Kyle Johnson
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Opinion: “Wheat Grass” Silverado Ad Pulled for “Profanity”

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Hey, guys!  Look out!  There's a rant a-comin' this way!

Hey, guys! Look out! There’s a rant a-comin’ this way!

This morning, it was brought to my attention that something of an uproar emerged over the weekend as the result of a commercial for the 2014 Chevy Silverado High Country.  The ad, which aired during Sunday’s NFL playoff games, drew the ire of at least one group for its potential to be “extremely destructive and damaging to impressionable children.”  This furor ended on Tuesday with the Silverado ad pulled from Chevrolet’s YouTube Channel and television as a result.

The ad, entitled “Wheat Grass,” features that trusty John Cusack voiceover that typically begins “A man.  A man and his truck.”  It then follows aforementioned man and his aforementioned truck (which appears to be hauling a massive grill, not aforementioned) to a tailgating gathering held in some faraway field.  People are sharing laughs, wolfing down meat, talking with their mouths full, and throwing footballs.  Simple, welcoming, and at times a bit on the crude side—a perfect reflection of American football-loving culture.

Impala and Silverado Named Best Car and Best Pickup of 2014

America: TRUCK YEAH!

So what’s the big deal you might ask?  According to the American Family Association—the all-knowing authorities on how you should raise your children—it is that warm and gravelly John Cusack voiceover that should have your knickers in a twist and you ringing your hands at the thought of your values being compromised by “irresponsible and offensive” language.

What does he say exactly?  Here is the ad’s dialogue in full.  BE WARNED: what you read next may very well shock you to your core.

“A man.  A man and his truck.  And tofu.  And veggie burgers.  And raw kale salads.  Be damned.  Introducing High Country.  The premium Silverado.  Silverado.  2014 North American Truck of the Year.”

Please, hold your fire.  No need to shoot the messenger here.  Oh, you’re not seeing the issue either?  Well, let me direct your focus to the offensive language present in this “profanity-laced ad.”  And by language, I mean word: damned.

Seriously.  In the year 2014, a multi-billion dollar, multinational global enterprise can be forced to pull an ad from television because it features the word “damned.”  The mind reels.  We’re talking Bruce the shark dragging the Orca further out to sea here.

"You're gonna need a bigger brain."

“You’re gonna need a bigger brain.” Image: © Universal Pictures

Generally speaking, this would speak volumes of the abilities of the masses when focused on a particular goal.  Yes, when we have an aim, we might just be able to set in motion the wheels of change.  And yet, with so many other prevalent issues facing us, we choose to focus our attention on such ridiculous minutiae.  Rather than inform children of right and wrong in the hopes that they are able to create their own moral compass from the strong template that has been laid out before them, some parents prefer to focus their energies on having a commercial for a truck we may or may not ever buy pulled because it uses a word that you don’t like.  It’s easier for some to obscure things than it is to simply explain them, usually because the latter requires interaction with your child.  Yep, that makes sense.

Now, if you ask me (and nobody did, but you’re getting my opinion anyway), there is something vaguely offensive in this commercial, but it’s far more nuanced than a simple word.  It’s something buried beneath cultural code that has become more commonly accepted with the emergence of concepts like “man caves” and bacon-flavored everything.  It’s the implication that, by eating things like tofu and veggie burgers and kale, you are not manly enough!

Pictured: Chicken being ruined by presence of kale

Pictured: Delicious and manly chicken being ruined by the presence of kale


Seriously, when did that become an acceptable way to advertise your product?  Is the insinuation at work here that you cannot drive a pickup truck, go to a cookout, or watch football if you are a vegetarian or—gasp!—just prefer to eat a wider array of healthy foods?  Or is it something buried deeper than all that?  It’s a bit less overt than, say, Dr. Pepper 10 telling you that “it’s not for women,” but it follows along those same lines.

You hear that bit about manliness being a quantifiable facet of a product quite a lot, particularly when it comes to automotive and sports-related advertising.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a commercial on the radio for some auto parts supplier that for whatever reason feels the need to mention that 1.) real men like bacon 2.) real men don’t take instructions well 3.) real men are incapable of liking anything that can be even remotely perceived as feminine.

Not pictured: MANLIN

Not Pictured: MANLINESS!

I listen to sports talk radio a lot (yes, I eat kale and tofu and veggie burgers, but I’m still pretty knowledgeable when it comes to sports…you might say I’m something of a paradoxical person, at least according to most advertisers), and that same reckless attitude seeps in from the edges.

