Dodge’s God Made a Farmer Commercial

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...

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Does it Hurt or Help?

There has been a pretty active online discussion about the Dodge Ram “God Made a Farmer” commercial, which debuted during last Sunday’s Super Bowl game. The commercial, for those who haven’t seen it, pairs an audio track of a Paul Harvey speech with stirring photographs of farmers. A few of the images are given a touch a motion, while others remain beautifully still and stark.

It’s undoubtedly an affective aesthetic sum, but what about the underlying message?

Some people feel the commercial promotes an oversimplified impression of the American farmer, an “Aw shucks, ma’am” from deep in the heartland of Opies and John-Boys. Food historian Rachel Laudan shared her reaction to the commercial’s content in her post “God Made a Farmer. Oh Really?” She writes:

He uses computer software to manage the farm.  He has a global positioning system to help him manage crops.  He follows the agricultural press (especially prices) carefully and goes on regular farm visits to see what new tricks he can learn.

Look, 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?

Others noted the commercial completely ignored a huge aspect of modern farming, the non-white farm worker. In his article for The Atlantic “The Whitewashing of the American Farmer: Dodge Ram Super Bowl Ad Edition,” Alexis C. Madrigal writes:

It’s true that whites are the managers of 96 percent of the nation’s farms, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture. But the agricultural workforce is overwhelmingly Mexican with some workers from Central America thrown in. The Department of Labor’s National Agriculture Worker Survey has found that over the last decade, around 70 percent of farmworkers in America were born in Mexico, most in a few states along the Pacific coast. This should not be news. Everyone knows this is how farms are run.

And yet when a company decided to pay homage to the people who grow our food, they left out the people who do much of the labor, particularly on the big farms that continue to power the food system.

Despite the backlash, one thing is very clear: this commercial has propelled farming to the top of the cultural zeitgeist. Farmers probably haven’t experienced this kind of pop culture prom queen status since the first Farm Aid concert.

The question is, can all this heady attention be harnessed into any real action? Can it help mainstream the larger conversation about the state of farming in this country today? It would be pretty far-fetched to think this commercial will lead to a vibrant movement of younger farmers tending the land with organic or sustainable methods (that didn’t seem to be the ad’s intended demographic, anyway), but at least it got some folks thinking about farming at all.

How did the commercial strike you? Was it powerful, saccharine or completely off-putting?

Click here to read Rachel Laudan’s post in full.

Click here to read The Atlantic article in full.

Photo Credit: NBCLatino.com