'You Belong Outside': Advertising, Nature, and the SUV

Gunster, Shane.
Ethics & the Environment, Volume 9, Number 2, Fall/Winter 2004, pp. 4-32 (Article)
Published by Indiana University Press

For additional information about this article

Access Provided by University of Toronto Library at 12/01/10 6:01AM GMT


And which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists? —Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

Images of nature are among the most common signifiers of utopia in commercial discourse, tirelessly making the case that a certain commodity or brand will enable an escape from the malaise and drudgery of urban existence. The invocation of natural themes has been especially prominent in the marketing and promotion of sport utility vehicles over the past decade. Speeding through deserts and jungles, fording raging rivers, and even scaling the heights of Mt. Everest, the SUV is routinely depicted in the most spectacular and remote natural locations. These fanciful themes now attract the scorn of many who draw upon them to underscore the rather glaring contradictions between how these vehicles are marketed and how they are actually used: the irony of using pristine images of a hyper-pure nature to motivate the use of a product that consumes excessive amounts of natural resources and emits high levels of pollutants lies at the core of the growing public backlash against the SUV. While generally sympathetic to this critical perspective, I argue that we need to think through the role of nature in constructing the promotional field of these vehicles in a more



©Indiana University Press All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. Direct all correspondence to: Journals Manager, Indiana University Press, 601 N. Morton St., Bloomington. ETHICS IN 47404 USA iuporder@indiana.edu 9(2) 2004 THE ENVIRONMENT,

& THE ENVIRONMENT, 9(2) 2004 ISSN: 1085-6633


rigorous fashion than is often the case. Otherwise, we risk failing to fully understand the complexity of the SUV’s appeal; even worse, simplistic criticism can have the perverse effect of reinforcing the ideological conceptions of nature that constitute a cornerstone of that appeal. Through an examination of recent print and television advertising campaigns, I develop an alternative account of the significance of natural imagery based upon the dialectical relation between nature and society that dominates the SUV’s promotional field.1 Instead of reifying the conceptual distance that divides these two categories, we must look to how they flow into and define each other, often blending together into a dense cluster of associations in which the images of one connote and invoke ideas of the other. WELCOME TO THE (NOT SO) GREAT OUTDOORS: THE MANY FACES OF NATURE Since the emergence of the automobile as a commodity in the early twentieth century, natural themes and imagery have been used to attach a utopian flavor to movement through space. From the 1920s onward, car advertising has often invoked the fantasy of leaving behind the constraints of a crowded, mundane, and polluted urban environment for the wide open spaces offered by nature. In words that have guided advertisers (and urban planners) ever since, Henry Ford once quipped, “we shall solve the city problem by leaving the city.”2 Charting the evolution of automotive promotional discourse, Andrew Wernick argues that the reliance upon natural imagery intensified in the 1970s and 1980s as people grew disenchanted with technology (and its militaristic overtones) and expressed concerns over growing traffic congestion, energy consumption, and road construction. Among the easiest tactics for advertisers wishing to deflect the negative associations invoked by the car was, and remains, an imagebased rearticulation of cars with nature.3 Invoking nature as the endpoint of vehicular travel affirms one of automobility’s most precious and fiercely guarded illusions, namely, that spatial mobility offers access to places, experiences, and events that are fundamentally different from everyday life, that one can escape to somewhere other than where one is now. Furthermore, as Martin Green explains, the use of nature to frame flight to the countryside summons up a powerful nostalgia for the simpler times and lives connoted by idealized scenes of rural life.4 Nevertheless, SUV marketing takes the appropriation of natural themes and imagery to new ‘heights,’ with epic campaigns that place vehicles atop




At the onset of the campaign. producing immense corporate profits. Ford systematized this articulation of the SUV with nature in a sweeping new campaign entitled ‘No Boundaries.S. for example. Ford spearheaded the promotion of the SUV in the 1990s with the Explorer which quickly became the best selling family vehicle of the decade. or racing across vast deserts.”6 Eight years later. virtually identical copy captions an image of a couple swimming together in a deserted lake at sunset: “With every splash. snowboarding. Ford successfully positioned the SUV as an embodiment of the traditional ‘frontier’ fantasy of leaving the city for the authenticity. Ford has drawn upon a variety of initiatives in addition to advertising to position its SUVs as ideal complements to an outdoors lifestyle. purity. presidents. cities. When the No Boundaries theme was expanded to cover all Ford vehicles in March 2001. “In a new 4-door Explorer.’ Drawing upon a wide range of promotional strategies.”8 Print ads. showed people engaged in wilderness activities such as hiking. an SUV parked nearby on a beach. it used outdoor images. you can feel the city washing off you. Although its market share has suffered recently.”7 In October 1999. fly-fishing.5 “Looking to get away from it all? Escape the pressures of urban living?” asks one of the vehicle’s first ads. for example. adventurous. rocky plateau.10 A travelling consumer fair entitled the ‘No Boundaries Experience’ has visited several U. and so on. a television spot entitled ‘Discovery’ featured William Ford Jr. locations. geographic coordinates are used to entice readers to visit Ford’s website to discover the identity of these pristine locations. images of offroad driving are intercut with scenes of people riding mountain bikes. and carefree. Guided by consumer research that showed people wanted vehicles that made them appear bold. in the midst of dense forests. 9(2) 2004 .mountain peaks. Leading the way in this appropriation of nature has been the Ford Motor Company. white-water rafting. reminiscing about how his grandfather invented the SUV by taking Model Ts cross country on camping trips with various U. and freedom of the great outdoors. there’s no such thing as city limits. In one sequence. As Ford speaks about his own great love of nature. or rockclimbing.9 Concordant with a world of ‘converged’ marketing. and activities to reach customers whom the company claims “have a spirit of rugged adventure.S. setting up off-road courses for prospective buyers 6 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. kayaking. or forest grove. Ford provided dealers with camping equipment to reframe them as ‘Outfitters’ helping consumers prepare for wilderness adventure: one dealer even planted trees and built a river with live fish inside the showroom.

as well as the broader ecological consequences that accompany the mass consumption of these vehicles. a 2001 campaign showcased the H1 Hummer nestled unobtrusively in sparse yet spectacular landscapes. the landscape remains untouched as the SUV slips through. “within the depiction they attain the status of a biological phenomenon.13 Appearing in magazines such as Wired. Ford premiered its latest SUV model—the Everest—at an auto show in Thailand.”12 In the spring of 2002.and even offering children the opportunity to drive miniaturized fully motorized SUVs. “I never found the companion so companionable as solitude. are magically erased. the SUV is offered as a technology for the redemption of nature. a place in which people can immerse themselves in soothing contemplation of the mysterious beauty of the wild. “These vehicles occupy the wilderness in the same ways animals do. Business Week. noting with Zen-like humility that “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. Ten months later. Nature appears as a benign. Barron’s. they become a natural part of the ecosystem. And sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself. Everest.”17 In a breathtaking act of myth-making. “Road maps? Who the heck needs road maps?” boasts a Nissan Pathfinder ad.”15 More often than not. gear and travel. a lens through which we might glimpse its secret aesthetics and truly experience and appreciate its sub- SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 7 . forgiving refuge from the everyday.14 “How did my soul get way out here?” asks one ad. Ford co-produced the ‘No Boundaries’ reality-tv show in which contestants engaged in a wilderness trek from Vancouver Island to the Arctic Circle. the social and physical infrastructure required to support mass automobility. Ads wax poetically about the quiet virtues of isolation in contrast to the crowded. blending into the natural environment. The No Boundaries campaign may represent the best organized and most extensive effort to unite nature and the SUV. but every automaker has embraced similar themes at one point or another. noisy streets of the city. Instead. No longer machine or the product of human endeavour.16 Or even roads for that matter.” notes a Chevrolet Blazer ad.” points out media scholar Robin Andersen. The company regularly sponsors outdoor festivals. and competitions. events.11 No Boundaries magazine was launched in September 2001 as a way to “spark emotion and encourage readers to explore the natural world [by featuring] seasonal editorial coverage of outdoor-adventure activities. including a May 2002 attempt by an all-woman team to climb Mt. approvingly quoting the words of Henry David Thoreau. and Cigar Afficonado.

