I’m sure many of you have seen the advertisement that Cadillac debuted for the Super Bowl, and later aired throughout the Olympics. It’s the one with the type A executive who gives us a tour of his mansion and sociopathic family before we watch him suit up and assume the wheel behind a brand new ELR.
I wasn’t the only one who was disgusted with its message. Articles quickly appeared in The New Yorker, Washington Post, and HuffPost decrying the idea that Americans are just a bunch of vacation-scoffing workaholics that only care about stuff.
Enter: Ford Motors.
Seizing the chance to capitalize on its competitor’s controversy, Ford just issued a counterpoint to the Cadillac ad following the same format.
Many people are applauding the twist – Ford’s ad shows that “more and more” Americans are passionate about things other than material things. The woman who serves as the hero of Ford’s commercial is a recycling, sustainability activist who “gives a damn.”
And yet, I found myself just as uncomfortable with Ford’s rebuttal as with the original. By comparing ourselves to people of other countries, both ads suggest that work is the most important characteristic that defines us as Americans.
There is truth to this. I’ve noticed America’s work-obsession since returning home after two years abroad. It’s never more than five questions before, “so what are you doing now?” arises in a conversation.
I dread it. Three months back from my trip and I don’t have a solid answer; I’m unemployed. I know that I shouldn’t care, but I still end up making excuses. “Oh, you know — just waiting to hear back from The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and NPR about my fellowship applications.”
Turning to take a large gulp of whatever drink is within reach, I then curse myself for resulting to namedrops.
Why should it matter?
I can’t help it; workaholism is infectious, pressing in from all sides. Each week that passes that doesn’t produce an employment contract, I feel more like a failure.
For its part, Ford’s commercial simply extends the notion of “work” to undertaking some significant social cause. The lady in the Ford commercial identifies herself as an activist. Yet the bottom line is that you should still be working your ass off, either making a difference for a movement or on a balance sheet. And don’t worry about the limits this places on leisure time. With little time for spontaneity, social circles will morph so that your co-workers become your closest friends anyway. Outside of work, other friends tell you that they can block out a time next Tuesday for happy hour. Until then, they’re too busy. Tuesday will be great, though, because we Americans work hard so we can play hard.
This of course is a generalization, but the trend — which is common — goes so contrary to what I witnessed in many developing countries that it’s worth noting what the Cadillac and Ford’s commercials are missing: relationships.
Neither character says anything about being a great father or a great mother, or being there for their friends, or throwing a block party with their neighbors, or helping each other out when times get tough. They’re focused on tangible outcomes that their work is producing.
Save the most developed nations, many communities in the world don’t have the diversity of work opportunities we do. With fewer options, people take whatever’s available to make ends meet. The result is that what you do for work doesn’t matter so much. Why should it? It doesn’t define a person.
That’s why they take all of August off, stroll through the markets, and spend hours at the café…without a laptop.
And you know what? They’re probably happier than we are.