The $75,000 2014 Cadillac ELR showcased at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show - Image courtesy of Rushdi13 (http://bit.ly/1bXjwnK)

The $75,000 2014 Cadillac ELR showcased at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show – Image courtesy of Rushdi13 (http://bit.ly/1bXjwnK)

Standing in front of a luxury pool, a hyper-masculine American working man asks, “Why do we work so hard? For this? For stuff?”

For one minute and two seconds, a new Cadillac commercial that debuted in primetime during the Sochi Olympics attempts to answer that question. The advertisement is jarring and brash, mocking workers in other countries who take a month off in the summer and crediting Americans’ success to being “crazy driven hard-working believers.”

“You work hard, create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible,” the ad’s star says as he powers up his Cadillac ELR, a sleek vehicle that comes with a $75,000 price tag.

“As for all the stuff? That’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.”

The advertisement for the newest addition to Cadillac’s opulent fleet encourages Americans to continue worshipping at the altar of work and stuff because, well, it’s worth it. That tingly feeling when you power up your expensive car or jiggle the handle of your mammoth McMansion is what really matters. Any sacrifices made in terms of spiritual vitality, the wellbeing of one’s family, or personal health are little more than collateral damage.

But like most ads, Cadillac’s bold missive only tells part of the story. It omits recent research indicating that workaholism is linked to reduced physical and mental wellbeing. It skips over that families are adversely affected by the habits of workaholic breadwinners, and may develop mental health problems as a result. It doesn’t touch on the marital problems—including intimacy issues—that arise in workaholic households.

Who has time for such details when you’re trying to sell a vehicle valued around 150% of the average American annual household income?

The Christian faith has something to say about the materialistic, consumerist, greed-driven notions displayed in this ad that animate much of American culture:

  • The Ten Commandments forbade covetousness and instituted economic and physical rest during the workweek by way of Sabbath.
  • The Old Testament prophets from Jeremiah to Amos to Isaiah railed against the blind greed of the Israelites that focused on material wealth and forgot the poor.
  • The Apostle Paul said that the desire for riches leads to a legion of problems that “plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
  • The writer of Hebrews encouraged God-followers not to love money but to be content with what they have.
  • Jesus—the one who had “nowhere to lay his head,” much less a luxury vehicle in which to dart around Israel—warned against hoarding “stuff.”

So Christians should be bothered by messages such as this one. But they aren’t.

In my faith tradition—evangelical Christianity—I’m struck by an absence of preaching, teaching, and talking about these kinds of Biblical ideas. Perhaps it is because materialism has become a respectable sin or maybe it is because we need the wealthy to bankroll our massive ministry budgets and mammoth church building projects.

Had the Cadillac commercial featured a gay couple cranking the car and driving away as wedding bells rung, there would have been a tidal wave of criticism from conservative Christians. If it had been laced with Go-Daddy-esque busty sexuality, they would have decried the moral decline of American culture. But you’ll not hear a peep here.

Their silence is just another sign that the much of the Western church has Americanized the Christian gospel.

Regardless, the Cadillac advertisement offers the faithful an opportunity to consider the ways in which we have been unwittingly co-opted into potentially destructive, prevailing mindsets. It provides occasion to pause and reflect on how we can live into healthier, more sanctified rhythms. The abundant life is comprised of more than swimming pools and expensive cars.

“Why do we work so hard?” the commercial asks.

Maybe we shouldn’t.

39 Comments

  1. Here we go again…all Christians do is talk about gays and nothing else. That’s just BULL. If one is attending a church that is faithful to preach the Word of God, and not just select passages, you hear about a variety of issues, including greed.

    There are churches that preach prosperity, and most of us would agree that is a false teaching that is outside of Biblical Christianity. Most Christians I know are concerned about greed and their own views of “stuff”. We aren’t all a bunch of heathens just out to pick on the gays.

