Is it me or were the Super Bowl commercials this year unusually ugly, misogynistic, and, worst of all, unfunny? Some of America’s biggest corporations seemed to be trying to play to Teabag America, and the results were as bitter as the teabaggers themselves. Amidst the dreck was a commercial from Audi featuring the “green police.” Here it is:

At first blush this seems like more teabagging — appealing to angry white men with the same old stereotype of environmentalists as meddling do-gooders obsessed with picayune behavioral sins. If you check in the comments under the video, that perspective is well represented. Says Metallicafan6611, “You guys all laugh. But this is really going to happen. Wake up people! Stop being sheep!” Enviros are predictably steamed (see, e.g., A Siegel).

The more I’ve thought about it, though, the more the teabaggy interpretation just doesn’t quite fit. The thrill at the end, when the guy gets to accelerate away from the crowd, turns on satisfying the green police — not rejecting or circumventing them, but satisfying their strict standards. The authority of the green police is taken for granted, never questioned. If you’re looking to appeal to mooks who think the green police are full of it and have no authority, moral or otherwise, why would you make a commercial like that? Why offer escape from a moral dilemma your audience doesn’t acknowledge exists?

The ad only makes sense if it’s aimed at people who acknowledge the moral authority of the green police — people who may find those obligations tiresome and constraining on occasion, who only fitfully meet them, who may be annoyed by sticklers and naggers, but who recognize that living more sustainably is in fact the moral thing to do. This basically describes every guy I know.

Now go back through the ad. Notice that everyone who gets busted is a man. There are lots more urban and suburban professional males in Audi’s target market than there are teabaggers.

To scratch one layer deeper: what is Audi’s message to these guys who want to be good but find the effort anxious-making? Here’s a way to meet your green obligations and still have a bad-ass car! The Audi A3 is both green and desirable — indeed more desirable because it’s green. Buried deep in this ad, in other words, is a bright green message: prosperity, pleasure, and sustainability can be achieved together.

Anyway, not to overthink it (ahem), but the ad is not just another pot shot at greens. It’s an appeal to a new and growing demographic that isn’t hard-core environmentalist — and doesn’t particularly like hard-core environmentalists — but that basically wants to do the right thing. Audi’s effort to reach them, however clumsy, is actually a bit ahead of the curve.

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UPDATE: I’ve been getting some … colorful emails about this post. Some excerpts, and a response, here.

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