Let’s talk about boys, girls, and cars. Volkswagen’s television commercial that has recently been aired in Australia portrays a group of “adorable” children at a birthday party and is, at first glance, a sweetly innocent way of pointing out the many features on their vehicles. Fine. Awesome. You have park-assist, collision prevention, headlights (bestill my beating heart), though I imagine Volkswagen doesn’t deliver on the transformer capabilities they allude to in this particular ad.
Haven’t seen it? Check it out here before reading any further. As you watch, really think about what is going on in the story being told.
Seen it? Okay, so what bothers me is the narrative which Volkswagen has chosen in order to spruik their car. A three-way love triangle of jealousy, competition, and aggression in which two boys vie for the affections of the girl. OBVIOUSLY, the girl chooses the boy with the car.
Because that’s how attraction works.
Not only does the little girl pick the car over her previous love interest but she delights in the displays of ridicule and bullying that the new, shiny version partakes in in order to win her affection.
The end of the ad sees the boy’s father come and collect him in a matching “real” version of the dress-up car and together they laugh and drive away. The end scene makes us understand that the father and son have hatched this scheme together, almost as though the father is passing down some long-held wisdom about women and sexual rivalry.
Sigh. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.
What does this ad say about the girl?
1: She is attracted to shiny things: i.e. wealth and power.
2: She enjoys watching boys fight over her.
3: She knows she is a prize to be won by the highest bidder.
4: She will choose the boy who is most capable of caring for her, with Volkswagen playing into the cliché of girls needing the physical (and financial) protection of men in order to advertise their collision prevention technology (groan.)
5: She’s a shallow idiot (aren’t we all? Volkswagen seems to think so.)
What I wonder, however, is do girls really get that excited about cars? Or do they just pretend to because it makes boys like them better?
The car in this ad isn’t exactly a luxury or muscle car. That is, this isn’t a car that I imagine appeals to many men, so is Volkswagen actually trying to sell to a female market through this story? Are they really saying “look ladies this car is the equivalent of a gentleman taking care of you”? I find it highly confusing. Is the so-called “romance” seen through the so-called “cuteness” of obnoxious children supposed to appeal to women in some way?
And the boy?
1: Girls are a prize he can win through money, showmanship and bullying.
2: Girls value material wealth above personality or ethics.
3: His father had bestowed upon him the secret truth of women’s shallow natures.
4: If another boy has something you want, you can simply take it if you have more material wealth.
5: The joy in gaining the affection of a girl is as much about triumph over another male as it is about the relationship with that girl (note the expression of smug satisfaction when the boy in the car pushes his rival to the side.)
This ad is an example, to me, of these dangerous and ingrained narratives that exist in our daily lives. It is moderately cute. They are, after all, only selling a hatchback car—nothing sexy about that—but they are playing with old ideas of sexual politics, reinforcing clichés and stereotypes of how romantic relationships are supposed to look, and suggesting (because of the age of these “characters”) that there is some universal truth those representations.
I’m surprised the little boy in the car costume didn’t pull the girl’s hair, or push her over as a sign that he “liked” her.
Don’t forget to signup for regular blog posts to receive a free copy of my novella, THE STATION!