  2. I thought the choice of spokesperson, Neal McDonough was a bit tongue in cheek. The guy is known for playing a lot of intimidating, reptilian characters. It came off as intentionally off-putting, smug and cold. A guy who normally gives people the willies on any given film or TV show wants you to drive this car.

    It was almost like say “Cadillac, the car endorsed by Lex Luthor”

      • I think the Poolside 2014 Cadillac ad is terrific. I see it as a response to Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Charles Shumers (D-NY) ridiculous comments trying to cover-up the colossal failure of Obamacare, which resulted in the loss of full-time, well-paid jobs and the lowering of the full-time workweek from 40 hours per week to 35 hours. This Healthcare abomination has resulted in the creation of minimum wage, full-time, temporary jobs and Nancy is promoting this as a good thing, claiming that now these under achievers, and under paid workers can relax, follow their dreams and let the Government take over in supporting them. Of course, what Nancy, Harry (Reid) and Charles don’t tell you is that along with that government support, that they claim is a good thing, they are also passing Bills that will allow the government to regulate what you eat, drink, and soon what activities you must participate in if you want to be supported and receive government paid for and less than optimal Healthcare.

        Most foreigners come to America to follow their dreams, but those dreams don’t include sitting on their duffs all day and painting a picture or playing the guitar Ms. Pelosi. People come here, to the land of opportunity, where they have the Freedom to compete, in the work place, where the best of the best, rise to the top, and by doing so, they develop a good work ethic, sense of self-worth, satisfaction for putting in a good days work and pride in themselves, knowing they can pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, but on their own terms, with money they have earned and with pride because they too are a part of the American exceptionalism that Patriotic, true Americans have always had. For those who do not believe in American exceptionalism, well, all I can say is, WOW! Evidently, there’s a sucker born every minute. ss

        • Hey, Sandi, exactly what kind of “work” might you be talking about? Or what kind of “hard work” are you talking about? There are millions of people out there who will NEVER be able to afford what your hero in the ad can seemingly routinely shove in their faces! He’s rich, therefore he works SOOO much harder than the “unwashed masses” and deserves his AMERICAN reward. Don’t have to walk through the “eye of the needle”, when any hard working, RICH AMERICAN, can just drive his Cadillac through, toll free. Callouses are for lazy folk who want free health care, right?

  3. Hadn’t seen the commercial (guess I haven’t been paying too much attention to TV), but I agree with the point of your article–we should recoil about the greed and wrong priorities in this ad. (I think it would be better left at that, rather than criticizing Christians for reacting to other immoralities, however.) The “funny” thing to me about this ad is that the actor acts so macho and then proceeds to UNPLUG his electric car! That strikes me as ironic and another reason this is an advertising fail.

    • The point of the commercial is to appeal to consumers who can afford a $75,000 car and to overcome the stigma that an electric car is a wimpy choice that marks the owner as a wimpy tree hugging dirt worshiper.

      Your reaction suggests that it may not be working but, on the other hand, unless you make enough money to buy a $75,000 car (probably by working a whole lot of hours), you are probably not the target audience.

  4. Some quick calculations from a sociologist. According to a payment calculator, the monthly payments on a $78,000 car comes to $1445 on a five year loan at 4.3% (current rate). I guessed insurance at $200 per month, which brings the total to $1645. They also suggest spending no more than 20% of your income on your car. Assuming that’s after tax, one would need $85,000 take-home to meet the criteria. Considering a 30% withholding rate, that’s a gross income of $128,000. According to the census department, that puts one in the top 10% of earners.

    So this image of “the good life” is broadcast on a widely viewed sporting event that 9 of 10 viewers (actually less if sports viewing isn’t evenly distributed) can never afford. It’s the ongoing crushing message of ever rising expectations as normal.

  5. I paid attention because the actor, Neal McDonough was in a show I just watched. The commercial bothered me, because my life is not about how many hours I work at my job or how many vacation days I don’t take to be with family, and I don’t like to be told that it should be.

