Home » I Think I Have To Post This Old Atari Pole Position Commercial With The VW Rabbit And The Real Jerk: Cold Start

I Think I Have To Post This Old Atari Pole Position Commercial With The VW Rabbit And The Real Jerk: Cold Start

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I’ve written about this before at the Old Site, but I was reminded about it because my kid absolutely loves this old commercial and he always wants me to say the crucial line in here while we drive, ideally as loudly as possible. The line is, of course, “Hey! You look like a real jerk!” and even better is that its delivered by an unseen voice, an almost god-like presence that eventually manifests a colossal hand and dramatically affects the lives of the Volkswagen Rabbit-driving family. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this may be the most important artifact of recorded media in human culture. That feels right.

Anyway, here’s the ad:

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Glorious, isn’t it? This is how you advertise things: with some sort of omnipotent being calling you a jerk and grabbing you and forcing you to do shit. It’s the platonic ideal.

Let’s look at some interesting details here, ones that speak to some automotive cultural changes since the early 1980s, when this ad was released. First, the family: they were very much a stereotype of the 1980s “yuppie,” the Young Urban Professional, a relatively new upwardly-mobile segment of the population that dominated a lot of pop culture of the time.

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The man’s occupation (corporate executive) and the names of the family members (Muffy, Buffy, Biff, and Biff jr.) are all absolutely by-the-joke-book Yuppie names, and they’re treated with the derision that would be expected. But what’s interesting automotively is their choice of car:

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That’s a pretty mainstream 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit, built in VW’s Westmoreland, Pennsylvania plant. It was a good, popular car, but not exactly the sort of upmarket car you might expect of a yuppie “corporate executive.” I wonder why they didn’t put them in a BMW of some kind, which even then was very associated with the yuppie subculture?

My guess is that they found a matching model of the Rabbit at the right size easier than the BMW, even if the Rabbit model they used was an earlier version, without the wraparound corner turn indicators. I guess they thought no one would notice. But I did! Now who’s the jerk?

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Oh, and as an aside, I once did an installation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art that let you play this very same version of Pole Position in a different 1983 car, a Lancia:

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Ah, good times!

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Scramblerken
Scramblerken
9 months ago

A yuppie was a young urban professional. I always assumed they were not yet breeding and being younger, one would not have achieved an executive role.

Toddyus
Toddyus
10 months ago

I remember this commercial! Makes me wistful for the simpler life of an 8 year old.

Somehow over the years reading your content, Torch, I missed that you are an artist. You are quite the Renaissance Man.

Top Dead Center
Top Dead Center
10 months ago

Go for a Sunday drive in an old school slow VW then some giant hand picks you up and dumps you into a (also nearby) race car in the middle of a race… how does said giant hand return you to your car? Or… is it a race to the death?

Last edited 10 months ago by Top Dead Center
Nlpnt
Nlpnt
10 months ago

I can’t think of an off-the-shelf model of the Rabbit/Golf I that wasn’t a 2 door round headlight version. At least the old original AMT version from 1978 has US bumpers.

And in the pantheon of ’80s Marketing-To-Kids Enemies of Fun, a Rabbit was more of a “school vice-principal” car than a “corporate executive” one.

Tony Cotton
Tony Cotton
10 months ago

They seem to be driving some rather nice Ralts. I’m assuming RT5 Formula Supervees as it’s the US, but bizarrely seem to be against at least one Brabham from the previous decade.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago

Ah.. the good old days, back when we all agreed that over exaggerated yuppies were the real enemy.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
10 months ago

I wonder if this father was based on Peter Scolari’s character (Michael) in Newhart or vice versa?

At least Michael was a yuppie gearhead – it was revealed by a Ouija board that his true love was a Turbo Z.

Cameron Showers
Cameron Showers
10 months ago

Don’t forget the Speed racer golf commercial! I know someone mentioned it in the past

CSRoad
CSRoad
10 months ago

I played the arcade sit down version of this many times.
The article triggered the sounds and “Prepare to qualify.” in my head.
My brain is full of crap and once again it is triggered.
I have things I need to do, but oh no, now I have to drag out my steering wheel and pedals and dig out the Namco ROM files for the game.
Damn you all to heck Torch!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
10 months ago

I always enjoy how any sort of motorsports safety equipment is treated in the media (even today). As in, Muffy using her hand to keep her helmet on her head is classic.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
10 months ago

I want to know which family members bought it in a fiery death.

Drew
Drew
10 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Eventually, all of them. Some people say they are still on that road, crashing and respawning just to feel something and break up the endless driving.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
10 months ago
Reply to  Drew

I’m that neighbor in the background running away from the whole weird situation.
Am I ashamed of my actions?
I have nightmares about it.
Could I have saved them at the time?
I doubt it.
I was the last person to see that family alive, and nobody believes my explanation of the events I witnessed that day.
The best I can do now, to save them, is to hunker in my bunker and work on my quantum leap accelerator.
Some day I’ll make it back to that day and… I dunno, probably run away again.
That omnipotent hand and booming voice is pretty scary.

Car Guy
Car Guy
10 months ago

What track did they use to film that ad? It’s the pedestrian bridge that’s haunting me.

Kris Rayner
Kris Rayner
10 months ago
Reply to  Car Guy

That’s Laguna Seca

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
10 months ago

I don’t feel like I know enough about Torch’s pre-car website days. That Lancia exhibit is wild!

Drew
Drew
10 months ago

Pole Position is still one of my favorite arcade games. Never got to play it in a pixelated Lancia, though; that’s a fun art installation.

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago

I am sure that doctoral theses are being written (probably by AI) about the Gen-X obsession with pixelation. I lived with bad graphics and could not wait for them to improve. But I did blow a lot of quarters on Pole Position.

Swedish Jeep
Swedish Jeep
10 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

GenX has nothing on the subsequent generations for Pixelation- how is minecraft still a thing? I rejoiced when my NES was retired for 16bit- yet somehow these 8bit looking games- straight out of a Dire Straights video soldier on in popularity….

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago
Reply to  Swedish Jeep

Maybe Gen-Xers are calling the shots at the video game companies?

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
10 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

I’ve written about it constantly, but it’s a Millennial/Gen Z thing. They’ve discovered the eighties and are unable to move past it or create anything new. We’re stuck in a post-modern hell, which is kind of a meta commentary on post-modernism itself.

Droid
Droid
10 months ago

“He stops exciting things from happening!”
I’ve been thinking about executive management’s goals all wrong.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
10 months ago
Reply to  Droid

Corporate restructuring, layoffs, bankruptcy, lawsuits aren’t bad. They are EXCITING. and we all need more excitement, right Biff?

Last edited 10 months ago by My Goat Ate My Homework
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