Feb 102012
 

Clint Eastwood’s Chrysler ad during the Super Bowl knocked me out.

It was stunningly effective piece of work. It resonated deeply with me as a skillfully crafted message – even as I knew it wasn’t telling the whole truth about the comeback of Detroit, my hometown.

Still, I wanted to believe, if only for a few minutes, that we could work together to confront our national problems, and millions of other Super Bowl watchers joined me in that yearning.

It reminded me of another inspired piece of highly distilled corn-pone football-inspired poetry: what Coach told his players on `Friday Night Lights,’ “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

With its irresistibly simple pep-talk pitch, the ad stirred up strong feelings, both for what it said and what it left unsaid about what’s actually going on in Detroit and the U.S.

It showed once again the power of plain language, delivered in Eastwood’s classic growl.

It reminded me how ineffective those of us who oppose corporate power have often been in claiming for our cause our deeply rooted patriotism and our pride in how every-day Americans have fought again and again, against terrible obstacles, to build a democracy that would work for everyone.

It also provoked deep feelings about Clint Eastwood, the ever-evolving artist.

He’s been a great champion of Detroit. He made one of his finest films, “Gran Torino,” in the city. Released in 2008 in the wake of the financial collapse, it tells the story of the redemption of a retired autoworker, recently widowed and deeply racist.

Reviewing the film, Manohla Dargis wrote in the New York Times: “Melancholy is etched in every long shot of Detroit’s decimated, emptied streets and in the faces of those who remain to still walk in them. Made in the 1960s and `70s, the Gran Torino was never a great symbol of American automotive might, which makes Walt [Eastwood’s character’s] love for the car more poignant. It was made by an industry that now barely makes cars, in a city that hardly works, in a country that too often has felt recently as if it can’t do anything right anymore except, every so often, make a movie like this one.”

Eastwood made `Gran Torino’ under the generous tax breaks of a program designed to encourage filmmaking in Detroit, a program that has since been limited by the state’s current Republican governor, eroding the promise of the nascent film industry.

For the Chrysler ad, the auto company enlisted not only Eastwood, but hired a top ad agency, Wieden-Kennedy; the director of several terrific films, David Gordon Green; and two top-notch writers: Oregon-based poet Matthew Dickman and Texas-based fiction writer, Smith Henderson.

Even so, it’s an ad, meant to sell cars by inspiring hope and pride in Americans’ ability to get up and come back after a hard punch.

So the ad doesn’t quite tell you the real score at the end of the first half, nor does it come entirely clean on who’s been playing on which team.

If the 99 percent were writing the script, not Chrysler, Eastwood might have something very different to say about our game plan as the second half gets underway.

It doesn’t mention that the majority owner of Chrysler is now Fiat, an Italian auto firm, or that Chrysler, newly profitable after it $12.5 billion taxpayer bailout, now pays new employees $14-$16 an hour, about half of what Chrysler employees used to be paid.

“The gratitude that many Detroit workers felt just after the bailout,” Reuters reported last October, “has given way to a frustrated sense that blue-collar workers have not shared equally in the industry’s comeback.”

I wonder what Clint Eastwood’s characters might say about our current predicament.

Something tells me Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character wouldn’t think much of our state attorneys general’s settlement with the big banks, which lets the bankers off the hook for fraud in the foreclosure process in exchange for ineffective and inadequate assistance for homeowners.

Describing the $26 billion settlement, the Times acknowledges it would “help

a relatively small portion of the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure.”

Meanwhile, while it will be good for the banks to get the foreclosure fraud charges behind them, it remains unclear how much the settlement will help the “moribund” housing market, the Times reports.

The $26 million will be distributed to states according to a complex formula. Actual victims of foreclosure fraud are supposed to get about $1,500 apiece. An undetermined number of underwater homeowners will get their principals written down by about $20,000. Some funding will also go to further investigation into banker fraud and consumer education.

Unfortunately neither the Obama Administration nor the AGs’ credibility is very good in living up to previous promises to help homeowners. Previous administration efforts, as well as previous AG settlements, have delivered much less than they initially promised, plagued by inadequate oversight and relying on voluntary bank participation. For more details, check Naked Capitalism; for more critique, Firedoglake.

What would Eastwood’s Dirty Harry think?

Just another day at the office, with the thugs getting away with their crimes in a world gone awry.

I couldn’t help wondering: would Dirty Harry negotiate with an intruder who robbed your house? Would he suggest to the intruder, “OK, just give back 30 percent of what you took and clean out the rain gutters and we’ll call it even?”

Unlikely. Dirty Harry would track down the crooks, scowl and start blasting away with his trademark .44 Magnum.

One of our previous presidents, Ronald Reagan, understood the visceral power of Dirty Harry and evoked him in a fight with Congress, when it was threatening to raise taxes. Reagan said he would veto any tax increase. “Go ahead,” the former president said, quoting the Dirty Harry character, “make my day.”

You’ll find very little of that spirit among the Obama administration officials and lawmen and law women assigned to the big bank beat.

Walt, the character in  `Gran Torino,’ and Dirty Harry are very different characters, separated by age and experience. They both live in broken worlds, filled with violence and cynicism. But confronted with today’s bankers, they would recognize them for what they are: shameless bullies, terrifying our neighborhood. And they would recognize the Obama administration and the state AGS who negotiated with them rather than investigated them for what they have become: cowards.

 

 

About Martin Berg

Martin Berg, WheresOurMoney.org editor, is a veteran journalist.

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