Stanley Fish—public intellectual, Times blogger, and man of secret ethics—has been doing a lot of thinking about rental car ads, and their relation to cheating on your wife and/ or gay lover. "The genius of the commercials is that they foreground the sexuality that informs the relationship between the car owner and the object of his/her affection," Fish wrote. That's what I'm saying! Because many rental car ads play on the theme of leaving your old car for a new one, Fish believes they are deserving of deep deconstruction. About his favorite Avis ad, he concludes "Lust is lust and betrayal is betrayal, whether the relationship is gay or straight." Others might just like the part with the car, and the guy, and the joke. The ad, and his deep, sexy analysis of its genre, below.
Strange to say, these are not good ads precisely because they are so good. The point of a commercial is to make the viewer fall in love with the product, in this case the hot cars Avis is pimping. But the viewers of these commercials are more likely to give their affections to the product's victims, for it is from their point of view that the narrative has been presented.
While Avis's intention is, no doubt, to advance its corporate fortunes through these commercials, the image the ads project is less than flattering. Avis comes across as the supplier of temptation, the enabler of seduction, a corporate madame. Its stable of "hot cars" lure men and women to default on their responsibilities, to throw away the tried and true, to surrender to the meretricious glitter of the new. But these wiles are defeated by the sympathy we are made to feel for those who have been harmed by them.
Who would have thought that in the early years of the 21st century, advertising would give us a morality tale of such power?