    As to your disappointment in Christian relative silence to the commercial, I don’t think its fair to compare it to homosexuality, as it’s not becoming law that I have to abide by and embrace Cadilac’s values. It’s a commercial, not an amendment. That being said, I’m sure you do have a point that many Christians are in Cadilac’s target market, sadly.

    • You wrote: “I don’t think its fair to compare it to homosexuality, as it’s not becoming law that I have to abide by and embrace Cadilac’s values.”
      What law are you talking about? There IS no law indicating YOU have to embrace certain values. You are free to continue to be straight. You are free to disagree with the scientific evidence that sexual orientation is not learned or chosen. Just remember, the Bible says the sun moves around the earth, condones slavery and defines women as inferior to males – none of which things I believe – and I suspect you don’t either – but they are in the Bible.

      • Hallelujah–the more of your stuff I read, the more I’m starting to really like you! You are a refreshing voice of tolerance, humanity, and reason in a world (Christian morals and opinion) that has sadly become associated with intolerance, primitive and uneducated Fundamentalist interpretations of a very old book, and a meanness of spirit that would surely cause Jesus and the original Christians despair.

        Certain political operatives have achieved a shameful success in selling a most hateful and intolerant form of homophobia as being synonymous with being a “good Christian”, in order to promote schism amongst the Christian ranks and allows such heretical nonsense as claiming that one political party is “favored by God”. “Christian homophobia” is a very cynical and entirely artificial creation of some very highly paid political operatives who are desperate to separate Christianity from the progressive views and thought that once–in Jesus’s day–defined it.

  6. Sadly, far too many churches avoid even mentioning money from the pulpit. Equally as sad is the absence of much condemnation of commercials like this one from Evangelical circles. I am pleased that my pastor not only speaks about the proper use of money, but also models the kind of generosity he preaches from the pulpit.

    There are churches that not overlooking this important teaching so clearly found in Scripture. Sometimes it just takes a little more effort to find them.

  7. After seeing the ad for the first time tonight, I rejoiced that my family is departing soon for a sabbatical abroad for not just one month but at least one YEAR. This time will be used mostly for contemplation, expanding my childrens view of the world, and for removing them from the materialistic culture in America. Our time with my children is so precious and it saddens me that so many of us would rather trade that time to earn more money to buy useless items such as Cadillacs, huge houses, and the latest and greatest tech gadget.

  8. OK, I know that words may be the least important part of a message, particularly a message as crafted as a car commercial, but this column reads as if you did not listen to the words at all.

    The words are saying that work is good for its own sake. The stuff is just a byproduct of hard work.

    That message is the exact opposite of the spin that the Obama apologists are pushing to defend an economic policy that has resulted in a third of the working age population not having employment, despite the cheerily deceptive low unemployment numbers.

  9. This is a preposterous criticism that conflates hard work and success with envy and greed; If someone is financially successful, they must have more only because others have less.

    People in professional careers can only do so at the cost of their family, faith and basic humanity.

    Be cautious that this is not the lie you tell yourself to claim unearned virtue while you assign assumed sins to others.

    Every one of us is capable of envy, greed, pride, and selfishness. These are just as often the sins of the poor and the average as they are the rich and successful – there is no income requirement on these sins because they are not the result of your station in life, but the status of your heart.

    God bless those who work hard to create new medicines, new infrastructure, new industry and new sources of energy.

    The next time you see a wealthy, successful or professional person, say a prayer for them and ask God to help guide them.

    That’s what Jesus would do.

  10. Christine van Eyck

    I HATE this commercial. We should be praising these other countries and using them as an example as to what we should be doing. The US is the most obese and most sick nation of all! The commercial makes me sick and encourages a kind of lifestyle and well said “worship at the alter of work and stuff” that is toxic to its viewers. My message to Cadillac is, please stop this madness!”
    And, yes I am a Christian woman and I love nice things, but there are more important things in life!

    • Christine, sadly Cadillac is giving the viewers what they want – the dream of being kings and queens. Of course, I agree with your feelings. Christendom has long ago capitulated to the dominant culture. It began when Constantine used Christianity to solidify his power as Roman Emperor.

