Cadillac caused a stir this week when a casting service put out a request on behalf of the American luxury brand looking to fill the role of an “alt-right (neo-Nazi)” in a new commercial. Cadillac denied it had ever authorized the notice and condemned it, while the casting company took responsibility, saying that it had been issued by mistake. Regardless of who did what, the idea had to have been hatched somewhere and by someone, which reveals something far more troubling than a mere streak of poor taste and even poorer judgement in corporate America: the marketability and mainstreaming of an alt-right population, or those “identified variously with anti-globalist and anti-immigrant stances, cartoon frogs, white nationalists, pick-up artists, anti-Semites, and a rising tide of right-wing populism,” as Tablet contributor Jacob Siegel wrote in a profile of Paul Gottfried, the alt-right’s “godfather.”
The idea that any major American corporation would see an appeal in casting a neo-Nazi isn’t just horribly offensive; it is also a premonition of how we will be forced to engage with the alt-right: like the cyclist, or the taxi driver, or the veteran—all roles the casting call was also looking to fill—we will find ourselves dealing with the alt-right every day, apparently. Now it seems they’ve reached enough of a critical mass and their ideas have become important enough that they are now a target demographic.
While the majority of America struggles to find a way to define a group of people that will play an important role in the next administration, big business is already trying to find ways to monetize this newfangled (and popular enough) identity, which points to the even more unsettling realization: There exists great enough group of Americans who feel empowered by what the alt-right represents, and believes, that putting a “real” one, as the casting call sought, in a commercial is actually an effective tool for selling cars. This is to say that if a certain group of people merit representation in something as mindless and banal as a car commercial, then it stands to reason that they are a very real part of mainstream American society and culture.
Something as boring as a car commercial offers a particularly terrifying scenario, because if we are able to one day sit through a neo-Nazi commercial during a regular evening of television without losing our minds, it would mean that by necessity the images and ideas of the alt-right will have become routine for us, and would represent a mainstreaming of a certain brand of identity politics, brought to you by the likes of GM, et. al.
Alexander Aciman is a writer living in New York. His work has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Vox, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.