Find Your Own Road

"You are having lunch with a large man who just happens to be your boss." So begins a commercial for Saab automobiles. The boss "makes a statement that you know to be in error." What do you do? Saab’s answer is not only a marketing strategy: It’s a philosophical statement of radical anti-authoritarianism. The ad first suggests two possible answers that are polite and respectful. Or, it goes on, you can choose the direct route of communication: "Come on, J. B., blow it out your ear." Four out of five Saab owners, the ad claims, would choose "the direct route of communication." The suggestion is that being polite and respectful means being a wimp. In other Saab ads, people decide they’re never going to shave or wear a suit again. After announcing their refusal to conform, they literally drive their Saabs into the sunset. The point is clear: A Saab is more than just a car. It’s a statement that personal autonomy is more important than courtesy or responsibility. A Saab, we’re told, is for those who "dare to find their own road." The Saab series illustrates the way advertising is about more than selling products. It markets attitudes and lifestyles. Ads tell us that what we eat, wear, or drive makes a statement about who we are. The Saab ads tap into a dream of baby boomers since the 1960s: the dream of "doing your own thing." During the sixties, the young idealists of the counterculture viewed authority as an impediment to personal authenticity. They fervently believed that freedom from oppressive authority would usher in the Age of Aquarius: an age of "harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding." Well, the Age of Aquarius never dawned, but the sixties left us with a legacy of deep suspicion toward all forms of authority. Authority figures are still viewed as interfering with the individual’s headlong pursuit of happiness. In the words of philosopher Russell Hittinger, the result is that we now live in a nation populated by 260 million supreme beings. We don’t like being told what to do. This is the attitude the Saab ads play into. But authority is a gift from God, one that, properly exercised, serves as a check on human evil. Institutions such as the family, church, school, and government set restraints on our sinful impulses by transmitting a moral heritage—and enforcing it when necessary. Unfortunately, each of these institutions has lost social credibility over the past 30 years. In fact, sociologist James Q. Wilson attributes America’s huge increase in crime and deviancy in part to this delegitimizing of authority. That’s why cultural expressions like the one Saab is sending are so dangerous. Companies that invite people to thumb their noses at authority—to "find their own road"—do our nation a great disservice. You and I need to learn to recognize ads that promote anti-authoritarian attitudes. And we ought to teach our kids what would happen if everyone took Saab’s dare to find their own road, no matter what the cost. We would usher in not the Age of Aquarius, but an age of unrestrained evil.  


Chuck Colson



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