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Maybe This Is How You Sell Electric Cars to 'Real America'

If you've been watching the Olympics at all, you've probably caught the new ad for the 2014 Cadillac ELR. It's the one with the crisp, arrogant guy striding around his fabulous modernist house somewhere in Southern California. As the camera follows him through his deluxe environment, complete with attractive, industrious children, the guy (well-played by actor Neal McDonough) delivers a monologue about American exceptionalism with a snappy smugness that you'll likely find either repellent or refreshing.

The ad's ideological core is not only pro-American, it's anti-foreign, an explicit rejection of the downright European notion that life takes place not only at work, but also at home, and in the places in between.

We have all these fabulous things, our hero tells us – the palm trees, the sprawling private home, the pool, the pristine white interiors, the Cadillac – because we're not distracted by things other frivolous cultures fritter away their time on, like coffee. And walking. And vacations.

"Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stroll by the café, they take August off. Off." He raises an eyebrow. "Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy hard-working driven believers, that's why. Those other countries think we're nuts. Whatever."

This guy doesn’t need to stop at a freaking café. He doesn’t even need to stop to make eye contact with his wife and children, who seem just as happy to ignore him as well. He's got better things to do, just like the Wright Brothers and Muhammad Ali. He's the proud member of a nation, he tells us, that went up to the moon and then left because it got bored.

"As for all the stuff," he says as he fires up his $75,000 electric vehicle, "that's the upside to only taking two weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?" That last line delivered with a proudly smarmy wink.

You have to give Cadillac credit. The ad is a shrewdly self-aware, beautifully produced entry in a tradition of French-bashing that goes back to Shakespearian times and has been revived repeatedly by U.S. politicians who want to make sure their constituents understand the dark side of croissants and universal, humane health care. Luxury electric vehicles may be a novelty, but disdaining the French for enjoying life too much? Plus ça change.

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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