Friday, January 18, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance Detroit-style

Now available on DVD

Attention Psych 101 adjuncts:  When the syllabus hits "cognitive dissonance" cue up chapter eight of the documentary-as-dirge Detropia

Tommy Stevens can teach this topic far better than you.

In this scene (titled "China Can Do") Stevens, a retired Detroit school teacher and current blues bar owner, tours the North American International Auto Show with his wife. He's thrilled to get a close-up look at the new Chevy Volt. "I like it!" he says, telling a GM flack, "This car is built down the street from my business." If the Volt does well, Stevens will too. 

Next, the couple visits the booth of Chinese car manufacturer, BYD (slogan:  Build Your Dreams), which has its own battery-powered vehicle with a sticker price clocking in at $13K less than the Volt. 

You can see Stevens' USA-USA-USA confidence start to crumple. "That's interesting," he says, leaning in to read BYD's display. He rears back, exclaiming to his wife, "It's a better deal!" 

Like a latter-day Paul Revere, he scoots back to the GM flacks, asking if they have seen what BYD offers. Nope, they hadn't even looked at it; besides, the Chinese car surely doesn't have all the options of the Volt. Incredulous, Stevens shouts, "This global economy stinks!"

Calming, he then schools the GM guys on history. This is Honda déjà vu for Stevens. "'Honda was junk', they said." We all know what happened next. 

The GM flacks refuse his pleas. And here is where frustration, intellect and thwarted love combine across Tommy's face. Detroit businessman-Tommy wants the Volt to win; "average American" businessman-Tommy would also run the numbers and, if it were his purchase, knows he'd likely buy BYD. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald is attributed as saying:  The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

I don't know how well Stevens is functioning these days, but his intellect is unassailable. As he walks away from the GM booth, he shakes his head and tells his wife, "That guy doesn't want to talk about reality. We got our heads in the sand again. This is heartbreaking!" 


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