Sunday Story: Cheap Shot

by J.Emerson

After getting lost in the maze of hallways numerous times, I finally found the door I was looking for. I knocked and it swung open sharply. Larry stood there with a devilish grin on his face, the kind he got when he was really proud of something. I could see a still from his work on the enormous screen behind him. A famous actor stood next to a luxury sedan, pointing at it with a smirk. Before I could say anything, Larry grabbed me by my collar and pulled me into his lair.

We sat down amongst the plethora of expensive video editing equipment in the small, dark room. He grabbed the burrito out of my hand and tore into it with ravenous force.

“So what did you bring me here to see? I know it’s gotta be something special. You usually don’t care about commercials.” He gulped down his mouthful of food, then began to explain.

“It’s brilliant. This is, like, the nuclear option of car ads. You know that a lot of luxury cars aren’t made in developed countries anymore?”


“You do, but not many others. Nobody actually pays attention anymore. The people that buy them just assume they’re being put together by diligent men in white lab coats. Or skilled craftsmen with files and gauges. They don’t even read the window sticker.”

“So what? Do people actually care? Should they?” That smile crept back on his face again.

“Advertising is just telling people what they should and shouldn’t care about. It’s about inventing needs. It’s about making people anxious over stuff they never even thought about.”

“That’s nice. Why don’t you go write for Mother Jones?”

“Hey, screw you. I’m no hippie. I don’t even recycle.” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and then reeled back around to his custom keyboard.

“Watch and learn something. This is going to be historic.” As I looked up at the screen, he hit play. The famous actor flashed his brilliant white teeth as he began to speak.

“There are a lot of ‘luxury’ cars on the market today,” he crooned, making smug little quotation marks with his hands as he said the magic l-word. “But where does ‘luxury’ really come from?” He walked past the sedan, towards a door on a blank white wall. He flashed another smirk at the camera as he twisted the knob and strode through the doorway.

Now the actor was standing outside a dingy factory. Sullen men in dirty uniforms were filing out. They were getting on bicycles or waiting trains to go home- not cars. Dogs barked in the potholed street, and graffiti covered the mostly abandoned buildings. There was another luxury sedan parked on the curb. The swoop of the camera got the badge in full relief- a famous luxury maker.

“Can a ‘luxury’ car come from Romania? After all, that’s where this one is made.” He gave the fender a little rap with his hand. Still smiling, he shook his head slightly. He grabbed another door, this time on a graffiti-tagged wall. He opened it, and strode into the next scene.

“How about Mexico? That’s where this maker builds its most popular luxury sedan.” Another sedan, another popular luxury marque. This time, they were in a dusty shipping yard. Supervisors were yelling at stooped workers, as they struggled to push newly completed cars into battered shipping containers. The fell into their slots with a great clanging and banging of metal. The actor had a look on his face that was something of a cross between bemusement and vague horror. He found his next door rather quickly. There was a shift in the music that indicated an incipient emotional high point. The door opened again.

This time, the camera revealed a Dickensian industrial nightmare. Swarms of incredibly dirty workers mobbed around an open-cast steel furnace. A giant bucket plunged into the liquid metal, strings of it flying off in great ghostly globs. The workers struggled to move a giant, soot-encrusted mold into position. The bucket hovered over the mold for a moment, and then poured its contents out haphazardly. Workers jumped and dodged to avoid the white-hot metal spilling onto the floor. Throughout this procedure, filmed in agonizingly high definition, the actor stood silently. Then, turning to the camera, he spoke.

“Can ‘luxury’ come from China? That’s where one major brand casts most of its engines and steel parts.” The workers were swarming back around the mold. They began to hit at it with sledgehammers and pickaxes. Suddenly, it cracked and violently split open. Standing there, still red-hot, was a cast sculpture of yet another luxury maker’s logo. The camera flipped back to the actor. His face had that same look of mild terror and bemusement that he regarded the Mexican street with. He walked back out the door.

Now he was standing in a well-lit, clean factory. A shiny new luxury car rolled off the end of a line, its horn giving a crisp honk. The actor smiled, this time with genuine appreciation. An in-car shot showed two men carefully inspecting the interior trim. One was an Asian man with a pocket flashlight and a studious expression. The other was an American with a clipboard and pen. As the car rolled to a stop, they got out in sync. The two men looked across the top of the car at each other, and nodded in mutual acknowledgment of a job well done. The camera refocused on the famous actor.

