By Douglas S. Barasch
If eco types didn’t find themselves laughing at the Audi Green Police commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl last night, my feeling is that--tsk, tsk--we’re probably taking ourselves way too seriously. The ad cracked me up for several reasons:
-- Most well-meaning environmentalists are chronically guilt-ridden. I constantly confront my inadequacy. Do I always carry my plastic bottle to the nearest recycling bin? (Oops—what am I doing with a plastic bottle in the first place?) Do I remember to bring a canvas bag to the supermarket? Bring my own thermos to Dunkin Donuts? Does my car get 50 mpg? Do I compost? Do I sometimes leave the water running too long? The Audi commercial hit on all these little pockets of self-recrimination.
-- Environmentalists can be a bit overbearing (and unbearable) at times. There is an undeniable holier-than-thou syndrome that runs through the movement; we too often come off as scolds. So to see ourselves caricatured as green police in nerdy forest-green shorts flushing people out of their hot tubs (because, basically, we’re a bunch of killjoys) is just dead-on satire.
-- We’re subject to a perpetual SWAT team mentality of crisis and urgency. Those swarming uniformed agents--aided by the funny, quick-paced editing of the various vignettes--look so EARNEST as they race around saving the world from imminent doom. Greenies tend to do that a lot.
-- We can identify with BOTH the earth-destroying perps AND the virtuous green cops. Because we basically alternate between these two identities. And we also identify, at times, with the virtuous driver of the clean diesel Audi A3 TDI who is waved through a long line of idling cars waiting to get inspected by the green brigade and gets to drive free and fast into the distance with a self-satisfied smile.
-- Then there’s that final gag that turns the tables on the real cops. Didn’t you just love the nerdy-looking Green Cop telling the tough-looking guy in the patrol car to step out of his vehicle and place his Styrofoam coffee cup on the roof of his car?
The basic message for all of us: if we can’t laugh at ourselves, then we’re really doomed.
Of course, there are some folks who didn’t think the ad was so funny, or at least aren’t so sure. (I polled a few of my colleagues at the Natural Resources Defense Council: the results of my highly unscientific survey were inconclusive.) But you can check out some of the other Monday morning quarterbacking:
More important is the question of whether the Audi “clean diesel” is really all that clean—a question I’ll leave to the experts. In an upcoming story in OnEarth, contributing editor Craig Canine profiles Honda and reports that there may be no single, clear-cut winner-take-all technology in the race to build the future’s cleanest vehicles. Audi may be betting on cleaner diesel, but others are putting their money on plug-in electrics and improved hybrids. And still others are forging ahead to innovate the ultimate hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle (including Honda). Stay tuned.