Skip to main content

Why the Dylan ad was disturbing

By Ruben Navarrette
February 4, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Bob Dylan, performing here in 2012, appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler.
Bob Dylan, performing here in 2012, appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Super Bowl ads fill void of officials refusing to be provocative
  • Navarrette: Bob Dylan's ad for Chrysler promotes wrongheaded protectionism
  • No jobs in today's global market are "reserved' for Americans, Navarrette says
  • He says Chrysler is hypocritical since it's now owned by Italian carmaker Fiat

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- It used to be that our elected officials could be counted on to pull us out of our comfort zones with creative and provocative statements on the critical issues of our time. They would challenge us and force us to think deeply and defend our beliefs.

Not anymore. That sort of loose talk can alienate folks and cost you campaign contributions. So today, that role of political provocateur is filled by, of all things, Super Bowl commercials.

The most controversial and important advertisement for this year's championship game is not that multilingual Coca-Cola ad that everyone is talking about, the one that caused so much needless angst in the culture wars and has nativists threatening to boycott the soft drink maker.

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

The more significant, and more troubling, spot in this year's assortment of Super Bowl ads didn't use multiculturalism to sell soda. It used protectionism -- along with patriotic references to "American pride" -- to sell cars. Specifically, the idea was to sell cars made in the United States and, even more to the point, cars made in Detroit by Chrysler.

The commercial veered off into the surreal when it cast Bob Dylan as an anti-globalist. Channeling the kind of small-minded protectionism you heard from union leaders during the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, a voice urges you to support the home team and buy American.

"Detroit made cars," the narrator says, "and cars made America." Dismissing foreign imports, he says, "you can't import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line."

Super Bowl ads: Winners and losers
Puppies, Beckham in viral Super Bowl ads

So "import" is a dirty word? Well, maybe not. The car featured in the commercial is the Chrysler 200, which is being billed as "America's import." What in the world does that mean? How do you "import" something that is made in America?

This could be a case of Chrysler trying to be too cute. The company knows that -- from handbags to shoes to wines -- imports are popular. So it's trying to use the popularity of that word to package its car as a domestic import? What a paradox.

The secret ingredient behind all this workmanship? "American pride."

Yet here is the question that the commercial doesn't answer. Is this American pride an asset, or a liability? That is, a good thing or a bad thing?

The message is that American pride is undeniably good because it gives one the satisfaction that comes from crafting a fine automobile. Still, the truth is that it has a bad side as well. It's that pride -- the sense that we're better than everyone else -- gets in the way of competing with the rest of the world. We think we're entitled to make cars for as long as like, and at the wages that we demand and deserve. Why? Because we're Americans, and we're proud -- too proud to settle for less.

Finally, as Dylan walks into a pool hall -- radiating cool -- his apparent voice-over goes in for the kill.

"Let Germany brew your beer," he says. "Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car."

The spot seemed like a union-produced video designed to recruit new members. Not that the commercial wasn't well made. It was. But it was still a bad idea, and it conveyed a potentially harmful message.

Millions of Americans tune in to watch the Super Bowl. We need our countrymen to understand that no jobs are marked "reserved," just for them, like tables in a restaurant. They have to compete in the global marketplace. It doesn't help them to try to close off foreign competition.

Ironically, the people who run Chrysler -- or rather used to run it -- understand this principle well. You see, the company was recently sold to the Italian carmaker Fiat. When the company went up for sale, the original owners could have insisted that the buyer be American. You know, American pride and all that. But it didn't. Instead, company officials entertained offers from abroad; in fact, you could say that the owners "imported" prospective buyers. And when a deal was finally struck, the sale went to a foreign company. How about that?

The United Auto Workers union owned 41.46% of Chrysler, a stake that Fiat recently agreed to buy. So while the union extols the virtue of U.S. labor, it has no qualms about accepting money from abroad.

When they put up a "For Sale" sign, the former owners of Chrysler looked all over the world for the best deal. And now that it's under new management, the company wants to discourage car buyers from doing the same.

That's wrong. And it's going to take more than a slick ad to make it look right.

But one part of the commercial rings true, and it takes us back to Dylan. It turns out that maybe casting the iconic musician in this role wasn't a stretch after all. Music writers and others who have followed his career in recent years have detected, as early as 2006, a growing opposition to globalization, or at least an unease about its effects on U.S. workers.

So it's silly for some people to be talking about how Dylan "sold out" by making this commercial. He didn't. He is where he's long been on this issue. It's just that Chrysler finally caught up to him.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT