February 4, 2013

God Made a Farmer? The Rest of the Story.

“You know what the news is, in a minute you’re going to hear the rest of the story.”
~ Paul Harvey

The below mini-essay was left as a comment from one “Amanda” on my blog about the best Super Bowl commercial, last night. We’ve asked the author if we might share and credit, and will update when we here back. But for now, here ’tis, it’s already on the other blog, but this is too beautiful and true and sad and important not to share more widely.

One final note: this represents the kind of web 2.0 give-and-take that comments offer—not merely anonymous insults and trolling, name-calling and degraded opinion-festering…but real beauty and feeling. ~ Waylon Lewis, ed.


I grew up in a small town, about 15K in population if you counted every cow in the valley.

Every morning a little red light on the automatic coffee maker would pierce the darkness at exactly 6:00 AM (which felt like the middle of the night to me), and I’d hear my dad walk in the kitchen, pour his first cup of coffee and turn on the radio. Paul Harvey‘s voice thus wafted into my bedroom regularly, and, along with the smell of fresh brewed Folgers, became a thread in the fabric of my childhood. I didn’t know anything about Paul Harvey’s politics, but I loved the way he owned a pregnant pause.

Did Dodge sell trucks on the strength of Harvey’s voice last night? Probably not to farmers – those who are left likely declared themselves Chevy or Ford men 50 years ago. Probably not to those of us who consider ourselves “farm-friendly” either—we’re buying hybrids or bikes and hoping someone else can drive when we actually go visit farms. Nope, that ad was probably targeted at suburban middle America, those who might need a Dodge Ram for Costco runs or to trailer their “toy haulers” to the lake. The ad “celebrated” farmers in the same way that other Super Bowl ads “celebrated” military families by waving the flag and tugging at our collective heartstrings, even as they gloss over the real pain and effects of war-making.

(Not that it doesn’t work, I choked up during Jeep’s “Whole Again” ad…

…and cheered every single time Harvey said, “God made a farmer”!)

What was a revelation to me about the farmer ad was that in memorializing and purporting to celebrate farm families and their way of life, the ad highlighted the fact that they’re gone. We all know the short version of that history—Earl Butz said get big or get out, and they did. And during that painful transition, rural America emptied out into the cities, giant companies took control of the inputs to, infrastructure surrounding and distribution of farm products, and we made a massive cultural shift toward suburbanization and all that goes with it.

I think hearing Paul Harvey’s voice and seeing those pictures of those incredible farmers and their families struck a collective chord because it catalyzed us to recognize another milestone in the hollowing out of our society. Where now are the men who are strong enough to plow a field straight, have the integrity to not cut corners, and are gentle enough to splint a bird’s leg? They aren’t carrying a “murse” and pulling cappuccinos in the city, that’s for sure. Nor are there many of them in public office. And they’re certainly not wrapping themselves in the flag and listening to Rush Limbaugh. They, and they ideals they represented, have largely been emasculated or made obsolete.

That way of life wasn’t perfect and I don’t mean to idealize it. There wasn’t room for minority voices of pretty much any kind in that world, and I personally would prefer to be with a man willing to partner in more ways than the simple gender-based division of labor allowed. But as a society I think we miss the human connection that came from doing physical work side by side, and then sitting together at dinner, feeling exhausted and productive.

I think that commercial wasn’t about trucks or farmers, I think it was about us and what we miss about being connected to each other.

And that, my friends, is the rest of the story.


Bonus: a followup comment from another elephant reader to the above:

Good for you – you saw right through the commercial aspects…

I grew up on a farm where the alarm clock was set at 4:30 although it wasn;t a clock, it was my grandfather responding to the need to milk our cows. And he taught me to plant good seeds and care for the ground around them and – in due season, you will be rewarded. Now, at 83+ years of age, I am beginning to catch on to all that he taught me.

Oh yes, Paul Harvey. His thoughts linger on waiting for others to slow down a bit and take hold of all that he had to say.

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