media spending on the top ten models alone was well over $500 million. the absence of competition from foreign automakers.lime majesty. the SUV has quickly come to dominate the luxury vehicle market: the highly successful entry of expensive ‘crossover’ models such as the Porsche Cayenne. cellular phones.8 per cent in 1980 to more than 25 per cent in 2002. Automakers and their dealers spent $9 billion advertising SUVs between 1990 and 2001. Leaving aside for a moment the explicit militarization championed by vehicles such as the Hummer. SUVs have risen steadily from 1.18 Between January and November 2002. automakers have a powerful incentive to increase (and defend) the profile of their brands within a crowded field of choices.23 Given the high profits at stake. War. in fact.24 and the principal semiotic territory over which this battle is fought is nature. 9(2) 2004 . As a share of all new vehicle sales in the United States.19 The ubiquity of SUV ads shadows the tremendous market success of SUVs themselves. automakers continue to generate profits of 15–20 per cent on an SUV compared to 3 per cent or less on a car. The promotional juggernaut behind SUVs has become literally inescapable in contemporary media. It is a classic case of what advertising critics Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson have suggestively called ‘sign wars’.20 The North American auto industry relied heavily on SUV sales in its return to profitability in the 1990s: low cost of design and production. joining personal computers. Volkswagen Touareg. Although increased competition and supply has gradually lowered net unit earnings. the total number of models has almost tripled from 28 to 75. Urban (and suburban) space implicitly figures as a bland dystopia from which we all ‘naturally’ wish to escape into the rugged purity of the wild. violence has become 8 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. and mutual funds as the most explosive new consumer commodities of the last decade.21 Attracted by this rate of profit. and the Infiniti FX45—built upon car rather than truck frames—has made luxury SUVs the fastest growing vehicle category in an otherwise sluggish automotive market.22 In particular. producing a remarkable transformation of the contemporary automotive landscape. In the last decade. more and more advertising has forsaken Arcadian visions of natural bliss in order to foreground the SUV’s power to confront the dangers of an untamed wilderness. and high consumer demand positioned the SUV as an ideal commodity. Japanese and European firms have flooded into the SUV market in recent years: between 1995 and 2002. is an especially fertile metaphor through which to consider the evolving promotional field around the SUV.

With inset photos of struggling climbers. Print advertising.”32 Television commercials feature images of goggled figures fighting through a blizzard and a frayed tent being whipped about by a fierce wind. powerful visual testimonial to the mountain’s harsh environment. for example. an uncompromising and hostile place that can only be mastered by sufficiently aggressive technology.”29 and Jeep invites you to “get out there and show Mother Nature who’s boss. The executive vice-president of PentaMark.”28 Isuzu “puts the world at the mercy of your whims.”27 And based upon the dominant tropes within SUV ads. Muscles twitch.347 metres. . one of the most effective (and acceptable) means of generating ‘those emotional connections’ is to cast nature as enemy. Engine roars. you don’t have a 270 horsepower engine. Bitter cold and uncharted terrain wither against the 4Runner’s available i-Force V8 engine. Nerves fray. As an SUV bounces over rocks and splashes through rivers with Everest’s profile in the background. a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer ad proclaims: “Our 270 horsepower engine can beat up your . Suzuki will “conquer just about anything the landscape throws at you. Once you’re in a Jeep. though. you’re still protected.”33 Toyota also teamed up with the Outdoor Life Network to produce SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 9 . puts it this way: “No matter what nature throws at you unexpectedly. is the celebration of the SUV’s virtues via its engagement with a wilderness that appears frightening and dangerous. Occasionally this appears directly. It takes care of you.one of the preeminent strategies through which brands distinguish themselves from the competition.”25 A similar DaimlerChrysler ad asks “Why drive some pathetic excuse for an SUV when you can wrap your hands around Dodge Durango?” bragging that “this baby carries around chunks of those wimpy wanna-be [SUVs] in its tail pipe. We try to hit on those emotional connections. almost always highlights a vehicle’s ability to ‘conquer’ or ‘master’ the roughest terrain. a somber Edmund Hillary warns that “Everest can be a ferocious mountain. Engine roars”31 while another states “Everest at –24 degrees. Spine shivers. Mimicking the puerile confrontational style more at home in pickup advertising. you’re safe and secure and you can get out of it. The comparative merits of one model over another are dramatized by the speed and ferocity with which nature can be subdued.”26 More common.”30 An extensive 2002 campaign for Toyota used images of the 4Runner SUV driving through the forbidding landscape at the foot of Mt. one ad reads: “Everest at 4. Jawbone chatters. wait. Jeep’s advertising firm. Everest to show its capacity to take on the most dangerous and inhospitable locations. .

consumers consistently identify the perceived safety of four-wheel drive (4WD) as the main reason for choosing SUVs.” advises yet another commercial.”40 At one level. 9(2) 2004 . as the opening strain of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’ builds. hard ‘ready for anything’ disposition as a means of surviving the countless dangers the world throws your way. it demands a tough. Everest in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Hillary’s ascent.”38 “Power changes everything. ads like these merely reenact conventional Enlightenment narratives about technology: as an ad for Jeep puts it. A new spot for Cadillac opens with an enactment of the ‘Running of the Bulls’ in Pamplona. unpredictable. nature struggle. it offers an invigorating alternative to the mundane routine of everyday life.35 and great white sharks encircling and attacking a waterbound Ford expedition. In ads such as these.34 a Nissan Pathfinder playing the role of matador as it nimbly darts around an enraged bull in an empty arena. the camera pulls back to reveal that the bulls are themselves fleeing three black SUVs.37 Featuring a Chevrolet Tahoe on a rocky mountain slope under stormy skies.42 Obviously. This is the opposite. speed.39 A pack of crocodiles shrink in fear from a Lexus LX470: “Let nature worry about you for a change. On the other. a recent ad explicitly offers readers the chance to turn the tables on nature: “You’ve heard of mountain lions running loose through subdivisions.”41 In survey after survey. The most striking manifestation of this theme appears in ads which literally enact a struggle between the SUV and nature in the form of aggressive contests of strength. a proving ground on which individuals can test their mental and physical endurance en route to the revitalization of human experience. the SUV itself often appears as a predatory creature. nature takes the form of an inscrutable. On the one hand. “It’s your classic man vs.a reality-TV show entitled ‘Global Extremes’ in which contestants engaged in various wilderness challenges in competing for the chance to climb Mt. and often nasty place. Recent television spots have featured a miniaturized Saturn VUE deftly evading being caught by a pursuing cougar. agility and power with a variety of wild predators. showing a pack of lions fleeing from a Nissan Pathfinder that we eventually discover is driven by an enterprising antelope. the best way to represent 4WD as a safety feature is the symbolic relocation of these vehicles from paved roads where this technology is largely irrelevant (and actually decreases maneuverability and braking efficiency given added weight) to an environment in which 10 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT.36 Beyond fending off feral aggression.

