SCENE on TV: A lavish, expensive wedding party.
Behind-the-scene reality: At last count, one family in seven in America had income below the federal poverty level -- $13,359 for a family of four.
Scene on TV: The beautiful bride and handsome groom.
Behind-the-scene reality: In 1979, 18.9 percent of full-time workers had jobs classified as low-wage. By 1989, this had risen to 23.1 percent, and this year it stands at 25.7 percent.
Scene on TV: The father of the bride has an announcement to make. The bride and the guests all are attentive.
Behind-the-scene reality: According to the Economic Policy Institute, real salaries for college-educated Americans declined more than 3 percent between 1987 and 1991. The fastest-growing occupations are janitors, waiters and hospital orderlies. The Fortune 500 companies employed 3.7 million fewer workers in 1991 than in 1981, a loss (according to Fortune) of one job in four.
Scene on TV: The bride's father makes a pretty speech about the young couple going through life, and then gives them the keys to a new Mercedes, saying, "We hope you like the color."
Behind-the-scene reality: U.S. average family income has dropped more than $1,000 in the last three years.
I almost upchuck every time I see that particular TV commercial. I think it an arrogant and insensitive piece of gar-bazh at a time when 35 million Americans are in poverty and millions are either on the unemployed lists or have given up on finding work.
Compounding it, and used in some slightly less offensive Mercedes-Benz ads, is the company's new American slogan: "Sacrifice nothing."
Sacrifice nothing? What that means, I fear, is, "Hey, you got yours, I got mine, the heck with all those other peons. Don't sacrifice anything!"
These ads have to be aimed at the modern American bloatocracy, namely, a few hundred CEOs and arbitrageurs -- those not in jail -- and a few dozen Ruben Sierras and Madonnas making megabucks. Meanwhile, workaday America is flat running out of jobs, wages are falling for many who do find work, and plants are closing. And Mercedes says, "Sacrifice nothing"? Yuk.
Yeah, yeah. I know M-B means, "Don't compromise your standards. Don't settle for second best." They mean their cars are (in their view) safer or longer-lasting or whatever. To say nothing of somewhat prestigious in case you want to look good driving up to the country club dance or the Republican precinct meeting.
Back in the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when Packards and Duesenbergs and so forth were the kings of the highways, America's luxury cars sort of soft-pedaled the snooty appeal in their advertising.
Indeed, I knew people as late as the 1950s and 1960s -- people who had survived the Depression and then prospered -- who carefully did not buy the top-line luxury cars (a Cadillac, for instance) because it was sort of, well, a show-off kind of thing. The sort of "lookit me" excess that brought the rabble into the streets of Paris in 1789.
Indeed, I think it was Marie Antoinette who said, "Sacrifice nothing! Let them eat Hyundais! I'll take my Merc."
Come the revolution, fellows, and the Mercedes-Benz ad agency is one of the first targets. Sacrifice, indeed.
Their ad emphasizes, inadvertently, a lot of what is wrong with America these days: the widening gap between rich and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, the loss of jobs and income and the overall economic stagnation largely due to a mountain of public and private debt heaped up while we were on a "sacrifice nothing" and "gratification now" binge in the 1980s.
To pay the bill -- to become competitive, to reduce the national debt and the budget deficits -- Americans will have to sacrifice something. Indeed, many Americans already are sacrificing, or being sacrificed. Maybe folks who can feel virtuous about paying $50,000 and up for a vehicle that basically does the same thing as a Ford Escort or a Chevy Cavalier haven't felt the pinch yet, but that doesn't make it smart to remind others that neither the benefits of the 1980s boom nor the sacrifices of the 1990s are equally distributed.
Pat Truly is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.