Our Country, Our Product Pitch

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW, and driven crazy by a certain truck commercial: "This is our country ... this is our Chevy truck."

I should just let it go. Especially since the Chevy campaign seems now to have steered into familiar, time-honored advertising territory: just wrap the product in the flag, then vigorously wave.

But the original commercial, which in October was airing from the East Coast to the West Coast (as John Mellencamp sings it), blazed new frontier. So, as I brace for the next advertiser to plunge even further, I'm going on record with my protest.

You didn't see that commercial? Well, expanding on the red-white-and-blue, roll-up-your-flannel-shirtsleeves, we're-all-in-this-together motif, it's a clip job of images from the past half-century that includes Rosa Parks on the bus, Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial, and an astronaut on the moon. There's the goodbye wave from Richard Nixon the day he resigned his presidency. The twin beams of light memorializing the World Trade Center. The Viet Nam War. And maybe my perverse favorite: a glimpse of last year's devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

Plus, of course, product shots of the Chevy Silverado. All to the accompaniment of John Mellencamp's patronizing little anthem for the common man, titled Our Country.

Voila and ipso facto: Our Country! Our Truck!

It's a blend of music video and "50 Years of America for Dummies."

And yet, any negative fallout I'm aware of has bypassed the spiritual indignation I feel, to question the marketing strategy instead.

Is the ad trying to say if a few more New Orleans residents had had the good fortune to own a Chevy Silverado, or any personal transportation, the death toll might have been lower? And what does a Chevy truck have to do with refusing to ride in the back of a Montgomery city bus?

Still, all that misses the point, as far as I'm concerned. Because -- I admit it -- I'm an old-fashioned purist.

For instance, I object to that commercial where a 1950's movie clip of Audrey Hepburn is digitally modified so she can shill for a merchandiser's "skinny black pant."

Oh, I'm sure Hepburn was duly licensed from the grave robber who controls her estate, and the digital technology applied to her is amazing. But that doesn't mean it isn't ghoulish. And a betrayal -- no less to her fans than to Hepburn herself.

Or that's what I think. So you can imagine my response to a commercial that, among other things, turns Dr. King into a car salesman.

Are we so numb to the civil rights struggle that we're comfortable when an advertiser stakes out that vast reservoir of meaning, then tries to sell it right back to us as a product pitch?

If evidence serves, every bit of our collective experience is fair game for marketing. Whether a rock song you loved as a kid, or the twin towers falling, there is simply no respite from the things we find most meaningful to be appropriated and peddled.

Any boundary between selling and everything else in our day-to-day lives has been blurred just about beyond recognition, and with one transaction after another we bought it. "An American Revolution": That's Chevrolet's slogan. And the revolution has been won by the marketers.

Meanwhile, I think we all lost... dearly.

Watching television for KCRW and waiting to see what next from our collective past will be co-opted, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.