I don’t think anyone will be too shocked by my admission that I was really only watching the Superbowl for Beyonce. However, as I wandered in and out of the living room to chat with the friends that had come over to have a beer (local craft beers, I’m told) and watch the game, an ad caught my eye.
Now that, too, is not terribly surprising. I’m all too aware that the big game feels more like a vehicle for advertisements than any sort of reversal of that relationship. But this ad seemed like it wasn’t going to be for a product. It seemed like it was going to be about an idea.
Stretching a full 2:07, this ad overlaid Paul Harvey’s 1978 speech to the National FFA Convention with picturesque images of rural America, emphasizing the rugged, the individualistic, and the generative qualities of both the land and those who work it. And, hey, it’s for Dodge Ram, who have dubbed 2013 the year of the farmer and are apparently going to continue to draw attention to the importance of the (American) farmer.
Already, various farmers’ groups and food activists have latched onto the ad, saying that it highlights the sense of heritage that new farmers can tap into, celebrates the unsung heroes of American progress, and promotes the values of industry and individualism that make this country great. But, interestingly enough, the ad doesn’t really talk about the products of farming. We don’t see the farmer as participating in the modern world of business. We see the image of the farmer, but not the consumer.
And what products were being promoted during the Superbowl? What kinds of consumption were being advocated? Among others, the heavy hitters were Oreos, Doritos, Taco Bell, Coke, and Budweiser. All of those sound pretty distant from the dirt to me…
We can laud the American icon of the farmer and somehow square that with our belief in the capitalist economy (valuing the individual, progress, and industry), but we seem to be doing so only by making a big portion of the food chain invisible.
As I mentioned last week, consumers who want a relationship with their farmers are often categorized as precious, elite, privileged, and sentimental. Perhaps this is because a face to face connection between producer and consumer is radically destabilizing to the conditions of capitalism. Perhaps this is because it’s easier to sell the idea of the lone worker than to reveal the webs of connectivity that drive the farming industry and that might be harnessed for change.
It seems to me that “farmer” is going the way of “family values”– it’s becoming a mobile concept, a politically useful phrase that it difficult to fight against, but doesn’t have any necessary meaning in reality. How else could we both celebrate the farmer and denigrate his customers? We don’t see the farmer selling his wares (either in a little farmer’s market or, as is more common, using government subsidies or selling to large produce conglomerates). The connections between producer and consumer are still hidden as we focus either on the insatiable consumer (hello, Taco Bell) or the honorable producer, unable to look at where they meet.