  11. I like the commercial. It’s funny, brash, and witty. I ran across this website because I wanted to see the commercial again. Full disclosure, I own a 2012 Cadillac CTS Sedan Premium 3.6L V6, 5 year loan 1.9%, $384 payments. Sales price $46k. It’s a nice car, with great features.

    I also liked the Dodge Challenger commercials. The ones with voice-over by the “Dexter” serial killer (I don’t watch the series). You know, the commercials that say America got two things right, Freedom and building cars. Or the one that kicks snooty tech writers in the nuts saying, “When people see a UFO, they never say I wonder what those consumer review sites think. They say dude, that’s a freaking UFO”. Full disclosure, I own a 2010 Dodge Challenger V6. Love the Challenger.

    I have many points to make, but my lack of writing skills won’t impress many.

    I wouldn’t call the house in the commercial a McMansion. In fact it reminds me of a 70′s minimalist design. Probably less than 2500 square feet.

    The family unit is all there, two kids and a wife living comfortably together and having fun with dad. You know 25% of the households in USA are single unmarried women with kids?

    I don’t think selling a $72k hybrid Cadillac makes you a sinner. I attend a rural church in the midwest and see a lot of $45k new trucks in the parking lot. Lets beat up on Ford and Chevy also.

    Owning stuff is not a sin. That tomb Jesus laid in for a few nights came from a rich person, also the white donkey he rode in on. Having rich friends helps.

    Don’t sound like Judas, “we could have sold that perfume and gave the money to the poor”. The poor will be with you always. There are major problems brewing in the USA, unemployment, food stamps, Right vs Left, the end times. Let’s debate those.

  12. Bravo! What great commentary.

    Thank you, for pointing out how unhealthy is the “lifestyle” promoted in this commercial, both physically and spiritually.

  13. The commercial is a big lie from beginning to end, as most commercials are. What is funny is those lazy Europeans who take all of august probably enjoy a lot more of what life has to offer and still make the best cars.

  14. Thank you for writing about this. I was DISGUSTED by this ad, not so much from a Christian perspective, but from a “what is important in life” perspective. It fried me that he poo-pooed the people in other countries who actually interact with their neighbors each day. To me, sitting in a cafe with family, neighbors, or friends in the evening sounds AWESOME.

    I happened to be watching with my 12-year-old son…. we rewound the commercial and watched it a couple of times, talking about it. Even HE thought the guy was a jerk for being so “into” his stuff (he knows our family lives a “smaller” life by choice).

    I never get to take two weeks off in a row. Taking just one week is practically slothful in my office, and even though my husband is “off” this week, his boss called him yesterday at 3pm to take a conference call at 4pm, and he has to take another one tomorrow. There’s no such thing as a true vacation anymore.

    Furthermore, most men and women in this country are working VERY HARD not to buy luxury goods, but just to have a place to live, food on the table and heat in their homes.

    This commercial just epitomizes the sanctimonious, selfish, “we’re-American- we’re-awesome” attitude that alienates the rest of the world.

  15. Thanks for this excellent commentary, and I’m particularly happy to see it coming from the Christian perspective, since the whole concept of the “Protestant Work Ethic” has its roots in the Christianity of the Industrial Revolution, and all points afterwards.

    I’ve always been intensely bothered by Christians who don’t stand up and challenge material excess and the sin of venality, which in my mind is one of modernity’s most insidious sins as the sinner is often lauded as a hero of capitalist success. The unfortunate trend of “prosperity theology/gospel”, often tied with very wealthy megachurches, fools the gullible Christian into believing that the poor and needy are to be scorned, as not deserving of God’s blessings or humanity’s charity, when Jesus actually taught and behaved in a totally opposite fashion.

    Materialist excess has many, many negative attributes, such as causing the shameful environmental blight of this Earth of which Christians are supposed to be careful stewards. But the exacerbation of class warfare is by far the worst; pitting the haves who are encouraged to think that their materialism is somehow following in Christ’s footsteps, against the have-nots who are held in contempt for economic conditions and situations that they often cannot control.