affirming that the rugged individualism which governs the ‘natural’ world is equally dominant in the ‘urban jungle. and carry a big V-8”50 and labels the SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 11 . power.”49 A pair of ads for the Dodge Durango advise the reader to “Tread lightly. fantasies in which these vehicles literally become wild creatures envisions a far more fluid boundary between social and natural worlds. Beyond the simplistic division between nature and technology sponsored by these types of images. for example. commonly boast about their ability to dominate the road and intimidate other drivers. conflict) of the animals one finds there (in the idealized images of advertising). come to depend upon the active investment of consumers in simplistic natural motifs as a means of thinking through the essence of social interaction.it can more plausibly be shown to enhance driver control. While wilderness spectacles furnish ideal venues for the graphic depiction of aggression. was intentionally designed to resemble the features of a jungle cat.”47 Other brands similarly stage a menacing disposition as an index of the SUV’s appeal.”46 and “Let’s take this outside.44 “Mere measurements to you. The Dodge Durango. inscrutability) and simplistic patterns of interaction (e.’ Campaigns for full-size SUVs.”48 Tracks atop a transport truck fantasize about the Jeep Liberty’s ability to literally drive over things that obstruct its passage: “Jeep Liberty Benefit #12: The power to master all things. featuring a sinister close-up of the Escalade’s front end bearing down upon the reader. Lincoln Navigator promises to “Kick derriere. “But persuasion to those in front of you. They offer the SUV as a mimetic form of technology which enables an adaptation to the natural world by imitating and perfecting the physical attributes (e. for example. and conflict.. . Cadillac advertising.43 Seductive phantasmagoria arise in which stylized depictions of nature organize desire for social forms of technology.g. violence. . these themes also spill over into the portrayal of social relations with other vehicles and drivers. with the grille representing teeth and the large fenders the bulging muscles in a snarling jaw. that’s why we put big fenders. “A strong animal has a big jaw. regularly focuses upon the Escalade’s aggressive profile.” explains one of the designers. as defined through its promotional field.g. however. for example. thereby revisioning social life itself through a natural prism.. Many of the SUV’s most potent pleasures. agility.”45 Yet another series portrays it as a boxer or street fighter: “And in this corner in all black . on and off the road.” notes a 2002 ad describing the SUV’s massive height and weight. “Yield” advises a 1999 newspaper ad. flight. speed.

federal regulators. FIRES. for example. It keeps coming back meaner and stronger.57 For every Ford Explorer driver whose life is saved in a multi-vehicle collision because they are in an SUV rather than a large car.000 fatalities each year. isn’t it?)”52 A Honda CRV emerges from a misty swamp: “It’s like a monster in a horror movie.SUV a “Sport Brute. the height of light trucks means that in collisions with smaller vehicles they often slide over a car’s hood or trunk and impact the passenger compartment with considerable force. (Intimidating.59 SOCIETY AND/AS SECOND NATURE: “EARTHQUAKES. close to the height of the roof of the Ford Taurus passenger sedan.56 Casualties in traffic accidents are effectively rearranged from light truck to car as SUV drivers literally purchase a feeling of increased security at the cost of the safety of other drivers. Moreover. 9(2) 2004 . which it shares with the Ford Excursion SUV. is 49 inches above ground. aggressive stance. the stiff rails used in SUV and pickup construction effectively transfers that shock to other vehicles and their occupants. the lethal combination of height and stiffness in light trucks inflicts an extra 2. full-size SUVs kill that vehicle’s occupants at a rate of 205 per 100.58 In crashes with a second vehicle. an extra five drivers are killed in vehicles struck by Explorers.”53 “Now let’s see who gets sand kicked in their face at the beach. SUVs and their drivers have increasingly attracted the contempt of those who argue that in addition to their excessive fuel consumption and the danger they pose to cars.000 accidents compared to 104 for minivans and 85 for cars. According to U.”51 The Chevrolet Blazer ZR2 has a “bold. While car bodies are designed to crumple around drivers and thereby absorb the shock of sudden impacts. visually reinforcing copy such as “It only looks like this because it’s badass”54 or “Pretty much every lane is a passing lane.” notes a 2002 ad foregrounding the CRV’s increased size. these are more than just empty threats. these vehicles are emblematic of a narcissistic. Heavy vehicles with rigid frames and high ground clearance pose a considerable safety risk to the drivers of smaller cars.”55 As many critics have noted. avaricious disposition that privileges fantasies of techno- 12 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT.S. RIOTS: I’M READY” In recent years. Recent campaigns for Hummer and Jeep are shot from a position just below the front bumper: the viewer is literally prostrate before the vehicles. In his superb analysis of the ‘crash incompatibility’ problem. Keith Bradsher notes that the front end of a Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup truck.

they also often end up reproducing the basic ideological separation between society and nature that constitutes a cornerstone of the SUV’s promotional field. As a first step in shattering the coherence of the SUV’s promotional field by intensifying the contradictions that lie at its core. “Ford Valdez—Have you driven a tanker lately?” was the winning slogan.logical power at the expense of the natural and social environment. to point out that few SUV drivers ever actually take their vehicles off-road in pursuit of the wilderness adventures that figure so heavily in SUV advertising.62 Dozens of anti-SUV websites range from the provision of critical information to recommending direct action against these vehicles and those who drive them. dependence on foreign oil supplies. Similarly. for instance. few can claim ignorance of the glaring contrast between pristine natural scenes and a vehicle that wreaks ecological havoc because its excessive weight and poor design requires large amounts of fuel and produces high levels of toxic emissions. their effect upon drivers. a coalition of entertainment professionals led by Arianna Huffington produced a series of controversial ads that linked gas-guzzling SUVs with oil revenues that may be funneled to terrorist organizations.61 Shortly after.60 Published in 2002. the Sierra Club kicked off a wave of anti-SUV sentiment with a contest to rename Ford’s mammoth Excursion. Nature remains a rugged. their safety. ranging from the misguided public policy that inspired their development to the political economy that sustains their production to the serious dangers they pose to both their own occupants and other drivers. Nature often plays a starring role in these debates. All that SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 13 . Keith Bradsher’s polemic High and Mighty has attracted considerable media attention for its thorough and well-researched critique of SUVs. It has become a cliché. the Evangelical Environmental Network launched a widely reported campaign entitled ‘What Would Jesus Drive?’ to encourage Christians to reassess their transportation choices.S. In November 2002. However. These and other efforts have stirred an often fierce debate about SUVs that ranges widely over a variety of issues including their impact on the environment. an ironic commentary on the current Bush administration’s campaign to link the casual use of marijuana with the violence of drug cartels. a utopian alternative to the crowded dystopian banality of urban and suburban life. and sublime paradise. In 1998. these tactics have played a key role in raising critical popular consciousness. spectacular. their cultivation of U. driving home the blatant discrepancy between ads for SUVs and their real ecological impact. and so on.

In ‘Outside the Box. namely. that the apparent costs of progress could be avoided. 9(2) 2004 . through the parable of Civilization Redeemed. Civilization and nature were not antithetic. the SUV assumes a new identity as its most dangerous threat. to deconstruct the idealized status of natural signifiers within mass culture. that the flight to nature 14 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. they offered assurances. Subaru. No breaks need be applied to the wheels of progress. more precisely. All is well until the tranquility is shattered by a lead-footed SUV driver racing through the forest to catch a glimpse for himself—one who clearly doesn’t ‘get it’. reinvented its all-wheel drive Outback station wagon as a kinder. cultural. [ads] gave dramatic and sometimes exaggerated expression to the uncertainties of wider public. gentler SUV in a series of 2002 television commercials that present its drivers as the real nature lovers compared to the blundering insensitivity of those with larger vehicles. and natural environments. Writing about the prevalence of these types of narratives in advertising from the 1920s and 1930s.changes is the lateral transfer of the SUV from one side of the balance sheet to the other: rather than secure entry into that paradise (as in the ads). Describing its ‘when you get it. you get it’ campaign. The ultimately anemic quality of this critical strategy reveals itself in the ease with which it has been appropriated by auto advertisers themselves. for example.63 Much of the backlash against SUVs similarly incarnates nature as a pure Other. After this cathartic airing of anxieties.’ a Forester owner covertly picks her daughter up from school to help release the class bunny back into the wild where he belongs. Roland Marchand observes: By raising the specter of civilization destroying the balance of nature.64 The failure to deconstruct nature or.’ a couple quietly observes a group of deer in the woods from the comfort of the Subaru Outback. a potent utopian signifier that effectively short-circuits any more systematic exploration of the complex relation between social. leaves intact the basic cultural premise of SUV advertising. Subaru notes that in ‘Deer Spotting. Failure to move beyond the basic dichotomy which valorizes a hyper-pure nature while demonizing urban space perpetuates the timeworn logic through which advertisers exploit fears of industrial technology as an incentive for the consumption of products that magically restore a harmonious balance between nature and society.

