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Labor & Economy

How the 1% Thinks

Vivian Rothstein

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Print ad for Audi A6

One of my weekend pleasures is a morning with the Sunday New York Times.  I used to feel reading it was disloyal to my hometown, Los Angeles.  But as the L.A. Times dramatically shrank and its reporting  focus narrowed, I found that there was a lot of news I ended up knowing nothing about.  The New York Times, whose heft hasn’t diminished,  makes me feel smarter, broadens my world perspective, has editorials that don’t leave me fuming and, as an added bonus, helps me stay abreast of the well-heeled residents of New York– the ones who buy $4.5 million, 6,000 square-foot apartments on the 20th floor of  Upper East Side historic buildings; who pass on $20,000 watches to their sons; and who are in the market for summer mansions in the Hamptons or rural Connecticut.

However on a recent weekend an ad in the Times Magazine made me feel that by enjoying the paper I was deserting the American people.

“The roads are underfunded by $450 billion.  With the right car, you may never notice” declares an ad for the $60,000 high-end Audi .  Pictured are six identical potholes in the path of a gleaming new Audi A6.  “…You’ll be able to effortlesly navigate anything the road throws your way…..maybe you won’t even notice the giant hole in the road maintenance budget.”

I’m not saying that most wealthy people imagine that their money will exempt them from the pain of a crumbling infrastructure, mediocre schools and a worsening environment.  But certainly some ad executives want them to be thinking that way.  In that sense local government meltdowns can be seen as an advertising boon to private companies, whose products are shown to offer an exemption from the hardships that the rest of us face as road maintenance, transportation, public health and regulatory budgets are gutted.

But no matter what Madison Avenue may be suggesting, we’re all in this together.  Driving a fancy car in a town where unemployment and income disparity are painfully apparent, where public services are diminished, where kids have no hope for their futures and where immigrants are harassed and deported won’t keep the driver safe, served or welcomed.

Yet it’s interesting to note how quickly changing social values show up in ad copy.  The Mad Men must feel someone is listening.

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