Go after the middle, says the Jeep ad; but is that the middle?

The Jeep ad wasn’t for me.

And I mean that in two ways: I’m not part of the target audience that the ad was made for, and neither am I likely to find any appeal in Jeep models similar to the one shown.

I recently moved to a new neighborhood in a housing development that is still under construction. It’s one of those fairly high-density neighborhoods made up of townhomes (in other parts of the country they’d be called row houses) that all look alike from the outside and single-family homes that are almost as close together as the townhomes are. As I walk around the neighborhood, I like to play a game by myself, and that is to guess, based on the cars parked in the tiny driveways, the political affiliations of the homeowners. You see, I live in a red part of a red state, but my politics are blue, so I’m always on the lookout for people I might be able to identify with.

And while most of the time I’ll never know for sure if I’m guessing right, there is some validity to my little game. After all, have you ever seen one of those big monster pickups with Biden flags attached to it? Seriously, there are correlations between one’s politics and the car one drives. According to a study last year by the market research firm Strategic Vision, purchasers of heavy-duty pickups are more than nine times as likely to be Republicans than Democrats. And buyers of full-size utility vehicles are more than four times as likely to be Republicans than Democrats.

And while the popularity margins aren’t quite as large, smaller vehicles are more likely to be purchased by Democrats than by Republicans. Democrats also tend to keep their cars longer, usually for more than a decade, than Republicans do.

This all makes my car (pictured) an example of a Democratic car. I drive an aging Toyota Corolla, one that is in desperate need of a paint job (there’s not a bit of shine left on the roof) and also has dents on the rear right fender caused by three accidents (none of them my fault). And while, to be honest, there may be some reverse snobbery going on, the car says something about me. I value fuel economy and I’m not looking at my car as a status symbol that shows off my wealth.

And that gets us back to the Super Bowl ad. Not only does the Jeep CR-5 shown in the ad look like a Republican vehicle, the ad oozes Republicanism.

The ad, which features Bruce Springsteen, does have a message that I like, a message that should be bipartisan: With all the divisions we see around us, we need to find a happy and peaceful middle. To emphasize its point, most of the ad is filmed near the geographic center of the contiguous United States.

But what is the happy middle that is portrayed by the ad? It is a “middle” that excludes me and millions of others — in fact, anyone who wouldn’t appreciate a chapel that features a Christian cross superimposed on an outline of the United States with a red-white-an-blue flag motif. This is a middle made for conservatives, one that sees the wealth of the country in its rural spaces, in its churches, in the open road, in the rugged individual wearing a cowboy hat. I have nothing against rural spaces (that’s where I grew up) and nothing against churches (I attend one nearly every Sunday, or I did until the pandemic came along). But they aren’t where the middle is. The middle has not just rural spaces, but also cities and suburbs. The middle has not just conservative churches, but also buildings for a wealth of religions as well as whatever we can find that would symbolize people of no or little religious practice. The middle has not just fields and remote desert, but also dense cities and factories and office buildings. The America pictured in this ad doesn’t look like the average America at all. And while I find that the strength of the United States can be found in its diversity of people, this ad is strangely devoid anyone other than Springsteen — even in the few seconds of urban spaces shown, people are barely seen and streets are empty.

I am more than happy to seek a common middle. But I’m about as likely to find it in this ad as I am to purchase a vehicle like the one it features.

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