the SUV offers itself as an ideal technology for armoring the self against the perceived dangers that lurk outside. we fail to see how the ideological ‘work’ performed by natural signifiers is far more complex than simply caricaturing nature as a utopian alternative to urban space. Simply because they are not full-size models. however irrational. Less common but equally significant. this trend is also exploited to portray full-size SUVs and pick-ups as ‘genuine’ off-road vehicles to a (masculine) demographic that has the opportunity of defining itself in opposition to the ‘soft. this type of criticism reinforces the logic that has helped establish cross-over vehicles as the fastest growing segment of the auto industry. human response to urban civilization.”67 At one level. has risen in lockstep with the intensification of violence in the mass media. SUVs are exactly that. “and you can see that in that we live in ghettos with gates and private armies. In a much discussed part of High and Mighty.’”66 As the fear of crime. can be divided according to a crude schematic of brain activity: intellect. truck-based models as despoilers of the natural environment while simultaneously preserving the fantasy of periodically sampling nature’s pleasures. even menacing appearance appeals to people’s deep-seated desires for ‘survival and reproduction. a French anthropologist who has played an important consulting role in the design and marketing of SUVs. Conversely. “I think we’re going back to medieval times. Yet Rapaille’s simplistic description of aggressive technology as a ‘natural’ response of the ‘reptilian’ component of the brain to the percep- SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 15 .’ ‘feminine’ character of luxury SUVs. Smaller SUVs are now marketed as a commodity through which people can express their distaste for large. for instance. and a primitive desire for survival and reproduction he terms ‘reptilian. However unwittingly.” Rapaille observes. this testimony is fascinating and offers key insights into how nature is deliberately mobilized in advertising as a barely veiled metaphor for perceived dangers within society. smaller vehicles can be represented as existing in harmony with the natural environment. indeed inevitable.65 Consequently. emotion. People’s reactions to commodities.is a normal. they are armored cars for the battlefield. Bradsher explores the attributes of SUV owners through the atavistic consumer psychology of Clotaire Rapaille.’ SUVs are “the most reptilian vehicles of all because their imposing. Recent debate over these vehicles often moves beyond their social and ecological implications to the ‘natural’ characteristics of their drivers. argues Rapaille. natural tropes assume the burden of explaining the psychological appeal of the SUV.

”75 A great deal of contemporary anti-SUV criticism does little more than switch the valence of these sentiments from good to bad. .”73 A pair of mid-1990s pieces in Forbes and Fortune serve up equivalent rhetoric as they rhapsodize about the experience of driving the Hummer H1: “One can’t help but hear the faint call of the wild when performing the most mundane chores in a Hummer”74 or “Deep inside the brain of every male is the Godzilla Gland. I think much of the appeal (and significance) of nature in SUV advertising can and must be traced to the resonance these images have with how people experience a world in which abstract institutions. for better or worse. frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood.”69 SUV vehicle designs.”70 Much ink has subsequently been spilled in newspaper editorials attacking or defending the personal character of drivers. a tiny organ that makes men obnoxious. . producing a highly individualized explanation of the SUV. “appeal to the darkest shadows of human nature. entirely ‘natural. . but never challenges the basic premise that the SUV’s appeal is. a welcome departure from this buttoned-up.71 And once again. offering a shortcut to dimensions of experience normally repressed. it confirms a core element of many SUV ads: these vehicles activate something primitive deep within us. Bradsher recognizes the “slick but extremely cynical” manipulation performed by expensive advertising campaigns in this regard. 9(2) 2004 . and processes beyond democratic 16 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. with little interest in their neighbors or communities.tion of increasing social danger participates in a mythic naturalization (and mystification) of social and historical phenomena. . . the gland goes haywire. . they are apt to be self-centered and selfabsorbed. . but it won’t go away. . A 1995 ad for the Isuzu Rodeo calls it “the psychological equivalent of a three day beard . starched-collared world of ours”. As an alternative framework of explanation. he confirms this sentiment by citing extensive consumer research that defines SUV drivers as “people who are insecure and vain. And in a massive truck that can go almost anywhere. Above all. It can be tamed with dark suits and neckties.’68 Instead. and loud. structures. leaving untouched the idea that the SUV allows or encourages people to tap deeply into their inner ‘nature’ and release—for better or worse—emotions that are normally kept tightly under control.” a form of ‘therapy’ that “encourages you to scream long and hard and loud. by the conventions of everyday life. at some level. aggressive.72 three years later the Rodeo becomes a “205 horsepower primal scream. he claims.

“that pervades the American woods. and that it stands opposed to him as an autonomous power. with their clashes between tribes on the warpath—this poetry which stood [Fenimore] Cooper in such good stead attaches in the same way to the smallest details of Parisian life.77 Society. “stands beside contemporary society as a second nature and indeed. outside himself.regulation govern more and more spheres of social life. and Honoré Balzac all relied heavily upon ‘primitive’ imagery to describe the dominant ‘structure of feeling. in other words.” wrote Balzac. “Our emancipated technology. acquiring a life and logic seemingly independent of collective human regulation. but that it exists independently. Nature appeared as a fertile allegory for locating oneself within a set of social processes that had grown inscrutable. and alien to him. The life which he has given to the object sets itself against him as an alien and hostile force.’ “The poetry of terror. Marx argues that one of the defining qualities of life under capitalism is the alienation of workers from their activities and the products of their activity.”79 Instrumental reason and associated forms of capitalist industrialization predicated upon the mastery of nature generate a profound alienation of human beings from SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 17 . Alexandre Dumas. “The alienation of the worker in his [sic] product means not only that his labour becomes an object. Charles Baudelaire. In his brilliant analysis of nineteenth-century Paris. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. beyond our understanding and control. Walter Benjamin identifies natural metaphors as a preeminent strategy of popular French authors for expressing the way in which commodification and industrialization was affecting people’s perception and experience of urban space.”76 The most successful and popular literary styles were those that expressed the experience of urban capitalism through the metaphors of an untamed wilderness. Victor Hugo. and dangerous as they became reified. takes on the form of a ‘second nature’ as people conceptualize and interact with it as a fixed and unchanging entity. as economic crises and wars show. as a no less elemental nature than that confronted by primitive societies. unpredictable. Natural imagery furnishes an ideal set of signifiers through which to express and conceptualize in mythic form the erosion of human autonomy at the hands of forces that seemingly lie beyond human regulation or control. phantasmagorical world which its authors can no longer control or even recognize as their own creation.” writes Benjamin.”78 The mediation of human activity through the commodity form produces a strange. assumes an external existence.

narrow visions of rugged individualism and hyper-competitive Darwinism are projected upon an anthropomorphized nature. such ads provide a kind of ironic commentary on the absurdity of using SUVs for urban transport. 18 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. the unpredictable chaos of global politics or. Desire and fear. reflect upon. on the other. these virtues feature prominently in cultural representations of nature: ‘discovering’ them there is subsequently used to justify their presence within human societies as an inescapable fact of ‘human nature. ads such as these explicitly invite readers to use nature as a concept to express. each is taken as evidence for the normality and inevitability of the other. promotional field that accommodates the affective mobility of consumers as they shift back and forth from one pole to the other.” note Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Using metaphor to blend images of urban space and wilderness. threatening environments and. This conceptual blurring of the natural and the social is itself routinely inscribed within the metaphor laden discourse of SUV advertising. more recently. utopia and dystopia: natural imagery sponsors the blending of these disparate emotions and ideals into a fluid. On the one hand. but at another.both the natural and social world. and the extension of capitalist social relations have created a cultural. and engage with key dimensions of social experience. “As its final result. constructing a magical vision of the wild that lies hidden in the heart of the city. in an endless tautology. political. the globalization of corporate power. and economic environment in which people are regularly assailed with the message (and the prevailing experience of helplessness to back it up) that they have no choice but to submit and adapt to the dictates of transnational markets.83 At one level.”80 Both appear and are experienced as hostile. “civilization leads back to the terrors of nature. 9(2) 2004 .’ In this context.”82 Phantasmagoric animal spirits arise out of the mist on city streets as a Ford Escape passes by.’ Over the last three decades. the bureaucratic fascism of the ‘war on terror. they legitimate and enforce the analogy between social and natural dangers. the dominance of neo-liberal politics. Acura crowns its MDX “lord of the jungle (concrete or otherwise)”81 and Subaru lauds the Outback as perfect “for all those perilous journeys through the wilds of the asphalt jungle. nature provides an ideal marketing signifier because it expresses the utopian desire to escape this environment into an Edenic paradise but simultaneously gives voice to the dystopian fear that retreat into a defensive shell is the only option left for comfortable survival. if schizophrenic.

