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America’s Most Toxic Car Ads: A Toxic Masculinity Twofer

3:30 PM PDT on September 14, 2021

White passenger eyes closed; black driver looks quizzical

Editor's Note: This is the third match-up in our competition to find America's Most Toxic Car Ad. In the first round, the Hummer EV narrowly beat out the Hummer H3 to advance to the quarterfinals. Scroll to the bottom to vote for this match-up, and take a moment to vote in our second bout, Dodge Demon vs. Dodge Hellcat/Viper, before polls close at 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Contrary to what the all-powerful truck nut lobby would have you believe, the kind of car you drive (or don't drive!) connotes literally nothing about your gonads, genitals, or secondary sex characteristics, much less the infinite range of gender expressions and sexual orientations that have existed since the dawn of the species.

Unfortunately, the average American auto ad exec never made it to gender studies 101.

Today, we're looking at two commercials that harness some of the blandest flavors of heteropatriarchy to shame insecure people into buying death machines — and while these two happen to be from Chevy, most automakers featured in the contest are guilty of it, too.

The Chevrolet Colorado, 2005

We couldn't possibly sum up what's wrong with this 2005 Chevy ad better than our submitter, Andrew B., so we're just going to quote him in full:

Does a man being comfortable with himself and rocking out to a total BOP of a Shania Twain song inflame your lovely mix of misogyny, toxic masculinity, homophobia, and transphobia? The newest innovation from Chevy: a truck cabin big enough for you AND your gay panic.

On a personal note, this is SUCH an early-2000s ad and the kind of thing I just unknowingly internalized as a young queer person. Shit like this made my life so much more difficult, because it told me that my expectation should be that everyone would be uncomfortable with me and that it would be my fault. So much so that it can be leveraged for all-American comedy and selling cars. I NEVER forgot this ad and had a knee-jerk averse reaction to that song for YEARS until the first time I heard it at a gay club and saw the joy that it could bring. Fuck you, Chevrolet.

Andrew isn't the only one who resents Chevy for normalizing this kind of everyday abuse in a prime-time ad — not to mention forever tainting our associations with what is objectively one of the best karaoke songs of all time for people of all genders. After the spot was nominated for Images in Advertising's "Clean Up Your Act" award, Chevy pulled it off the air and offered a not-especially-apologetic apology that promised the company would "explore opportunities to market directly to GLBT customers," and that it was "working to develop better insights into this buyer group."

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation offered one "better insight" when it pointed out that the company's recent sponsorship of a nationwide evangelical Christian music and worship tour featuring Pastor Max "Gay-Marriage-is-a-Slippery-Slope-to-Human/Giraffe-Marriage" Lucado as headliner was ... not a great start.

But hey, 2005 was more than a decade ago! Surely Chevy has learned the error of its ways!

Yeah, about that...

The Chevrolet Colorado, 2015

This 2015 campaign for the new-and-improved (and-20-percent-heavier) edition of the Chevy Colorado doesn't scream offensive "no homo" stereotypes quite as explicitly as its 2005 counterpart.

But it's not that far off.

In the spot, which aired during 50th Superbowl and remained in circulation for at least two years, a focus group of selectively edited everyday Americans are shown photos of the same actor standing in front of two cars: the extremely awesome and tough Chevy Colorado, and a puny sedan for weak emasculated babies.

Then they are asked a series of leading questions about these two drivers — who, once again, are literally the same person.

Who they find more sexually alluring? (All choose the truck driver, including, alarmingly, the focus group composed entirely of children).

Which car would fare better in a zombie apocalypse? (Clearly the truck, which is designed to decimate human bodies, both dead and undead.)

What kind of pet would each driver have? (A truck driver apparently is running an illegal animal trading ring out of his rig, because the focus group says he looks like he'd own a "tarantula," "rattlesnake," or at the minimum, a sweet "Timberwolf/Husky" crossbreed. The Sedan driver, meanwhile, looks like the only animals he husbands are ..."maybe, like, some birds.")

Which driver is living and which is "merely existing"? (We blacked out from crushing nihilist depression by this point in the commercial, but we're guessing the truck wins again.)

Of course, the opinions of the focus group provably say a little more about how toxic car ads like the 2005 Colorado spot have conditioned Americans to think about truck and sedan drivers from the youngest possible age, rather than anything about the drivers themselves. But as critic Derrick Clifton points out in the Mic, the commercial itself also perpetuates that conditioning, among men and people of other genders:

"But attaching value to objects that are marketed as 'tough' may influence men to repress their true selves, preventing a healthy range of emotional expressions in favor of consistent roughness and virility," Clifton writes. This ideal has negative effects on how we view women too. Hegemonic masculinity encourages a static view of men as dominant and women as docile — and heterosexual, of course."

But whether hegemonic masculinity trumps Shania-fied homophobia is up to you.

It's time to vote: Which ad deserves to advance to the quarterfinals? Polls are open until Friday, Sept. 15 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

[poll id="190"]

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