The Holden Commodore: A Cultural Analysis
Figure 1 - First print advertisement for the new Holden Commodore, Wheels Magazine, December 1978
There are few products in Australia that have such a cultural following as the Commodore, made by the American-owned General Motors-Holden. When Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the first Holden in 1948, he exclaimed, “She’s a beauty!” This most Australian of introductions set the tone for the representation of Holden in the media as ‘Australia’s own car.’ The Commodore nameplate was launched in 1978 with the unfortunately-named VB model – it is hence we begin our cultural analysis of the Commodore. We will examine its representation, its cork-hat-and-hotdog identity, and the apathetic culture of production in GM-H factories. We will examine the consumption of the Commodore, and how its surrounding discourse is regulated. Through this analysis we will see clearly the myths for what they are.
But first, I ask, is the Commodore deserving of its fan base? Is its identity created by Holden’s PR department, or by its fans? And most importantly, is the Commodore a true icon of Australian culture?
GM-H has succeeded in creating Holden tribalism that can be equated to football fandom. At V8 Supercar races, Holden ‘supporters’ dress in red, just as Essondon F.C. supporters do at an AFL match. Holden has created this strong identity for Commodore fans through clever marketing. It is omnipresent; as an Australian, if a conversation turns towards automobiles, you will most probably be abruptly asked, ‘Holden or Ford?’ That is, by definition you must be either a ‘Holden Man’ or a ‘Ford Man;’ such is your consumer identity:
I had become a ‘Holden man,’ and with that realization came the responsibility, blind loyalty and fervent faith in the brand that had addicted so many before me – and so many since.
Bedwell has labelled himself a Holden Man, thus he is a subject of the GM Holden ideology. A ‘Holden Man’ is a subject, produced out of the discourse of ‘either Holden or Ford,’ the rule being that you indeed prefer one of the two marques and not Mercedes, for instance. The tribalism among consumers loyal to the Commodore stems from the first Australian stock car championship: “So much of the Holden versus Ford rivalry is predicated on the yearly 500 mile/1000 kilometre race at Mount Panorama, Bathurst, NSW, and has been since the 1960s.” Not many manufacturers have created a sport specifically to promote their products.
GM-H capitalises on the quintessentially Australian image of the Commodore it has created. This identity is illustrated through the discourse present in the advertisement below: first the reader is hailed by the slogan, “You’re one of us,” creating an identity and making a subject (or ‘Holden Man’) out of the reader. The offer is to “all Australians,” therefore the consumer is automatically part of the Holden ‘family.’ Then the consumer is allowed to ‘live in’ this ideology, through the background pictures of families, dogs and children (the red-tinted photographic backdrop). Now, because the consumer is part of the Australian-Holden ‘family,’ it becomes un-Australian to engage in discourse critical of the Commodore. It is ironic – even offensive – that Commodores are not permanently discounted to all Australians, “given some $3 billion in government handouts in the past 10 years” to car companies including Holden, coming from public tax revenue. However given the brand’s status on the National Museum website (see footnote 1), the Commodore is an inherent part of our national identity, regardless of whether or not it really should be.
Figure 2 - Advertisement from www.HoldenCampaign.com.au
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