”84 The truck quickly acquired a sizable media profile. military that has featured prominently in news coverage of wars in the Middle East. violence is the preeminent trope through which the conflation of nature and society is engineered and. especially the ‘Desert Storm’ operation of 1991. . without question. As Leigh Glover explains. early print advertising emphasized the vehicle’s violent mastery of the natural environment: “premeditated and deliberate aggression. automotive journalists have eagerly celebrated the truck’s military pedigree with gushing reviews: an early Toronto Star piece. violence.85 The casual brutalization of nature deployed in the earlier ads was displaced by a more sinister articulation of nature and society in which the truck’s off-road prowess implicitly figured as a means of protecting oneself against social dangers.As noted above. .”89 Most telling is the SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 19 .000 Hummer for the civilian market in 1992. however the company failed to sell enough units to generate much profit. the HumVee is a military transport and assault vehicle used by the U. “We thought we were Navy SEALs. GM used Schwarzenegger to unveil the new H2 in downtown Manhattan on the three-month anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Print advertising for the H2 reproduces the aesthetic of Desert Storm with the vehicles featured under a scorching sun in an empty desert landscape with taglines such as “when the asteroid hits and civilization crumbles. In a shameless yet highly instructive capitalization upon public fear. .S.”87 For their part. In 1999. for example. and the deployment of weaponry against nature are endorsed by the manufacturer. its geomorphology reduced to measured contours and gradients of technological challenge. GM acquired the rights to the Hummer. you’ll be ready. ready to leap out and help citizens in need.”86 The New York Times reports that “dealers will be required to build new showrooms that resemble military barracks with plenty of brushed steel and exposed bolts inside. Nature has become an assault course. AM General started producing the $100. The Florida rain beat down like a sonuvabitch and we were perched on the Hummer’s truck bed. this strategy has achieved its highest profile in the evolving promotional field around the Hummer brand. Fearful of declining military demand following the end of the Cold War (and motivated by the incessant lobbying of Arnold Schwarzenegger). Introduced in 1979. hoping to transform it into an aspirational flagship symbol for the corporation given the brand’s enormous popularity with younger Americans. opened by asking readers if they were “Tired of getting pushed around on the Don Valley Parkway?”88 while a later review in the National Post review half-seriously opened.

20 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. polysemic. and wild animals end up as the symbolic equivalents of street criminals. whose impact upon human societies is accentuated by a consistent failure to integrate ecological awareness into urban planning and development. Miami. this impulse is mirrored in our desire to give our fears shape: as beasts. they acquire all the psychopathic connotations of sentimentalized pets or surrogate people.” he answered. riots. earthquakes. these events have become one and the same in a city in which upper. and Texas. And where it is the human world that threatens. I’m ready.91 The unpredictability and ferocity of natural forces. It is surely no coincidence that Hummer sales are strongest in Los Angeles. and riots: natural disaster effortlessly flows into social chaos. wildness is equated with urban disorder. Not only is it a jungle out there.”90 Fires. natural landscape that nourishes escapist fantasy of an Arcadian paradise while invoking the challenges of an untamed frontier and summoning the fear of unknown dangers. constructing a fierce tableau in which one has little choice but to brace oneself against the perils of a hostile world. Writing about the fear of cougars that episodically grips suburban Los Angeles.response of a Los Angeles Hummer driver when asked why he bought the truck: “I call this my urban escape vehicle.and middle-class fear of a largely nonwhite underclass is so often articulated via the motif of natural catastrophe. “Fires. earthquakes. or conversely. we intensely crave the comfort of anthropomorphic definition and categorization. The Otherness of wild animals is the gestalt which we are constantly refashioning in the image of our own urban confusion and alienation. Multi-million dollar advertising campaigns do not invent the desire for these vehicles out of thin air. is invoked as emblematic of an increasingly harsh social environment. As Mike Davis brilliantly chronicles in Ecology of Fear. they offer (wealthy) consumers a potent ideological framework with which to (mis)recognize and (mis)conceptualize ‘urban confusion and alienation’ via a mythical. urban locations in which steady immigration has visibly changed the racial complexion of city streets. Where nature is most opaquely unknowable. as in the “character” of animals.92 The use of nature in SUV ads and elsewhere creates a cultural space in which social anxieties are at once expressed and mystified as the representation and resolution of social contradictions takes on an imaginary natural form. it’s also a war: in the promotional field of the SUV the two flow into one another and become one and the same. Davis observes: Too often. rather. 9(2) 2004 .

its designers seek true luxury in the most amazing places imaginable. our designers can see. known and unknown in a fluid. leather seats and the handcrafted aesthetic of exotic tropical woods. comfortable. expansive. voice-activated navigation consoles. Auto advertising has a long history of fixating upon interior luxury and many car ads embrace similar themes.95 Although few ads can match this calculated hyperbole. in the words of one ad. Yet the SUV is unique in how it combines. self and other. Instead. After all. They fly first class to the Côte d’Azur. mobile fashion that matches the nomadic sensibilities of post-modernity. And they stay in the presidential suite of the finest five-star hotels.”93 Lexus boasts of the “cavernous interior” of its LX470. Global positioning systems. the explosive growth in the popularity of these vehicles was not based on the sudden invention of the off-road capabilities of four-wheel drive.”96 In addition to the comfort of heated. touch and even smell those elusive elements of true luxury. As the market for luxury SUVs has grown—Mercedes.”94 Indeed. DVD screens. powered. They immerse themselves in that oasis of opulence. it was the combination of these capabilities with a quiet. and the auditory pleasures of a Mark Levinson premium sound system. Range Rover. claims that “the special alchemy of its luxurious waterfall-lit wood and leather interior . and push button executive assistance telecommunications networks are the latest luxury features to feature prominently in SUV ads. “there to grace you and seven other pampered occupants with yards of hand-fitted leather. By experiencing all the best that the world has to offer.INSIDE-OUT: NATURE AND THE NEO-LIBERAL SUBJECT At its core. unforgiving environment that lies outside. John Urry and Mimi Sheller speculate that the integration of these technologies into SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 21 . . the imaginary resolution of social contradictions proceeds via the material and semiotic reinscription of the binary divisions between inside and outside. and Lexus all have sport-utility models—the promotion of opulent driving environments has reached a fever pitch. a “sophisticated balance of personalized luxury and rugged utility. the sovereign state of Monaco. feel. burled walnut trim. . and well-appointed interior. indulges the soul. BMW. SUV interiors now bristle with an exhaustive array of information technology. for instance. Porsche. MP3 players. most foreground the disjuncture between the ample comforts of a well-equipped cabin and the harsh.

