Ad Nauseum: Interpreting GM’s Confusing War on Transit and Bicycles

(Tanya Snyder takes a somewhat more serious tone at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.  Alao, the Times reports that G.M. is pulling the advertisement out of its rotation.- DN)

Does reality suck?  Apparently to General Motors.

Yesterday, the company’s year old advertising campaign to college students received a fresh round of scorn yesterday as Bike Portland published their most recent print advertisement, found in the Daily Bruin and heaped on loads of scorn.

But here’s the thing, just like State Farm’s Humiliated Cyclist ad campaign, the meaning of the advertisement is open to interpretation.  I see the ads as cleverly disguised apologies for the damage wrought by America’s Car Culture obsession aided by General Motors’ advertising and lobbying activities.

Image via the Daily Bruin via Bike Portland

A UCLA undergraduate who lives with her parents because of family debt partially caused by decades of car payments, stumbles wearily out of the house. Her Dad insists that he drive her to her first class in the morning, even though they live in Westwood. So the two walk to the car parked on the sidewalk in front of her house and they head off to class. She keeps the window rolled up to avoid the air pollution created during the morning rush hour on Westwood Boulevard. Just as she thinks, “Reality Sucks, I never should have given up the bike I road in high school for this crap,” (stopped pedaling to start driving…) a cyclist pulls up. She gives him her best come hither smile, but the poor cyclist is tired of being sexually harassed because he’s constantly exercising so he pretends not to see her. Besides, he’s running a little early today because he needs to finish the Model Street Manual encouraging healthier streets published by the Luskin Center for Innovation before he can read the most recent update on UCLA’s Be a Green Commuter Blog.

But not everyone agrees with this interpretation.  The Social Cycling Austin Facebook site has also re-imagined the advertisement.

Other advertisements in the campaign take a firm stand against bus service cuts that cause overcrowding and apologize to pedestrians for drivers that are gigantic assholes.

Via GM's Reality Sucks website

She gets out of the car and waves goodbye to her father.  As she stands at the intersection of Westwood and Le Conte, waiting for her turn to cross one of L.A.’s innovative Scramble Crosswalks, a passing car driver spills some of his Big Gulp on his lap causing him to lose his concentration.  As he veers towards the pedestrian area, he regains control of his vehicle but not before splashing a puddle all over the helpless pedestrian.  “Reality Sucks,” she thinks again.

Exhausted and wet from her “relaxed commute,” she stumbles in to the campus coffee shop .  As she enters she notices the cyclist who scorned her earlier before zipping past the congested traffic to campus is walking out on his way to his urban planning class.  But then she spots a familiar face, her friend Ellen, across the way.  She sits down and asks, “what’s up?”  But Ellen has had a hard morning herself.  Her commute hasn’t been the same since Metro was forced to cut 30% of its bus service hours because of a decline in federal and state subsidies.  If only the government hadn’t wasted all that money on Cash for Clunkers, Car Industry Bailouts or decades of subsidizing freeway and road construction.  “Reality doesn’t have to suck,” Ellen says as she imagines a greener alternative to the status quo.

Have we missed any images or other parts of the campaign?  Send any images or text to damien@streetsblog dot org or leave them in the comments section.



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