Audi's 'Green Police' Super Bowl ad controversial

Audi's Super Bowl ad has been controversial for its portrayal of environmental issues and echoes of Nazi-era police.

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Perhaps you saw that ad during the Superbowl in which eco-enforcing "Green Police" seem to run a police state of sorts. They arrest a man for choosing plastic bags at the checkout counter, storm a house for a battery discarded in the garbage, and handcuff another man on his front porch in a "light bulb crackdown." He'd installed incandescent — rather than, presumably, compact fluorescent — light bulbs.

During nearly its entire one-minute duration, the ad keeps the viewer guessing as to what it's selling — until the very end when a single driver passes unmolested through an "eco-check" roadblock. (Is that an aardvark sniffing out eco-offenses, by the way?)

The car he's driving is, we learn, an Audi — the Audi A3 TDI clean diesel to be exact — a five-seater that's supposed to get 42 miles per gallon on the highway, as well as have "healthy portions of low-end torque." Green Car Journal dubbed it the "green car of the year."

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The ad, which elicited glee or despair – depending on where one falls on the "people-are-degrading-the-environment" spectrum – has generated substantial buzz on the Internet not least because of its ambiguity.

It serves as a nice litmus test of — well, something that’s not entirely clear, but which echoes sentiments often voiced in discussions around environmental degradation and human-caused climate change.

Audi's eco-friendly alternate universe looks rather Orwellian, with checkpoints, raids (one man is pulled out of a hot tub; at 105 degrees, the temperature was too high), and constant intrusion into people's private lives — a kind of libertarian nightmare.

The sole character who gets off easy in this world is the guy with the "greenest car" (manufactured by you-know-who).

But — and here viewer confusion seems unavoidable — who wants to be a winner in this universe? As Groucho Marx once said, "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." In other words, thanks, but no thanks. That's one in-crowd we'd rather not be in with.

 And that's why many, although not all, who lean greenward seem to dislike the commercial.

Of the ad, The New York Times says, "This misguided spot put the 'mental' in 'environmental."

One commenter at Discover says, "Green, yet it mocks the environmental movement. I don’t get it."

Another, this one at the NFL site, takes it literally — and is afraid: "This is by far the scariest commercial I’ve ever seen! This is not just a commercial. Its every liberal’s and Hippie’s ... dream."

A blogger at Get Energy Smart Now!, meanwhile, calls it "The Most Environmentally Unfriendly Super Bowl Ad." The soundtrack to the commercial — "Green Police" — is a reworked song by rock band Cheap Trick, originally titled "Dream Police."

The blogger then points out that "Green Police" was a term used for uniformed Nazi police (Ordnungspolizei or Grüne Polizei) in Nazi Germany:

At the very least, the indictment proves wrong a forecast made in late January by the online publication Daily Finance. Said the paper: "it's certainly never fortuitous for a German company to bring up reminders of the Third Reich. ... Still, it's likely that most U.S. viewers won't connect the 'Green Police' in their history books with the ones in Audi's Super Bowl Ad."

Grist has a slightly more nuanced take on the ad. "At first blush this seems like more teabagging -- appealing to angry white men with the same old stereotype of environmentalists as meddling do-gooders obsessed with picayune behavioral sins," says David Roberts

But after considering that interpretation, he rejects it, concluding, "The ad only makes sense if it's aimed at people who acknowledge the moral authority of the green police -- people who may find those obligations tiresome and constraining on occasion, who only fitfully meet them, who may be annoyed by sticklers and naggers, but who recognize that living more sustainably is in fact the moral thing to do. This basically describes every guy I know."

Mr. Roberts then points out that everyone arrested in the commercial is a man. (I'll add that all offenders are also Caucasian. At least one green policeman, on the other hand, is African-American. But that's it for diversity in this eco-fascist world.)

Is the gender-skewing significant? Roberts thinks so. Middle-class males are Audi's target demographic, he says. The message to that demographic: "Here's a way to meet your green obligations and still have a ["mean"] car! The Audi A3 is both green and desirable -- indeed more desirable because it's green. Buried deep in this ad, in other words, is a bright green message: prosperity, pleasure, and sustainability can be achieved together."

Those at This Dish is Vegetarian, meanwhile, take the commercial more at (a certain) face value.

"Kudos to Audi for addressing an important issue with a sense of humor rather than the standard doomsday scenario that is typically associated with the Green movement," they say.

Editor's Note: The Monitor's Environment section has a new URL. And there's also a new URL for our Bright Green blog. We hope you'll bookmark these and visit often.

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