minimizing the need for even visual interaction with what lies outside. This way to the future. the market share of full-size pick-up trucks—even more dangerous to other drivers than SUVs—has quietly exploded. luxury and technology have largely been positioned as complementary to size within the North American market. 9(2) 2004 . But as this system has slowly been broken down by the flows and mobilities enabled by globalization processes of all kinds. many of these func- 22 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. commodified ‘solution’ to this crisis by drawing upon the same kind of emotional sentiments used to sell 4WD as a safety feature: the world out there is hazardous and difficult to negotiate and one’s security requires specialized technology. modern notions and practices of sovereignty have established the role of the state as guaranteeing civil order within its borders and protecting its citizens from the chaos that supposedly lies outside them.”99 In contrast to broader social or political projects of ‘cognitive mapping. the state has grown both less willing and less able to impose and secure a predictable and homogeneous social landscape. replicating the comforts of home. 3 million miles of US roadways to explore. “is above all space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own position or the urban totality.’ information technologies are marketed as a privatized.98 More to the point. While information technologies have assumed increasing significance in the promotional field around vehicles. self-sufficient place. in large part because of how this technology has been used to outfit spacious ‘crew-cabs’ as family vehicles. A profusion of entertainment technologies similarly enhance the vehicle’s aura as a secure.automobiles might shift the political economy of auto production toward smaller vehicles: technological sophistication could replace size as a primary determinant of profit. Since the seventeenth century. While SUVs have attracted a very high media profile.” observes Frederic Jameson. An Infiniti QX4 ad in which the SUV emerges from a massive concrete maze expresses this sentiment beautifully: “A network of 24 highly calibrated global-positioning satellites to guide you. “The alienated city. Instead.97 While this logic may hold true for European and Japanese consumers who have largely resisted the lure of SUVs and pickups.”100 Owning the vehicle provides one with privileged (and necessary) access to networks of global expertise and power. their representation tends to confirm urban experience as fundamentally reified in ways that mimic the role of nature. navigation systems and digital assistance networks are ideal technologies to supplement mercenary fantasies of armored nomads roaming a dangerous environment.

” assures a Chevrolet Blazer campaign. Large cities in the U. especially within North America. criminalized Third World country whose only road to redemption is a combination of militarization and privatization. “A little bit of security. and disorder that was once so successfully contained to other places now appears in the First World.”103 The design and marketing of SUVs as ‘armored cars for the battlefield’ is perfectly adapted to the hostile semiotics of these kinds of urban topographies.”104 Yet this is hardly a return to the primeval reptilian psychology that Rapaille sees lying at the core of human nature.’ Davis explains how “the neo-military syntax of contemporary architecture insinuates violence and conjures imaginary dangers. as Ford uncannily puts it. the misery. But in a world that now has. “have become the domestic equivalent of an insolvent. As this technology and its aesthetic become pervasive. In political terms. violence. no boundaries. enjoyed or ignored—but rarely SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 23 . Incessant celebrations of a luxurious interior defended by an armored shell champion the mobile and aggressive privatization of public space in which those with wealth and resources can use and enjoy the commons while maintaining complete control over their own personal environment. Criticizing ‘Fortress L. was originally produced to protect the American empire from those who threatened it from afar. and happiness in access to personalized technologies of power that create enclosed spaces of work. Instead.. upper-class is but one facet of the ongoing privatization and commodification of military.101 The HumVee. and security technology. Fragmented microcosms of control—‘gated communities’ being but the most obvious example—have emerged to reproduce security and order by reconstituting the division between those on the inside and those on the outside.’ marketing a civilian Hummer to a wealthy. and transportation that are relatively protected from the broader social environment.. “in an insecure world. like its predecessor the Jeep. have either disappeared or been privatized. urban. it creates spiraling cycles of fear and consumption that ultimately serve only to reinforce each other.tions. notes Davis.A. surveillance. it both inspires and complements a neo-liberal subject that grounds its well-being. leisure. security.S. it involves a very particular response to a social environment (or more precisely to the cultural representation of that environment) that is deeply mediated by the ideological structures of neo-liberalism and the consumptive practices of consumer capitalism. Social space becomes something one moves through—a spectacular environment to be loved or feared.”102 In this ‘climate.

(if ever) something to be created or changed by collective design.” notes the narrator. to reproduce men have to take something outside and the women take something inside.” as the camera passes back through the windshield and the rock soundtrack returns. “You are. a relation of power between self and other that has its origins in specific social and historical conditions. “but who needs to know. “It’s perfect for families. Enacting nomadic allegories that pit individuals against a rugged. summoning fantasies of autonomy and independence predicated upon the reduction and even elimination of relations with larger communities and social networks. 9(2) 2004 . nature is offered as both an explanation and a justification for the localized inscription of an ideological form of sovereignty. Parents smile contentedly at the happy children in the back seat. opens with a rapid montage of a black SUV racing through various urban scenes accompanied by an aggressive.”107 Conversely.”106 The menacing exterior fits the (male) reptilian instinct for survival while the soft ‘womblike’ interior matches the (female) reptilian instinct for reproduction. a companion ad articulates precisely what the FX 45 and its drivers are not: “sign up go with the flow join the committee be one of us be one of the guys be a team player be a company man get on board keep in step follow the crowd run with the pack conform follow the leader settle down settle in blend in get comfortable adjust we need a consensus join the club fit in adapt. Globalization. As the camera passes through the tinted windows. Rapaille relies upon a crude biological conception of patriarchy to explain these sorts of divisions: “Men are for outside and women are for inside. that is. for 24 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. It is.105 Characteristically.” announces an ad for the Infiniti FX 45. beautiful. the music abruptly dissolves into the theme song for SpongeBob Squarepants. for example. a cartoon playing on the Endeavor’s built-in DVD. A new television spot for the Mitsubishi Endeavor. hard rock soundtrack. that’s just life.”108 Ads such as these interpellate SUV drivers as neo-liberal subjects. Again. The face one turns to the outside world is powerful and menacing in order to secure and protect the comfort and civility of the interior. and often dangerous natural environment glorifies the ‘survivalist chic’ of entrepreneurial self-reliance that constitutes one of the cornerstones of neo-liberal ideology. dissolving the borders between individual and car into a stylish cyborg identity by listing the attributes common to both: “renegade fearless unexpected bold true spontaneous curious intriguing unwavering rare brash provocative intuitive genuine daring uncommon irreverent brazen dynamic dreamer.

And natural signifiers are the privileged cultural strategy in this regard. being ferried across a South American river on a primitive wooden raft. “From the grand avenues of Monaco to the deserts of Dubai. Instead. natural imagery offers a powerful set of cultural tools through which one’s relationship with urban and suburban space can be envisaged as an encounter with a hostile and inscrutable otherness. figures strongly in SUV advertising that uses stylized portraits of exotic locations and cultures to hail potential buyers as savvy. very little attention has been directed to the impact these advertising campaigns have upon how people understand and conceptualize the urban environment. but as an exciting and invigorating opportunity for adventure. As these narratives of rugged individualism unfold in magazines. cosmopolitan. However. this ideological process offers a seductive (if simplistic) means of thinking about a world in which abstract structures and processes increasingly govern all spheres of social life. More importantly. though. regularly pressed into service to reframe exile from a shrinking public commons and the accompanying retreat into the safety of privatized enclaves not merely as natural and inevitable. critics have made considerable progress in raising consciousness about the contradictions between the images of nature used to promote SUVs and the devastating impact these vehicles actually have on the natural environment. and ready for anything. it’s never out of place” notes a recent Land Rover ad. Beyond nurturing utopian fantasies of a pristine frontier. In the first place. there is little place for notions of the public good or recognition of the cooperative social relations that actually make life possible. newspapers.example.109 Recent television spots position the Land Rover in a bustling Asian market. and racing down sand dunes past appreciative Bedouin nomads. National boundaries wither before dreams of capitalist deterritorialization in which expanding networks of communication and transportation reconstitute the alien geographies and cultures of all people as privileged sites for an experiential tourism that offers welcome relief (for a lucky few) from the boredom and routine of everyday life. film and television screens. it gives individuals the opportunity to actively embrace this SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 25 . members of a transnational elite for whom world travel has become a requisite element of both business and leisure. self-sufficiency and toughness take center stage as the celebrated virtues of human existence. CONCLUSION In recent years.

