comedy special and tell him how funny he is. I don't think that identify with such obvious narcissism any more than trespassing on someone's property. Gaffigan's whole comic persona is about being a lazy, somewhat egocentric father, and this ad fits right into it.

Jesse C writes:

I'm with David on this. I'll go further and say there can be nothing humorous about immorality.

For example, I don't see how people ever laughed at the TV show, Married with Children. Was something humorous about behavior of the characters?

Leave it to Beaver is an example of a television program that always makes me laugh. (Except for when the Eddie Haskell character is featured - he just infuriates me and sets a bad example for the Beaver.)

Ralph writes:

Chill out, Prof. Henderson. It's called comedy, and the rich have always been fat targets.

Greg G writes:

Jesse,

I'm curious now. Which infuriates you more, the Chrysler ad or Eddie Haskell's bad influence on the Beav? There is so much bad behavior out there that sometimes it's hard to muster enough outrage to go around.

Mark Bahner writes:
Because that's what the writer thought of.

I've got an idea for a funny ad. Same son, same father. Same sitting in the back seat and talking about spending quality time with his kid.

But in this ad, the doors and windows are shut, and they're parked in the middle of an encampment for homeless people. It's snowing and the wind is howling. An elderly woman knocks on the window and asks to come inside where it's warm for a few minutes.

Gaffigan says, "Was? Was? Ich verstehe kein wort." (Only he pronounces it "keen wart," because he doesn't really speak German.)

Then he rolls up the window and says, "And that's how you deal with poor people."

Funny, huh? Because he's being such a jerk and all. Do you think Chrysler will use my idea for their next ad? How is it less funny than the ad they're currently running?

Mark Bahner writes:
I'll go further and say there can be nothing humorous about immorality.

Well...I wouldn't go quite that far. There's calling the late Cardinal Richelieu to get clemency for a guilty client. That's funny.

Sometimes perjury is funny

Come to think of it, perjury to avoid penalties for traffic violations can often be funny...such as this episode wherein Newman is trying to avoid paying a speeding ticket with a carefully crafted and believable story.

The banker story

Eli writes:

Gaffigan often plays a "what not to be" character, it's a part of his humor. After the bad fathering displayed at the beginning of the commercial, we really shouldn't take his disrespect for property rights at the end as a serious endorsement.

Mark Bahner writes:
Gaffigan often plays a "what not to be" character, it's a part of his humor. After the bad fathering displayed at the beginning of the commercial, we really shouldn't take his disrespect for property rights at the end as a serious endorsement.

So do you think Chrysler would ever do an ad like I proposed on April 26th at 12:13 PM? That is, an ad in which Gaffigan disrespected (/displayed a lack of sympathy for) a poor, homeless person?

If not, why not?

Noah Smith writes:

David, I assume you are being tongue-in-cheek. :-)

David R. Henderson writes:

@Noah Smith,
No. See Mark Bahner’s comment above.

Greg G writes:

The reason no one would think it was funny if Gaffigan was disrespecting a homeless person is that would come off as simply bullying a much less powerful person.

Disrespecting a more powerful person by contrast is seen as stupidity. Stupidity is often funny. Bullying is never funny.

I personally hope the two are never seen as equally funny or equally offensive.

Josiah writes:

Here's another example: a popular musical features an entire song glorifying businesses that cheat people. Disgusting.

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