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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.

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff / February 9, 2010

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.

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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."

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."

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