“All of Brand X’s cars and engines are made in Japan and the United States. After all, shouldn’t luxury cars be made by people that can appreciate them?” The scene cut away to Brand X’s logo and a slogan- “Made by the Luxury Professionals.” Larry was beaming.

“So what do you think?”

“Inane, possibly xenophobic, and full of misdirection. Nice job on the lighting effects, though.”

“This is big. This is going to shake up the whole paradigm.”

“I just don’t see the point, personally. I don’t think anyone really cares about where their cars are built anymore, Larry. Even luxury cars. Everybody buys stuff from the Third World.”

“You’re missing the point. Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it can’t be a value. Origin is a big part of that. Think about the burrito that I just wolfed down. A big part of Chipotle’s marketing spiel is that you know exactly what you’re getting. The meat isn’t raised in factory farms. The vegetables are locally grown. This is stuff that people are willing to pay for.”

“There are a lot of luxury goods made with cheap labor. People still buy Iphones made in China.”

“And people are still dumb enough to believe that ‘exclusivity’ is what sells Iphones, not the fact that Droids are buggy garbage. A phone isn’t exactly a high-stakes investment. If it breaks, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not opposed to people outsourcing their cheap, low-stakes stuff. That’s how industrial economies get their start. There are some things that shouldn’t be gambled with, though. When people’s dogs are dying because their biscuits are laced with melamine, they start to pay attention. It’s not unreasonable to want to know where your important stuff is coming from, because there’s all kinds of ways to cut corners that aren’t obvious to the end consumer.”

“A car doesn’t have to be made in a specific place to be reliable. There have been plenty of German, American, and Japanese cars that weren’t exactly high quality.”

“True enough. But who wants to fork over $50,000 for a car that was made by guys earning $4.00 an hour? Where’s the added value for you, the consumer? They aren’t making it any more amazing because they scrimped on the labor. That’s just the company soaking you, man. When they build the same car in two places, one with decent labor standards and the other without, they aren’t cutting you a check for the difference. That money is just going right in the safe. Same thing with all these ‘luxury’ companies who are just selling their logo. They’re playing the global trade game, and you should too.”

“I guess I see your point.” Larry nodded.

“It’s a start.”

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2 of 37 comments
  • Lie2me Lie2me on Jun 01, 2014

    It shouldn't matter where a car is made as long as it's designed and engineered to the standards you expect from whatever company you chose. If there is major differences in the quality of the manufacturing on the same car from one location to another then that car company has some serious problems

  • Frantz Frantz on Jun 01, 2014

    I have no interest in driving the car at all after seeing the commercial. None of it made the car seem fun. Seems to be targeted towards the sedan crowd, who ended up buying sedans. So a failure in marketing or a failure in design? (The term failure used based on sales figures)

  • BEPLA "Quality is Job........well, it's someone's job, but it's not our job.Neither is building vehicles that people actually want or need.We only build what's most profitable. If only someone would buy our 97 day supply of SuperDutys."
  • Bullnuke One might ask the reason that auto manufacturers desire its removal , knowing that an AM radio receiver portion of an "infotainment system" is a relatively tiny IC chip and exceedingly inexpensive to include. I remember constructing a simple AM receiver as a kid using a crystal, a variable capacitor, a toilet paper tube wrapped in bare copper wire, and a diode that could pick up AM stations from several miles away. A simple research of the pros/cons of AM vs FM may be instructive. Noise and static is a common issue (some of us older folks remember interference with the AM band from breaker-point ignition systems from times gone by and the methods to mitigate it). Is the push toward electrification reintroducing the electrical interference problem to the AM band that is expensively difficult to mitigate? Is the fact that AM, as imperfect as it may be, has a much longer signal "reach" than FM? The automobile industry Borg does nothing without a long term plan for greater and greater control of the vehicle that you pay for but do not truly own. The push to remove AM receivers from the vehicles that the meat puppets purchase but do not truly own indicates that there is, indeed, much more to this story...
  • Ajla Not very impressive materials. And nearly every control touch point not on the screen is piano black.
  • Azfelix Justice is depicted as being blind(folded) to represent the expectation that everyone is treated equally when judged. What could possibly go wrong when certain groups or individuals receive preferential or disadvantageous treatment by the legal branch of the government? /s
  • Oberkanone AM Radio forever! Fully support government mandate to require AM in vehicles.