Imagine if you will a surprising biopic of a religious figure that becomes one of the most widely seen, divisive, and talked about movies of the year.
Polls show many people who saw the film—including many pundits—found it to be the best that year.
Critics of the film mostly occupied one of three silos. One group complained that it showed their divine figure crafting too few miracles. A second scoffed at the notion the ad showed the figure shaping any miracles at all. And a third group acknowledged some divine figure performed various miracles—but that an entirely different deity than the one depicted in the film was responsible.
Welcome, in a nutshell, to the debate over Dodge's God Made a Farmer Super Bowl commercial.
In case you missed it, the commercial, which runs two minutes, features a series of pastoral farm stills—farmhouses and barns, dirt-crusted farmers kneeling in church or selling their strawberries at the market, and tractors in fields of wheat—overlaid with a now-famous speech delivered by the late commentator and columnist Paul Harvey at a 1978 Future Farmers of America gathering.
I suspect that one day someone will write a term paper—perhaps even a Ph.D. dissertation—on the implications of and reactions to the commercial. For the ad, like its narrator, Harvey, lays bare all the bounty and incongruities of American farming and farm policy.
Lorraine Lewandrowski, a dairy farmer and agricultural attorney in New York, tweeted to me from her @NYFarmer account yesterday that the ad “gave the dairy farmers...a joyful lift to be acknowledged…. Some of the farmers here choked up [at] images [that] evoked how we and neighbors spent our lives.” Lewandrowski called the ad a welcome break from “all the urban food movement sneering” she sees.
“I grew up in rural Illinois and was raised on a farm, as most of my cousins and a lot of my classmates were, and the response from my community was overwhelmingly positive to the original ad,” she wrote, “It really hit something.”
And, in a press release emailed to subscribers, the Animal Agriculture Alliance noted it was one of "nearly 250 regional, state and national farm, ranch and agribusiness organizations [that] sent a heartfelt 'thank you' letter to Chrysler—maker of Dodge—in response to the ad.
Summing up the opinion of many who saw the ad, Animal Agriculture Alliance president Kay Johnson Smith said the commercial "really showcased a piece of Americana.”
But to its detractors, the ad does nothing of the sort.
University of Texas historian Rachel Laudan, who grew up on a farm and finds the ad galling, writes that “if we continue to accept the kind of images promoted by this ad, images of the farmer as a good hearted chap, working with the technology of the late 1930s, and thus not frightfully smart, how are we ever going to get a sensible grip on agriculture?”
This agrarianism, argues Laudan, is built on a mistaken belief in “the simpler yet superior moral values of the rural life.”
A withering Funny or Die parody of the Dodge ad, God Made a Factory Farmer, blasts the ad for ignoring the large, subsidized corporate farms of today.