Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hybrid and Electric Cars: Confusing "Less Bad" with "Fantastic"

An advertising trend has developed in recent years in which car companies fantasize that wild animals endorse their more or less fuel-efficient cars. Here’s one of them:

As you can see, the Hyundai Sonata has a lot of things going for it: Adorable animals! Salt-N-Pepa! Voice-over by “The Dude”! Or maybe it’s that Crazy Heart guy, but whatever! It’s great! And the animals themselves are excited about the car because not only is it “easy on the environment,” but it’s also “easy on the eyes.”

Sadly these critters may eventually find out that the electric power helping to propel hybrid cars does not, in fact, grow on trees. It comes from power plants that generally are not easy on the eyes or the environment.

Get up on this!

Actually that's not really true. It's the fully electric cars that are plugged into the factory-fueled power grid to recharge, while a hybrid's engine draws electricity from a battery pack that is recharged every time you drive the car. So maybe the forest animals have good reason to celebrate—as long as it's a hybrid and not an electric car roaring through their habitat.

Even so, it seems a little presumptuous to decide what kind of car the bears and prairie dogs approve of. I mean, maybe they'd be at least slightly concerned about the toxic chemicals leaking from the car's battery pack after it reaches the end of its life and ends up in a landfill? Ahh, but there's no way I'm going to out-hippie Jeff Bridges, so I'll just take his word for it here.

Meanwhile, in places like Kentucky—where Mountaintop Removal Mining extracts the fossil fuels that are used to make the electricity that powers the growing number of electric cars—the woodland creatures are too busy avoiding earth-scalping explosions and looking for uncontaminated drinking water to get excited about a car that finally gets good gas mileage. (Sure, it sounds benevolent, but it turns out Mountaintop Removal isn't all that good for the mountains.)

Anyway, there's no denying that hybrid cars are a step in the right direction. Electric cars, too, are surely an improvement over the gas-guzzlers that have yet to relinquish their grasp on our driving populace. Electric vehicles provide an opportunity, though not a guarantee, to greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels—making good on that opportunity still requires charging the car with electricity produced through alternative (aka "Bambi-approved") processes instead of the usual (aka "earth-raping", "Bambi's-mama-killing") methods. If you drive a fully electric car in the U.S. you will slightly reduce the amount of greasy oil money going to tyrants and oligarchs on the other side of the world, but in place of that you're contributing to the flaying of those purple mountain majesties here in your own back yard. (Unless you happen to be Ed Begley, Jr.)

Blight on Bald Mountain

Now before I get too far off track, it's worth noting that the furry, bumbling animals in the Hyundai ad can't rationalize all these complex environmental issues. But by that same token, they can’t rationalize anything to do with automobiles at all—which brings me to my real issue with the Hyundai ad: whether powered by gasoline, electricity, coal or fairy-farts, as far as the woodland creatures are concerned, a car is nothing but a death machine.

In fact I suspect the attention all the animals are paying to the Sonata cruising through the forest isn't so much excitement as it is vigilant dread. Unless being clumsy and falling off a tree stump is a sign of approval in the animal world.

The creatures in this Jeep Liberty ad, on the other hand, are positively joyous:

That SUV is lucky if it gets 20 miles per gallon, and the commercial makes no claims of environmental friendliness, so I'm not sure what those critters are so happy about. Though based on their supernatural singing abilities I must assume they're the ghosts of all the animals he's run down while joy-riding through the woods. So much for "Rock Me Gently."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Ego Has Branded: Jon Bon Jovi's Philanthropic Awareness Campaign

Surviving your teenage years is hard enough. But if you grew up in the late 80s, your teenage years were really hard, because you were forced to listen to Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" every day of your life.

I'm an adult now, ostensibly, and my teenage years are long behind me. And yet Jon Bon Jovi still makes my life miserable. I turn on my TV and I see him, not singing his songs, but singing his own praises in a commercial:

Pain doesn’t have much of a place in my life. I checked the schedule and it’s not on it. You never know when Advil’s needed. Well, most people only know one side of my life. They see me on stage and they think that that is who I am. There’s many layers to... everybody, everywhere. Singer-songwriter, philanthropist, father—life’s a juggling act. When I have to get through the pain, I know where to go.

Yes, life is a juggling act. Here he's juggling the tasks of reminding people of how successful and rich he is while also proclaiming himself to be a benevolent, regular guy.

And with only a 30 second commercial to accomplish all that—he really is too busy for pain. (But evidently not too busy for shameless self-promotion.) The previously unknown side of Jon Bon Jovi, it turns out, is comprised chiefly of philanthropy, which is something that other wealthy people with only average-sized egos don’t feel the need to publicize, in person, on television.

Though I must admit, I'm impressed that on top of all the other stuff Bon Jovi is also a father. This guy doesn’t need Advil, he needs a medal!

JBJ has already received a fair amount of publicity for his charitable works, including top ranking in a celebrity-charity survey detailed in this Forbes article. (Mind you, the ranking has nothing to do with raising or donating actual money—instead the survey's authors have used a complicated ubiquity-conversion algorithm to place a hypothetical dollar value on each star's popularity, and then ranked the celebrities according to the percentages of their popularity "spent" on publicizing their charitable causes.) And yet getting press is not enough for Mr. Jovi; he still feels the need to act as his own spokesperson to spread awareness of his do-gooder-ness.

While I can't claim to endure the hardship of being a philanthropist, there are pains in my life. Unfortunately ibuprofen can’t solve all of them. For one thing, it doesn’t make Jon Bon Jovi go away. Turning off my TV might be a cure for that, but that's not really an option—American Ninja Warrior isn’t going to watch itself.