Hyundai has released a “green” (carbon-neutral) commercial to market itself as a “green” company. The production set includes rain collectors, solar panels, a tiny wind turbine, and electric generators hooked up to bicyclists (evidently, the solar panels and wind turbine just don’t provide enough juice).

The “greenest” feature, though, is that the car shown in the commercial doesn’t use any gasoline at all. Not one drop. A miracle? An all-electric vehicle?

Not even close. The car emits no greenhouse gases because nobody actually drives it on the set. Instead of the car moving people, people move the car. Literally. Three guys give it a shove to get it moving long enough (a few seconds) for the cameras to create the illusion of auto-mobility.

One of the glories of modern civilization is that it progressively substitutes machine labor for the muscular labor of human backs and limbs. The Hyundai ad implies that reversing this process, working our way back to a handicraft economy based on physical labor and low-density energy from wind, rain, and Sun, is the path of virtue.

Well, humanity has been there, done that. It’s called the Middle Ages. 

An exercise in post-modernist reflexivity, the Hyundai commercial is actually about the making of the commercial, rather than about the car shown in the commerical.  In fact, the vehicle is never mentioned by name, which is strangely fitting, since we never actually get to see it in operation. There is no way to tell from the commercial whether the car as an auto-mobile (a self-moving vehicle) is any good!

Even as an attempt to brand Hyundai as a green company, the ad is a flop. Yes, the film set is crunchy granola, but who says Hyundai had to build a set in the first place, transport a large tech crew to and from the set, buy or rent tons of equipment, and hire real actors? Hyundai could have avoided even more carbon emissions by making the commercial with a laptop and CGI software.