What the Super Bowl “God Made a Farmer Ad” Reveals About U.S. Farm Policy

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.Lewandrowski’s words echoed those of a
commenter at Keep Food Legal’s Facebook page—like us!—who noted the
ad resonated with her and many of her rural friends and
relatives.“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.


What the Super Bowl “God Made a Farmer Ad” Reveals About U.S. Farm Policy

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