    If you have climbed all over the backs of your fellow humanity to accumulate a tarnished wealth by any means necessary, you’ll twist Christian morality into a distorted mess in order to justify your “success”, so great is the materialist’s need to have others look upon him as a hero. And so the “Protestant Work Ethic” is trotted out as a great, shining and very American virtue, allowing commercials like this to actually resonate with Americans, rather than cause the incredulous exasperation that *real* Christians should feel.

  16. I don’t have a problem with your article, however may I make a salient point?

    First of all, you are right about how materialism has become a respectable sin.
    One thing that always strikes me though: For some reason, the Church becomes unbalanced as far as prosperity is concerned. One camp believes you should just scrape by, while the other focuses on stuff and live in a mansion.
    My bible says: “God takes pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.” – Psalm 35:27. Now we have to ask ourselves “What is prosperity”? I happen to be of the Charismatic persuasion and yes I am a member of a mega church. However, my Pastor always preaches balance. He has stated before: “You could give me all the gold on this platform, but if my marriage is going to hell and my kids hate me, I’m not prospering”! Prosperity mean so much more than stuff. That being said, I bet the Pastors all over this country are happy their congregants are prospering and not living in cardboard shacks. After all, the Church pays the bills and the salaries. The devil has been successful in perverting that word just like he has perverted sex. As far as working too hard? Again, it comes down to balance.

  17. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!! I thought the ad was brilliant and pumped up the fact that we are unique nation and can celebrate the fact that the sky is the limit for those who are willing and able to work to make a dream come true. Why are we ashamed of our work ethic and aggressive creativity????? We have and are becoming a nation of wanting to please everyone for everything instead of being proud of who we are. We are fortunate to be able to celebrate our freedom, our work ethic, our energy…Instead of focusing on our positives, we digress into criticism forgetting how other countries undermine women, who believe that their definition of God allows murder of children and women… Why are we not talking about that??? This is not the America I grew up in. Do we make mistakes? Yes. Are we perfect? No. But to state that a commercial is xenophobic……P-L-E-A-S-E!!!! Absolutely incredible. We will eventually be reduced to what is comparable to a eunuch with no enthusiasm, no desire, for fear we will offend someone which will lead to a lack of progress and creativity. It is just sickening with so many things to worry about in this country that we would criticize a commercial for being xenophobic. Try another topic–how about health care, lack of jobs, cheating politicians, governmental overspending, the environment, the list can go on endlessly…

  18. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!! I thought the ad was brilliant and pumped up the fact that we are unique nation and can celebrate the fact that the sky is the limit for those who are willing and able to work to make a dream come true. Why are we ashamed of our work ethic and aggressive creativity????? We have and are becoming a nation of wanting to please everyone for everything instead of being proud of who we are. We are fortunate to be able to celebrate our freedom, our work ethic, our energy…Instead of focusing on our positives, we digress into criticism forgetting how other countries undermine women, who believe that their definition of God allows murder of children and women… Why are we not talking about that??? This is not the America I grew up in. Do we make mistakes? Yes. Are we perfect? No. But to state that a commercial is xenophobic……P-L-E-A-S-E!!!! Absolutely incredible. We will eventually be reduced to what is comparable to a eunuch with no enthusiasm, no desire, for fear we will offend someone which will lead to a lack of progress and creativity. It is just sickening with so many things to worry about in this country that we would criticize a commercial for being xenophobic. Try another topic–how about health care, lack of jobs, cheating politicians, governmental overspending, the environment, the list can go on endlessly…

  19. Commercials like this are the reason that I do not own a TV set. I despise the values of Madison Avenue being shoved down our throats endlessly: they claim that money, power, and sex are all that matters. Voiceovers are becoming more arrogant, and the car commercials treat automobiles as an object of worship–the tone is often so solemn. The values of advertisers are anti-Christian in almost every way.

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