Last Updated 12 May 2020

General Motors and The American Look

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The Baby Boomer generation’s notion of freedom is intimately tied to the changing styles of modern consumerism. Ideas of American affluence would come through the purchase and enjoyment of a fulfilling home life characterized by a loving marriage with a few adorable children in a beautiful suburban house with a sprawling lawn and white picket fence.

General Motors, one of the leading manufacturers of the time, celebrated these ideas through its 1958 sponsorship of The American Look. The film traces and highlights what GM considers to be the prized possessions and lifestyle of the affluent class, which in the film as well as in American society at the time, meant a white, upper-middle class existence. Through both form and content, The American Look parallels the mythical portrait of a happy and well-to-do American Dream.

The narrator, a deep-voiced male, says in Part I, “By the way things look as well as how they perform, our homes acquire new grace, new glamour, new accommodations - expressing not only the American love of beauty, but also the basic freedom of the American people, which is the freedom of individual choice. ” This is all said over a scanning shot of a pristine white kitchen filled with GM amenities in a modern home. General Motors was relying on the idea that in order to be free, American’s practice their liberty through their decisions in the marketplace.

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The catchphrase ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ is here exploited by the thinly disguised marketing and sales promotional function of this film, implying that to be modern meant buying the latest stylish designs. Instead of a film portraying the workers whose ardent labor produced the goods that the affluent class purchased, the film shows the modern stylists in their leisurely enjoyment of products that General Motors stood to profit from.

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