[Update: Just hours after this story was first published, Volkswagen and their production partners have removed the video in question from their YouTube and Vimeo pages. Fortunately, we found another copy of the video, which is embedded below.]
Over recent weeks, viewing news updates at CBC online has become increasingly frustrating, due to a high-rotation, pre-roll spot given to an intensely sexist Volkswagen Canada ad for the 2012 Passat, which appears regularly prior to CBC video content.
Titled “It pretty much sells itself”, the Volkswagen ad, featured by Canada’s public broadcaster, is rooted in an offensively sexist storyline and unintentionally points to many intrinsic problems of car culture in North America. The storyline was described on the Volkswagen YouTube channel as “a very pregnant woman, her expectant husband and a paramedic come together to make an unexpected point about the 2012 Volkswagen Passat.”
In the ad, a young couple in a VW Passat is rushing to a hospital. The woman breathes heavily, dealing with childbirth contractions, as city scenery files by. Upon arrival at emergency the paramedic briefly addresses the couple before switching his attention from the pending childbirth to the Volkswagen car. He turns to the husband and asks, “This is the new Passat, right?” as the woman distressingly signals for attention from the front seat.
The story’s focus quickly turns from the pregnant woman to silly interactions between the husband and the paramedic on different features included in the new Passat. While the viewer is naturally curious about the pending child delivery that launched the ad narrative, the camera cuts to extended interior car shots, completely erasing the pregnant woman from the visuals.
Cutting back to the unfolding scene, the woman cries out for help as the guys incessantly confer on the car. “Starts with a button?” asks the paramedic. “Sure does” responds the husband, continuing on in blatant disrespect to a woman in need of support.
The ad finishes with the husband swinging the driver seat door closed on the pregnant partner calling for support. “Guys? Having a baby here!” cries the pregnant women as the men stupidly admire the car.
This Volkswagen ad, rooted in a overtly sexist storyline, clearly crosses a red line in celebrating an automobile over human life.
Although only one car clip out of thousands broadcasting daily, this television spot, co-created by Toronto ad agency Red Urban and filmmaker Jean-Michel Ravon of Untitled Films, highlights the inhumanity of an automobile obsessed society. Difficult questions must to be directed toward the ad creators for artistic complicity in corporate car culture.
Driving the ecological crisis
At a time of global ecological crisis directly related to the overuse of automobiles, the CBC must be called to question for featuring such a disturbing ad celebrating a new car over childbirth. As many climate justice activists from Canada join the international UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, calling attention to issues relating to environmental justice, this Volkswagen ad should be pulled immediately by the CBC.
As people in Canada challenge a Conservative government undermining efforts to reach a global consensus to seriously address climate change, do we want our public broadcaster featuring a Volkswagen ad celebrating the car culture that climate change deniers fight to defend?
This advertisement, driven by a sexist storyline that disrespects an expecting mother, speaks to essential issues facing North American society in relation to car culture.
Over past decades we have built our cities in relation to the automobile, a machine rooted in dependence on non-renewable resources. Urban design shaped by cars, promoting automobile dependency, is widely regarded as being a central element to the contemporary climate crisis threatening to undermine life on earth.
In Canada, the environmental impacts stemming from automobile dependence and culture are alarmingly clear in the environmental devastation stemming from the tar sands industry, fiercely backed by Canada’s Conservative government.
Valuing automobiles over human life and the environment, succinctly illustrated by the VW Passat ad, is a crime against future generations and drives industries across the globe to destroy environments for access to oil.
Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay by Montreal activists Yves Engler and Bianca Mugyenyi, is a excellent read on these issues.
Newer dirty forms of oil like Alberta’s tar sands are aptly described by Vancouver activist Harjap Grewal in the new environmental documentary END:CIV. He illustrates a society addicted to oil, likening it to a drug addict: “it’s like the world is addicted to crack and the tar sands are the most disgusting, dirty form of crack that will keep us addicted for a lot longer.”
Challenging the CBC to pull the sexist 2011 VW Passat ad will not fully address the major environmental questions about our dependence on automobiles and oil; however, as history illustrates, change happens in tiny steps.
At this time of environmental crisis let us stop Canada’s public broadcaster from featuring such offensive ads. Promoting cars over human life is simply not acceptable and must not pass without protest.
Illustration by Coco Riot.