Purchasing Freedom

Jeremy Packer’s Mobility Without Mayhem enlightens the reader on prominence and status that accompanied Cadillac ownership for African Americans. The Cadillac was seen as an instrument of success and “aggression”, it was a symbol that any black man could be just as good as a white man (Packer, 189). The Cadillac was a means of overcoming the limiting force of racial bias. It “broke the code of white display and success” (Packer, 190).

Packer’s article begins with a story (Cadillac Flambe) where a man is driving a Cadillac with the belief he is free (due to his Cadillac ownership), until he hears a radio advertisement that refers to Cadillacs as “coon cages”. In this moment the subject realizes the Cadillac could be a means to trick the black man into solely believing he was free.

The Cadillac is an example of the cultural and material struggle for African Americans. Cadillac Flambe makes evident how the meaning of the Cadillac (or any advertised good) could be quickly altered.

Cadillac ownership was envisioned and advertised as a sign of success and freedom. But, in reality this did not hold true. With African American ownership of Cadillacs explanations began to popularize to explain away black success. A black man driving a Cadillac was considered a criminal, a childlike consumer who was reckless with spending, or an embezzler of the welfare system. These explanations became one of the means of legitimating racial profiling (195).

“The Cadillac, or any automobile for that matter, could be both a ticket to freedom and a mobile cage.” Jeremy Packer, 190

This quote explains how the Cadillac was advertised as a ticket of freedom, but in reality this was not true. Packer’s article draws on a wide range of source including magazines, films, books, newspapers which signalled the Cadillac as a sign of success. Ebony magazine, an influential magazine for African Americans advertised how real and true success was indicated by the Cadillac (Packer, 196). Advertising for the Cadillac focused on the emotions and status related to Cadillac ownership. Cadillac sold the feeling of freedom and racial equality through ownership.

It is seen over and over in advertising, companies selling feelings of freedom and empowerment. Many marketing campaigns focus on emotions over the actual product itself. This is exceedingly seen in lottery ticket advertisements.

The advertising tactic of lottery companies signals economic freedom, travel, material wealth, or whatever the viewer desires. It is a game where hope and dreams are for sale. The Cadillac was advertised as a marker of and a means of freedom just like the lottery. The Cadillac was not advertised for its ability to transport efficiently, but as a signal of freedom, status, and luxury (Packer, 203). Lottery advertising is focused on freedom, financial freedom. But, in reality a lottery ticket is a mobile cage. Few in millions receive financial freedom, while the others receive nothing in return for a purchased ticket. Just as Packer’s refers to a Cadillac, a lottery ticket is believed to be a ticket to freedom but in reality is a mobile cage, where consumers are sold the belief they will be free and do not receive actual freedom.

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