God made a farmer, Dodge made light
Much hay was made about the "So God made a farmer" commercial after it aired during the Superbowl. Some pointed out its lack of originality; it is a remake of a YouTube video uploaded by farms.com in June of 2011. Others criticized it as an antiquated version of American farm life -- one that features very few Hispanics, who comprise a significant percentage of America's farm labor workforce. Both these criticisms may be valid, but I have a different problem with this ad. I love the combination of starkly beautiful images and Paul Harvey's poetic, perfectly-delivered words. As a piece of filmmaking, it is both arresting and moving, but as a piece of advertising, it is ruined by Dodge's tagline at the end: "To the farmer in all of us."
Having just created an elegant tribute to the gritty spirit of the American farmer, Dodge completely negates that tribute by suggesting that there's nothing exceptional about the people who live that life of service to the land and its yield. To the farmer in all of us?? But the whole reason those words and images are captivating is that most of us don't live that way. Most of us can only imagine such a life of toil and elemental simplicity. There we are, watching our flat-screens, surrounded by junk food, checking Twitter and Facebook in between plays, and suddenly a voice calls out from the past and beckons us to look upon these images of the people who work the actual "land of the free" that we sing about. People whose vocation can be traced back to the dawn of civilization, people whose wearying work we take for granted when we walk through a grocery store.
We fix our gaze on their weathered faces, the animals they tend, the farms they have built, and we are compelled by a mix of envy, shame, and admiration to consider their lives and the virtues being extolled by that voice from beyond. And as we come to that moment of universal relatability, when Harvey speaks of the bond between father and son, parent and child, and we find ourselves wondering how we lost that connection to what has come before us and what will go beyond... we are snapped back into the reality of crass commercialism, where Dodge is trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible by telling us we're all deserving of the honor just given. Rather than dedicating the ad to the actual farmers, they suggest that everyone can claim a share of that virtue simply by owning its emblem, i.e., by buying a Dodge. It is reductive and diminishing, and it rings false.
Granted, the ad is presenting a romanticized view of agrarian life, and one could argue that working the land is no more inherently virtuous than any other form of labor. But for a moment, many of us who earn our daily bread in the industrial, electronic, urbanized America paused to consider those who still tend to its roots. And then Dodge had to go and truck it up.