Nissan-Sentra and the Tyranny of Rocking Out

This ad has been carpet-bombed on TV, and vexing me for weeks:

The music is Billy Idol’s cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ hit Mony Mony:

That they used a cover rather than the original is the first thing that pisses me off. My favorite Billy Idol song is “Dancing With Myself” which, while irresistible, is everything I dislike about him. It’s subject is Idol’s narcissistic male sexuality, which is pretty much his entire persona. He has a face that wants punching, and his half-octave vocal range barely qualifies him as a singer.

By contrast the Tommy James’ version is as stupid a bit of garage rock as “Louie Louie” but it is functionally effective. And Tommy James’ send-up of James Brown is so sincerely cartoonish that you can’t get mad at him. A song from 1968 may seem a bit old-timey, but we musical aesthetes need to maintain standards.

More offensive is the commercial’s scenario. Here’s Mr. Young Guy With New Car, a 20-something white man wearing white sunglasses. Either he’s on a methamphetatime jag, or he’s so deliriously happy about how his new Nissan has filled the yawning emptiness at the center of his soul that he can’t help singing.

Mr. White Sunglasses
Mr. White Sunglasses

As Mr. Sunglasses drives around Los Angeles, he cranks his stereo, and interacts with people in other cars and on sidewalks. Since Sunglasses is a consummate narcissistic, he doesn’t make connection with actual people, he connects with stereotypes.

Scary Biker Dudes
Scary Biker Dudes

Since he’s driving around in the objective correlative of White Privilege, he commands those around him to “rock out,” to “party down.” He points at them like a conductor cuing the oboes.
Hipster-esque Black Couple In Convertible
Hipster-esque Black Couple In Convertible

He demands that others share his manic glee, even as he deafens them with his bitchin’ Bose stereo. He knows true joy, through the acquisition of a metal phallic symbol that he’s ramming through traffic. He is the master of all he surveys; other people are only there to reinforce and validate his position at the top of the food chain. He doesn’t ask people if they want to sing along with his crappy Billy Idol song, he assumes that he, his car, and the song are so perfect as to be irresistible.
Unrealistically diverse cute kids on school bus
Unrealistically diverse cute kids on school bus

This is Nissan targeting a specific demographic — young white males — who no longer buy cars the way previous generations did. This group used to be the core of the auto-buying public; their love of ‘hot’ cars began in adolescence and continued to senescence. The young man going into debt to buy a Mustang becomes the retiree trading in his Oldsmobile every other year.
Lumbersexual On A Motorcycle
Lumbersexual On A Motorcycle

Fair dinkum; if your company exists to sell cars, go ahead and sell the living shit out of them. But this advertisement appeals to the most obnoxious, toxic part of Bro culture: Their overweening confidence that they are the people other people wish they were, and that they were born to be leaders. They feel entitled to share their joy at their own primacy in the world. Other people’s concerns — and eardrums — don’t even occur to a Bro. They’re bitchin’, rockin’ dudes and you need to get with the program or get out of the way.

And that’s why I hate this ad.

3 thoughts on “Nissan-Sentra and the Tyranny of Rocking Out”

    1. The publishing is owned by Windswept Pacific Music, who pay royalties to Tommy James and the other authors of the song. EMI owns the original song’s mechanical rights, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they also own the mechanical rights for the Billy Idol version.

      I think that the choice of Billy Idol had to do with it seeming more current than the Tommy James’ version. And Billy Idol (whose picture is flashed briefly at the start) probably got paid directly as well.

  1. Totally agree with you. Douchy twenty something created by Nissan think-tank. Stupid Douchy white sunglasses.

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