“Leave the city behind. epic. a ‘state of nature’ in which we are called upon to confirm certain eternal truths about the essence of human interaction. competitive.111 Again and again. The tough. rugged individual—a seductive combination of self-sufficiency. and atavistic proceeds as a compelling and seductive exploration of the primal depths of human nature. the revisioning of human social relations as fierce. As city streets and suburban neighborhoods give way to the rugged.fate by inserting themselves into dreamworlds of nature in which the (technological) cultivation of independence. De facto. though. adaptability. have an incredible capacity to manage the relationship between human beings and their physical environment in innovative and efficient ways. “Above all. Against the backdrop of a spectacular yet foreboding natural environment. Cities. and hard-headed realism—appears not only as an idealized subject-position in which to maximize one’s chances for fun and survival in the post-industrial landscape of the ‘New World Order. As armored nomads.” an Infiniti QX4 ad breathlessly intones. parks. Leave everything behind. one confronts urban alienation. Yet if. we are invited to partake in the mythic fantasy of (re)discovering who we ‘really’ are by stripping away the veneer of civilization. using natural imagery to express these types of narratives marginalizes democratic political responses to these kinds of social issues. argues Davis. and so on) as a real alternative to privatized consumerism. and toughness is routinely romanticized and glorified. the social conventions and values of everyday life are similarly displaced. competitive acumen.”110 Frozen into a second nature. crumbling infrastructure. and the erosion of community as the incarnation of a new ‘uncivilized’ frontier in which one (seemingly) has little choice but to carve out mobile zones of comfort and security. and thus cut through the apparent contradiction between improving standards of living and accepting the limits imposed by ecosystems and finite natural resources.’ but also as emblematic of a social Darwinism championed by many as serving up certain indisputable if unpleasant ‘facts’ about human nature. they have the potential to counterpose public affluence (great libraries. as I have argued. Fleeing the city in response to an ancient ‘call of the wild. nature does not dis- 26 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT.’ the journey from urban to natural space symbolically enacts an escape from ideology into the territory of the real. museums. and timeless beauty of a wilderness untouched by humanity. self-sufficiency. 9(2) 2004 . urban space loses this flexibility and radical potential: it becomes something to protect oneself against rather than something to participate within and actively construct.

this figure does not include the substantive duplication of ads across periodicals). I am grateful to the librarians at the Metro Toronto Reference Library for providing valuable assistance in my review of print advertising in various magazines. print advertisements were systematically gathered from several publications: Canadian Geographic (January 1990 to August 2003). artificial city on the other—a semiotic tactic mobilized in both the glorification and the demonization of the SUV—lays the conceptual and affective foundations for embracing a frontier individualism that fits perfectly into the weltanschaung of neoliberal politics. April. October and November between 1997 and 1999. every March. October. October and November 2001. March. February. an individualism that makes it virtually impossible to assemble the democratic inertia necessary to construct new urban imaginaries along the lines suggested by critics like Davis. Finally. November and December 2000. January. March. individualistic consumption as the only possible response we can imagine to contemporary crises in our social environment. every issue between January 2002 and August 2003). April. For a simplistic division between a pure. and a decadent. For this study. I would like to acknowledge the generous support provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The retreat to the wild enacts an intensely ideological vision of social reality in which the alienation. is an investigation into how the promotional images of nature function as a cultural strategy for (mis)understanding the petrified urban environments of postmodern capital. boredom. This yielded a collection of 583 original ads (i. Television ads were gathered from a periodic survey of Canadian network and cable television between SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 27 . though. Motor Trend (every March. Equally important. 1. Wired (October 1999 to August 2003). and fear produced by capitalist urban space can be both expressed and resolved in a mystified form. NOTES I would like to thank Adrienne Cossom and Christine Harold for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. real nature on the one hand. then a similar logic is at work in the vision of subjectivity offered by SUV advertising.. every issue between January 2002 and August 2003) and Maclean’s (every issue in March and November between 1998 and 2001.place the social so much as provide a metaphor through which reified social relations may be at once affirmed and denied. Gentlemen’s Quarterly (January 1998 to August 2003).e. Attending to the manipulative use of natural imagery to promote an ecologically disastrous form of technology has been and remains a pressing task. November and December between 1990 and 1996. sanctifying the principles of privatized.

Ford press release. 30 September 2003. 4. 1996).10 (10 March 2003). Keith Bradsher. Anil Ananthaswamy.ford. Jeff Green. p.com/ for an archived version of the ad in addition to a press release describing the associated campaign. 2002). Ideology and Symbolic Expression (Newbury Park: Sage 1991). 15. Accessed on http://media. p. “Endeavor joins glut of SUVs. “Ford Dealers Take ‘Outfitters’ to Next Level. accessed on 30 September 2003. 6. 20. 112.” Advertising Age 72. 10. 17. 14. “Why the SUV is all the Rage. Advertising as Myth. Eds. August 1990. From http://media. Mary Cross (Westport: Prager. 16. cited in John Cloud et al. 11. “Of Hummers and Zen: ‘Rugged Individualists’ are Target of Campaign for GM Luxury SUV.ford.2385. 40.com/. 8. p. Ed.” Advertising Age 74. December 1996.com website. “Road to Ruin: the Cultural Mythology of SUVs. 23 July 2001. 7. See the discussion in Keith Bradsher. 30 September 2003. 9. 2. Robin Andersen. p. Ford press release.” New Scientist (8 March 2003) 177. 3. 28 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. “Crunch Time for the SUV. 5. 4. 12. Promotional Culture: Advertising. Ford Press Release.” Advertising and Culture: Theoretical Perspectives. Bradsher. Ad from Motor Trend. Ad from Canadian Geographic. Ad from Canadian Geographic. October 2001.com.” Critical Studies in Media Commercialism. Wernick.. p. 6. producing roughly 100 original television spots. Instead of using traditional methods of qualitative research to code and categorize these ads. Jean Halliday. Director of the University of Michigan Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation. 29. Robin Andersen and Lance Strate (New York: Oxford University Press. High and Mighty: SUVs —The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way (New York: Public Affairs. p. 9. 18. “Some Versions of the Pastoral: Myth in Advertising. I adopt a more flexible hermeneutic approach that explores the core themes which emerge when they are analyzed as a more or less coherent ‘promotional field’ around the SUV. 2000).com (which has been subsequently closed to the public). via Sponsorships Freebies. Cited in James Flink. See http://media. 13. as well as a 2001 review of the ads contained in Adcritic. 21.2001 and 2003. 19. Michael Flynn. The Automobile Age (Cambridge: MIT Press. 1988). p.” Time (24 February 2003) 161. pp.32 (6 August 2001). 2 April 2001. 9(2) 2004 . p. July 1998. ch. Accessed on http://media. 19 August 1999.8. 77–79. High and Mighty. October 1998. p.ford.ford.” Brandweek 41 (3 January 2000). High and Mighty. 12. 41. Ad from Motor Trend. Ad from Wired. Martin Green. 139. 160.