Mike & Mike—the morning radio show starring Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic (hence the original title)—is probably the best example of this, particularly when the two colleagues slip in and out of caricaturized versions of themselves.

Greenberg, a career television and radio anchor, portrays the guy who loves tofu and step aerobics and things that might be construed as feminine.  Golic, a former NFL defensive lineman, is always quick to retort with something relating to his love of red meat and bacon or appreciation for more hard-hitting, manlier activities.  Often, Golic ends up knocking Greenberg down a peg with insults that are often ultimately little more than thinly-veiled epithets for homosexual men.

Saying that someone likes to eat greens and tofu has, for whatever reason, become a weird kind of shorthand insult.  If we’re not careful, it’s going to become common practice, and that’s where the real danger lies.

Ah, yes.  Back to those impressionable kids that the AFA was so hot to protect.

We didn’t hear any kind of protests akin to the ones that got the Silverado ad pulled regarding the 2014 Kia Forte ad that aired during the Super Bowl last year.  You might remember it: the one with the Hotbots.

Yeah, basically Kia used an over-sexualized version of Molly Millions to shill their new sedan; in their infinite wisdom, whatever advertising geniuses were on the case couldn’t think of anything more original to call the characters than “Hotbots.”  Oh, I get it, because they’re robots and they’re hot.  Genius and not at all offensive!  Even the intentionally over-sexualized FemBots from the Austin Powers movies had less on-the-nose names.

start "c:\kia\commercial32" sexistcommercial.exe

start “c:\kia\commercial32” sexistcommercial.exe

A later commercial features the same Hotbot (which, if we’re to believe the setting of the first commercial, is essentially a showroom model for the Forte) going home with a male owner.  Here we have it: the Hotbot is as much a piece of property as the car itself.

And yet, nobody complained about how it could be potentially degrading to women.  Nobody felt that it was prudent to point out that the term “Hotbot” suggests that the Kia robo-models’ most significant quality is not super-human strength, but their attractiveness.  Perfect way to influence any little girls who might be watching the big game at home.

The FCC did receive a number of complaints, as it were, regarding Beyonce’s halftime performance last year.  While it was likely sexual in some sense, it was likely no less offensive than the “Hotbots” commercials; I couldn’t say, I didn’t watch it.  There is a difference here, however: Beyonce Knowles is a woman who owns her sexuality.  That likely makes her threatening and probably intimidating to some men.  The Hotbot characters, on the other hand, were created (in-universe and in reality) for the sole purposes of being sexy and trying to sell the audience a car.

It comes as little surprise that the American Family Association’s complaints about the Silverado ad pulled by Chevrolet revolve around it airing during NFL Playoff games.  Today, the NFL is our best and brightest form of family entertainment.  Together with their parents, children watch larger-than-life athletes make game-winning plays and earn life-changing money.  They can’t help but aspire to be like them.

152 concussions were reported in the NFL this season, all after the league instituted a number of new rules to protect players after research and testimony from former players revealed that concussions have been largely swept under the rug for decades and directly/indirectly resulted in life-altering debilitation for countless players and a significant number of untimely deaths.  That figure doesn’t even factor in the countless broken bones, torn muscles, sleepless nights, and emptied bottles of painkillers.

Yet, we’re perfectly content to let our children sit back and watch the giants of the gridiron, to let them watch people endure potentially irreversible physical trauma, all because it has become our tradition.  If they’re lucky, they’ll grow up and make that big money, become superstars, and stockpile injuries that will likely go untreated because it is otherwise against the NFL’s unwritten code of manliness to report them.  But when one of those larger-than-life athletes makes a game-winning play and expresses his feelings in an interview a little too loudly, well then you’ll tell your child not to grow up like him because he’s a thug.

But you know and I know that people aren’t calling Richard Sherman a thug because he’s a cutthroat, ruffian, hoodlum, criminal, or assassin.  No, those are the denotations of the word thug.  That word has been given an entirely new context, and Richard Sherman knows what you’re probably saying when you use that word.

Just like we all know what you’re saying when you deride someone for eating tofu and kale.  Just like we all know what you’re saying when someone scoffs at the thought of Mary Barra leading GM to future success as their CEO.  Sometimes, the message hidden between the lines speak louder, words themselves be damned.