author – activist – faculty – mom
When I first saw the new Jaguar commercial featuring white British actors who play movie supervillians, I thought it was mildly entertaining. However, as I learn the commercial is just a small part of a protracted #GoodToBeBad campaign for their 2015-16 new cars, I can honestly say that “we are not amused.” Yesterday on Twitter, the #EveryVillainNeeds hashtag was trending, or rather Jaguar paid to sponsor the hashtag as part of their social media companion campaign to their “British Villains” TV ads. The campaign also includes a contest to win a trip to see the new Jaguar in Austin at SXSW. In addition, Jaguar has created a series of high production value videos that look like James Bond movies: “The Art of Villainy,” “Dress Like a Villain,” “Sound like a Villain,” “Drive Like a Villain.” And I’ll bet that few of Jaguar’s 21,000 YouTube subscribers will actually be able to afford the new F-TYPE Coupe when it becomes available in the US in 2016.
Why do I even care about this? Because Jaguar is really selling the notion that affluence and luxury trump morality, and their campaign gets ordinary people, who would never be able to afford their product to engage with and provide free advertising for their brand. In their contest, they think so little of us that we don’t even compete for an opportunity to win a car, simple the chance to covet one.
Our country’s fascination with the wealthy, regardless of the content of their character also led to the recent success of the film The Wolf of Wall Street which glamorized the gutting of the economy. The whole situation left real-life villain Jordan Belfort with reported $1.7 million dollar film and book deals as well as tens of thousands in motivational speaking fees, even as he failed to repay his debts to those whom he defrauded. In this context, Jaguar’s #GoodToBeBad hashtag takes on a real life amoral dimension. The economic repercussions of this kind of ruthless and greedy behavior in the financial sector led to people losing their retirement, life savings, houses. Yet Jaguar would celebrate villiany?
Other recent examples of crime paying include Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who murdered unarmed teen Michael Brown. Despite contradictory evidence to many of Wilson’s claims about the shooting, there was no indictment. Instead, Wilson reportedly got paid a “mid-to-high” six figure fee to tell his story to ABC. He was also the recipient of much crowdfunding money. For many of us in the African American community, these are our villains. Not British men in sleek Jaguars, but white cops in patrol cars who shoot young black people without consequences.
For women, particularly women of color, other villains look like Bill Cosby or R Kelly. These wealthy, powerful men use their status and power to cultivate women’s trust and then target us with sexual violence. A huge reason that, unlike Kelly, Cosby is experiencing the current level of backlash is that he had the squeaky clean image of America’s favorite dad. He’s suffering greater consequences of the scandal, not because this country’s rape culture believes it’s wrong to drug and rape dozens of women, but because it’s incompatible with the particular brand he had developed over the last few decades. Rape doesn’t mix well with family sitcoms and Jell-O pudding. Cosby can’t play the hero when too many women have come forward to testify that he’s a real-life villain.
In my own life, I will certainly be accused of glamorizing lawlessness in the next few years. My novel-in-progress The Manhattan Escort & Larceny Service, which I hope to sell soon, is a heist book. The protagonist robs people, and even uses deadly force. But she’s a Latina Robin Hood, who rips off corrupt corporate CEOs involved in a sex trafficking scandal to fund a women’s health clinic. While she breaks the law, she still has a moral compass. In fact, she’s stepping up to provide for the community’s needs in this era where the 1% has amassed the resources that used to be this country’s safety net. You won’t find her gloating about how it’s #GoodToBeBad, but rather stressing to her team how it’s necessary to break the rules to provide for those you love. You won’t find her driving around in a Jaguar, either.
PS: here are some tweets of mine on Jaguar’s #EveryVillainNeeds hashtag…