Ad from Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Ad from Motor Trend. “How’d they do that spot?” Creativity 10. 34. 127. See “Endeavor Joins Glut of SUVs. April 1998. 111. Ad from Motor Trend. 23. March 1998. Personal ad capture. September 2002. 23 September 2002. Ann-Christine Diaz. p. Ad from Canadian Geographic.cadillac. From 50. 49. Ad from Maclean’s. Sign Wars: The Cluttered Landscape of Advertising (New York: Guildord Press. xix. Cited in Bill Dunlap. Ad from Maclean’s. p. September 1998. March 2002. Ad from Wired. 19.10 (October 1999). “Endeavor Joins Glut of SUVs. 40. January 1999. Ad from Motor Trend.22. “Porsche. SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 29 . “Nissan-pathfinder-lion-chase” from Adcritic. Personal ad capture. p. Jerry Edgerton. 54.000 and this figure could double by 2005. 48. 45. 42. for Toyota. p. December 2002. Ad from Motor Trend.000 units in 1997. Ad from Gentlemen’s Quarterly. 39.” Shoot 42. 51. December 2001. Ad from Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Cited by Bradsher. Personal ad capture. 33. 99. 29. 27. High and Mighty. “Going For A Drive. Cited by Bradsher. Luxury Peers Flood into SUV Market: New models Making Debut Next Week. Viewed on 1 October 2003. 25 November 2002. Ad from Motor Trend. Ad from http://www. 6. Ad from Motor Trend. 52. luxury SUV sales increased by six fold in 2002 to 300. Ad from Maclean’s. 46. 31. October 1997. 44. “I Want My SUV.” Advertising Age 74.com.37 (14 September 2001). Cited by Keith Bradsher. 43. November 1995. Created by Saatchi and Saatchi.10.com/cadillacjsp/models/video. Ad from Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Toronto. Created by TBWA/Chiat Day. August 2000. 30. See Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson. 53.6 (July/August 2002). 41. Ad from Maclean’s. p. Created by Publicis Groupe’s Publicis and Hal Riney for General Motors.” Money 28. Ad from Motor Trend. January 2002. 6. 32. Ad from Motor Trend. p. 24. 12 September 2002. 25. Los Angeles. March 2003. 38.” Advertising Age (10 March 2003) 74.jsp?model=escalade. Produced by TBWA/Chiat Day. High and Mighty. 35.10 (10 March 2003). 1996). July 2003. High and Mighty. 37. p. Peter Brieger. 26. 36. 9 March 1998. High and Mighty.” National Post (4 January 2002). p. 51. 47. 50. Cited by Keith Bradsher. 28.

Eds. 62. 2003. 101. “What in the World is That Thing? Why it’s a Hummer. Given the heightened susceptibility of SUVs to rollovers—the type of accident with the highest proportion of fatalities—this ‘feeling’ of security is ultimately illusory. The Chicago Gangster Theory of Life: Nature’s Debt to Society (New York: Verso. See www.autointell-news. p.000 media stories. While Brooks clearly misrepresents the nature of Bradsher’s critique. For a cogent analysis of this tendency in social criticism based upon an ecological or conservationist sensibility. 170. November 1998. You Get It’ campaign was produced by Temerlin McClain. More Pickups Displace Cars. 60. 66. an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which David Brooks (falsely) argues that the main charge against SUVs boils down to the claim that their drivers are “moral savages. Howard Eiland and Michael W. p. 76. Bradsher. 74. 1994). Viewed October 3. Cited in Bradsher. Daniel Wattenberg. 1985).” Selected Writings: Volume 4: 1938–1940. Bradsher. See www. “Big and Fancy. 146. Danny Hakim. The ‘When You Get It. 75. High and Mighty. p. p.” Wall Street Journal (21 January 2003). High and Mighty. 2 December 2003.” See David Brooks.7 (October 1995). 59. Bradsher.whatwouldjesusdrive. 57.10 (9 May 1994). p. On this website. “Humvee!.com (31 July 2003).htm.” Brooks goes on to criticize the attack on SUVs as “a classic geek assault on jock culture. Bradsher. see Andrew Ross. p. High and Mighty. 116. Ad from Motor Trend. 9(2) 2004 . 64. Ad from Motor Trend. Brian O’Reilly and Nathan Muhrvold. 56. 73. See http://www. 71.com/News-2002/June-2002/June-20021/June-05-02-p4. 198. 101. p. (Berkeley: University of California Press. 72. A18. 63. See. 69. “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. 70. 30 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. Not surprisingly. Cited in Benjamin. 61. High and Mighty. 68. for example. p. Roland Marchand. Dallas.com. 226. March 1995. Accessed on 6 October 2003. the Evangelical Environmental Network estimates that its campaign has been featured prominently in over 4. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity. 58. Bradsher. p. 65. High and Mighty. Ad from Globe and Mail. 97. 95.com. p. hummerdinger. the Sierra Club’s latest target is the Hummer. p. See www. 1920–1940.” Fortune 132.” New York Times. Bradsher. High and Mighty.55. Jennings. 426. High and Mighty.” Forbes 153.org. the latter’s discussion of the ‘innate’ characteristics of SUV drivers enables these kinds of simplistic yet highly effective forms of rebuttal. 67. “The Scarlet SUV.detroitproject.

” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24. Cited in Brian O’Reilly et al. L9. 75.” 92. Walter Thompson for Ford Motor Company. 78. see my Capitalizing on Culture: Critical Theory for Cultural Studies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 25 November 2002.5 (October 2000). September 1999. 96. 89. 83.” Karl Marx: Early Writings. 2003). The Ecology of the Automobile (Montreal: Black Rose Books.Trans. 95. and Ed. C1. 1993). Ad from Canadian Geographic. September 2000. “The City and the Car. Karl Marx. SHANE GUNSTER ‘YOU BELONG OUTSIDE’ 31 . “Driving Under the Influence: The Nature of Selling Sport Utility Vehicles. 22. 2004). 77. p. Jim Kenzie. 93. Trans. 86. Bottomore (Toronto: McGraw-Hill. p. Ad from Wired. Hakim.” National Post (20 January 2001). T. 1964). p. Ad from Canadian Geographic. the Hummer was the most popular automotive brand among both boys and girls. 81. In a 1999 marketing survey of teenagers. Ad from Maclean’s.4 (December 2000). More Pickups Displace Cars. “Detroit’s Hottest Item Is Its Biggest Gas Guzzler. p.” Toronto Star (26 November 1994). 267. Neil Dunlop. 87. 94. p. High and Mighty. 122–23. 84. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (New York: Vintage Books. p. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. 752–754. 85. 88. Technology and Society 20. p. 82. Mike Davis.B. 5 March 2001. Ad from Canadian Business. “What in the World is That Thing?” 91. “Nothing Ho-hum about a Hummer: King of the Road. “Alienated Labour. Edmund Jephcott and Others (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cited in Peter Freund and George Martin. pp. February 2003. Ad from Wired. 367. p. 97. Personal ad capture. 1987). 79. Ad from Canadian Geographic. Leigh Glover.” 99. 364. 2002). 89. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments.” New York Times (2 November 2002). For a more thorough exploration of these ideas in the context of critical theory. September 1996. 107. 1998). Danny Hakim. p. 98. Danny Hakim. Cited by Michael Jennings in Dialectical Images: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Literary Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Mimi Sheller and John Urry. Ed. 90. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. “Big and Fancy. Trans. Bradsher. November 2002. “Detroit’s Hottest Item Is Its Biggest Gas Guzzler. pp. “The Baddest 4x4 Behaves in Polite Company. Created by J. especially chapter two.” Bulletin of Science. p. E8.. 80.

108. Mike Davis. Created by Deutsch LA for Mitsubishi Motors North America. 106. 111. Dead Cities and Other Tales (New York: The New Press. 103. p. 105. see Elizabeth Seaton. 1990). Bradsher. p. 9(2) 2004 . “The Commodification of Fear. 104. Personal ad capture. 245. p. 101. Ad from Canadian Geographic. December 2001. Cities and Other Tales. 100. p. May 2003. 101. April 2003. Ad from Motor Trend. For an interesting discussion of these phenomena. 10 June 2002.100. 226. 107. 32 ETHICS & THE ENVIRONMENT. 110. Mike Davis. 2002). Personal ad capture. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Verso.” Topia 5 (2001). Ad from Motor Trend. 102. Davis. Created by TBWA/Chiat Day for Nissan. July 1997. Ad from Maclean’s. High and Mighty. 109. Ad from Gentlemen’s Quarterly.