Skip to main content

Why the Dylan ad was disturbing

By Ruben Navarrette
updated 2:14 PM EST, Tue February 4, 2014
Bob Dylan, performing here in 2012, appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler.
Bob Dylan, performing here in 2012, appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Super Bowl ads fill void of officials refusing to be provocative
  • Navarrette: Bob Dylan's ad for Chrysler promotes wrongheaded protectionism
  • No jobs in today's global market are "reserved' for Americans, Navarrette says
  • He says Chrysler is hypocritical since it's now owned by Italian carmaker Fiat

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- It used to be that our elected officials could be counted on to pull us out of our comfort zones with creative and provocative statements on the critical issues of our time. They would challenge us and force us to think deeply and defend our beliefs.

Not anymore. That sort of loose talk can alienate folks and cost you campaign contributions. So today, that role of political provocateur is filled by, of all things, Super Bowl commercials.

The most controversial and important advertisement for this year's championship game is not that multilingual Coca-Cola ad that everyone is talking about, the one that caused so much needless angst in the culture wars and has nativists threatening to boycott the soft drink maker.

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

The more significant, and more troubling, spot in this year's assortment of Super Bowl ads didn't use multiculturalism to sell soda. It used protectionism -- along with patriotic references to "American pride" -- to sell cars. Specifically, the idea was to sell cars made in the United States and, even more to the point, cars made in Detroit by Chrysler.

The commercial veered off into the surreal when it cast Bob Dylan as an anti-globalist. Channeling the kind of small-minded protectionism you heard from union leaders during the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, a voice urges you to support the home team and buy American.

"Detroit made cars," the narrator says, "and cars made America." Dismissing foreign imports, he says, "you can't import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line."

Super Bowl ads: Winners and losers
Puppies, Beckham in viral Super Bowl ads

So "import" is a dirty word? Well, maybe not. The car featured in the commercial is the Chrysler 200, which is being billed as "America's import." What in the world does that mean? How do you "import" something that is made in America?

This could be a case of Chrysler trying to be too cute. The company knows that -- from handbags to shoes to wines -- imports are popular. So it's trying to use the popularity of that word to package its car as a domestic import? What a paradox.

The secret ingredient behind all this workmanship? "American pride."

Yet here is the question that the commercial doesn't answer. Is this American pride an asset, or a liability? That is, a good thing or a bad thing?

The message is that American pride is undeniably good because it gives one the satisfaction that comes from crafting a fine automobile. Still, the truth is that it has a bad side as well. It's that pride -- the sense that we're better than everyone else -- gets in the way of competing with the rest of the world. We think we're entitled to make cars for as long as like, and at the wages that we demand and deserve. Why? Because we're Americans, and we're proud -- too proud to settle for less.

Finally, as Dylan walks into a pool hall -- radiating cool -- his apparent voice-over goes in for the kill.

"Let Germany brew your beer," he says. "Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car."

The spot seemed like a union-produced video designed to recruit new members. Not that the commercial wasn't well made. It was. But it was still a bad idea, and it conveyed a potentially harmful message.

Millions of Americans tune in to watch the Super Bowl. We need our countrymen to understand that no jobs are marked "reserved," just for them, like tables in a restaurant. They have to compete in the global marketplace. It doesn't help them to try to close off foreign competition.

Ironically, the people who run Chrysler -- or rather used to run it -- understand this principle well. You see, the company was recently sold to the Italian carmaker Fiat. When the company went up for sale, the original owners could have insisted that the buyer be American. You know, American pride and all that. But it didn't. Instead, company officials entertained offers from abroad; in fact, you could say that the owners "imported" prospective buyers. And when a deal was finally struck, the sale went to a foreign company. How about that?

The United Auto Workers union owned 41.46% of Chrysler, a stake that Fiat recently agreed to buy. So while the union extols the virtue of U.S. labor, it has no qualms about accepting money from abroad.

When they put up a "For Sale" sign, the former owners of Chrysler looked all over the world for the best deal. And now that it's under new management, the company wants to discourage car buyers from doing the same.

That's wrong. And it's going to take more than a slick ad to make it look right.

But one part of the commercial rings true, and it takes us back to Dylan. It turns out that maybe casting the iconic musician in this role wasn't a stretch after all. Music writers and others who have followed his career in recent years have detected, as early as 2006, a growing opposition to globalization, or at least an unease about its effects on U.S. workers.

So it's silly for some people to be talking about how Dylan "sold out" by making this commercial. He didn't. He is where he's long been on this issue. It's just that Chrysler finally caught up to him.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT