It’s Sunday night, and I just got to sneak a few minutes with my son to watch a little Sunday Night Football before sending him up to brush the pearly whites. Unfortunately, we had to endure this VW Atlas commercial too. It left me gaping in awe; my son’s face said quite clearly without words, “uhh, what the heck was that?” I’d encourage you to watch the commercial yourself instead of enduring some stumbling recount on my part.

The intended message of embracing the similarities of American families with different cultures is admirable… if it had been conveyed without showing the families in such negative light. Quick cuts of a Saturday morning ritual, most of it screaming children and stressed out parents, takes center stage. And the chaos they create against the backdrop of Johnny Cash’s “These Are My People“ all fades away as they crawl into their VW Atlas and drive off down their suburban street to the baseball diamond or soccer field. I imagine if the 90 second spot had played out further, we’d see the quiet interior of the SUV, every child staring down at a screen playing Candy Crush, refusing to interact with one another with civility.

VW family dysfunction

Was VW thematically striving for ‘heartwarming’ or maybe something they expected their consumer base to pound their chests at saying “Hey! That’s us!”. The unfortunate problem is that content like this leads to the normalization of this behavior, as if this squabbling is okay and perfectly acceptable in the daily grind of family life. That is dangerous. Sure it happens at some point in every household. And sure, the opposite approach we’re so used to — sun drenched breakfast tables with smiling children straight out of a Gap Kids ad — is cheesy as all heck. But the manufactured content of little, modern day, Norman Rockwell vignettes do not necessarily add to the dysfunction permeating life.

Long gone are the days when mass media imitates society. Instead society imitates mass media. Maybe it’s a group of catty, bickering housewives or sisters; maybe it’s a rabid sports fan in a $200 jersey sitting on the front row of a football game; maybe it’s the scores of obsessed shoppers lined up for days for Black Friday as the local media captures some fluff piece like it’s a normal holiday thing to do; or maybe it’s households of snippy family members all yelling as if they loathed one another.

Whatever it is, I don’t need a psychological study to tell me that for a big group of people, this is just the way it is. Mass media normalizes it. Society becomes accustomed to it and less mindful of themselves when they do it. Society already suffers enough from this “I, me, mine” mentality that permeates so much of our daily lives. Do we really need to witness it reenacted for the sake of selling an SUV? Swing and a huge miss, Volkswagen.

After we tucked the kids in, this Hyundai commercial came along to balance out the evening by injecting some class back into the broadcast.

*These thoughts are my own. I’m not expert — just a constant observer. I’m not a cynic, just a concerned parent who may make the occasional generalization when putting a mirror up to the dysfunction in society.