The US auto industry had massive drug use and absenteeism in their assembly plants in the 1960s and ’70s (at least). Working conditions were brutal and the workplace environment was toxic; companies treated the workers like dogѕhіt at every turn. This first film is a fascinatingly cynical, arrogant, willfully blind, deaf, and ignorant piece of propaganda from General Motors.
American goods were tops for a lot of years; everyone in the world wanted an American car, but this is the 1970s and the automakers have thoroughly piѕѕed that away. Now the opposite is occurring: Datsuns and Toyotas and VWs are making fast (and loyal) American friends, home electronics are no longer made in America, motorcycles and shoes and clothes are rapidly heading offshore. And GM’s message on that backdrop is, “Okeh, yeah, fine, maybe we should design and engineer better cars, but the real reason we’re not building cars at least as good as Japanese or German ones—real American cars for real Americans—is because you slackaѕѕed losers don’t show up to work!”. Can’t resist throwing in some crowing—”We’re making cars with less pollution every year!”—as if they weren’t (they were) fighting
tooth lawyer and claw lobbyist against every effort to regulate the design, construction, and equipment of motor vehicles to make them less injurious, deadly, and toxic. There’s another laughable moment when the narrator all but declares American cars are safest, over a scene of a driver fastening an all but useless lap belt (Volvo had 3-point belts in ’59; Australia mandated them in the ’60s, Switzerland-spec Valiants and Darts had unitised 3-point belts by ’70 versus the difficult and uncomfortable separate lap/shoulder belts Detroit faffed around with til ’74). Meanwhile, self-righteous entitlement: “Those are new VWs…headed for our customers!” All of this as scenes flash past of what’s that being built? Why, it’s the Chevrolet Vega, a pathetic excrescence of a car which was at least as much worse as VWs and Datsun and Toyota “Japanese beetles” (aHyuck!) were better.
The first step toward fixing a problem is acknowledging it. That’s very difficult even for the humble, perceptive individual; it’s nigh on impossible for whoever lacks those traits. Upton Sinclair nailed this: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it”. American automaker executives were blinkered by their lavish salaries and the funhouse-mirror view from their offices on the 14th Floor™ and its equivalents at Ford and Chrysler: a sea of their own products. Clearly to them, the problem wasn’t on their end. Not only lazy, shiftless, goodfernothing line workers (going on strike! The nerve!), but also…um…currency manipulation and unfair trade by those evil, scheming Jap[ane]s[e]! Also onerous, burdensome big-government regulations—the same regs German, Japanese, and Swedish automakers didn’t seem to have nearly such difficulty with, perhaps because they put their effort and money toward complying with them rather than toward fighting them.
This film’s got Lee Iacocca, famed for the padded vinyl half-roof, the opera window, the waterfall grill, the phake wire wheelcover, the stolen slogan, expensively implementing an incredibly, remarkably bad idea he got in the throes of a fever dream after eating bad lobster or something, and making his company’s cars out of Japanese steel with one side of his mouth while Japan-bashing to beat the band out the other. Here we’re treated at about 4:00 to Lido admitting that American automakers “shipped some crap”, then at about 6:04 (as in “UltraDrive”) claiming for the I’ve-lost-count-of-how-manyth time that now in 1995 or so, all that unpleasantness is behind us and American cars are “world class”. Oh, sure, Lee; surely. Watch the beginning of this film carefully and you’ll see written reference to Eddie Campos, who merits further reading if you’re not familiar with how he handled his lemon of a 1970 Lincoln.
So yeah…y’know that kid at school and summer camp, the one who got so many time-outs and referrals to the principal’s office that they set out an extra chair for when other kids would occasionally also get banished? The one who was always insisting that every fight, every classroom disruption, every specimen afire in the science lab, every deliberately flooded toilet was anybody and everybody else’s fault, never his own? Yeah.