This year's crop of Super Bowl ads wasn't particularly noteworthy; sure the Budweiser ad that reunited a Clydesdale with his trainer tugged at heartstrings, as did a Chrysler spot saluting the troops--and narrated by Oprah Winfrey. There were chuckles at the Doritos "goat" ad and the senior citizens who sneak out of the rest home for an exciting evening at Taco Bell (if that's their idea of a good time, they really need to get out more).
For my money, the best ad aired early in the fourth quarter. It began with a shot of the prarie, with two words on the screen: Paul Harvey.
As a reformed broadcaster, it got my attention. Mr. Harvey passed away four years ago this month, and he's been largely forgotten by a younger generation of radio listeners.
But not that long ago, Paul Harvey was appointment radio for millions of Americans. When he came on the airwaves at 7:25 in the morning, or during his 15-minute noontime program, people paused from the daily activities. Traveling in a car, you turned up the volume a bit and listened. Paul Harvey was on the radio.
That's why the Dodge Trucks commercial was such a treat, a trip down memory lane with one of the most talented broadcasters who ever sat behind a microphone.
The spot was a salute to farmers, or more correctly, a paen to the traditional American values embodied by those who work the land. The images that filled the two-minute commercial were compelling--even moving--but it was the narration that made the spot so memorable. And the words were pure Harvey, drawn from a 1978 speech to a Future Farmers of America convention; the complete text and audio have been posted at Fox News, among other sites:
"And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said I need a caretaker--so God made a farmer."
God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.
"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a farmer.God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a farmer."
Rich Lowry of National Review calls it a "gem of literary craftsmanship" and its hard to disagree. Sure, the prose is a bit purplish, and wags claim the imagery recalls days on the farm that are long since past, but such criticism is almost irrelevant. The values of faith, family and hard work that echo in the commercial were once prevalent (and still exist in some circles), but most Americans can't imagine a life built around back-breaking labor, with no guarantees of success, and failure looming with the next hail storm, blizzard or flood.
In fact, some of the on-line comments that greeted the Dodge spot were rather telling. Some asked why farmers "were getting all the credit." Uh...maybe it's because they're less than four percent of the population, but they some how manage to feed 350 million Americans a a good chunk of the six billion humans who now inhabit the planet. It's a feat that most of us take for granted. When's the last time you thought about where your food and fiber came from, or what might happen if our sources--the nation's farms--suddenly disappeared.
Hard to believe, but once upon a time, most Americans were farmers; in colonial times, they made up 90% of the labor force. By the early 1990s, only 2.6% of the population was engaged in agriculture, and that number will continue to decline, with further improvements in crop science and farm technology.
As that happens, our diet won't suffer, but we will lose something that isn't measured in agrarian output, or caloric consumption, but in those vanishing qualities so wonderfully described by Paul Harvey.
Cheers to Dodge for shelling out an estimated $16 million for the two-minute commercial, and whoever had the idea of bringing back a radio icon--and a 35-year-old speech--to remind us of a way of life (and values) that have all-but-disappeared.