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Be More Handsome, Buy A Truck


Be More Handsome, Buy A Truck

Thomas Whitley

Chevrolet's newest ad campaign for their 2015 Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck makes it clear. If you want to be considered more handsome, more resourceful, and to have an awesome pet, buy a pickup truck, preferably the 2015 Colorado.

The focus-group style of the commercial, of course, wants audiences to think that the statistics are objective. According to Chevy, truck guys are

  • 85% more handsome
  • 76% more resourceful
  • 100% more likely to have an awesome pet

It's an amusing commercial, even if it is one that strains credulity (are really supposed to believe that no one recognized that it's the same guy in both pictures?). 

The commercial seems to be self-consciously playing with the socially constructed natures of "handsome," "cool," "resourceful," etc., and it instructs would-be buyers that they too can be all of these things like "Scott the truck guy" if only they would buy the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado.

We can deconstruct this commercial and analyze its complicity in reinforcing these social constructions. We can ask questions of the commercial of the "why this rather than that" sort, such as why the truck picture was juxtaposed with a small bland sedan and not a sports car. Would the focus group still have said that truck guy was more handsome and more likely to have an awesome pet, or would the sports car guy have won in that matchup? Or what if we push back against the categories focused on (handsome, resourceful, awesome pet owner)? What if the questions were instead about who is more sensible, a better money manager, and more likely to be a family guy? Would small bland sedan guy have won out in that competition?

It is not simply enough to recognize the socially constructed nature of categories, but also to see how these categories continue to be constructed and reinforced through various means (comparison, standards of judgment, etc.).

I try to use this same approach in my research. In my dissertation, for instance, I do not just talk about the arbitrary and socially constructed nature of the categories "Christian" and "Graeco-Roman," but also explore how these categories have been constructed, how they're maintained, and to what ends (or in the words of Bruce Lincoln, " Who wins what, and how much? Who, conversely, loses?"). As this recent TechCrunch piece argues, "we need to develop thinkers, not information processors." This is what I try to accomplish in my courses with my students and, I think, what a good liberal arts education provides.

So, you can buy the new 2015 Chevy Colorado and become more "handsome," or you can ask why that's a category we should be concerned with, how that category came to be constructed such that "truck owner" would fit it, and what might be gained or lost by those who choose to accept or reject this particular construction of this category. The choice is yours.