Table of Contents
2. Rural Mythology
2.1 'Rurality' and 'Myth '
2.2 TheAmerican Farmer
2.3 The Garden
3. Rurality As Depicted in Ram’s ’Farmer’ Commercial
4. Controversies and Problems
4.2 Rural Utopia vs. Reality
When it comes to the most watched American television broadcast of the year, the annual Super Bowl is quite frequently at the forefront. However, not only the four quarters of actual play time are of major public interest, also the commercial breaks that serve as an informative as well as an entertaining interlude have become downright crowd-pleasers. You could say that one gets watched and discussed the next day, while the other is talked about for years. To many viewers, the Super Bowl commercials have become an event in and of itself. It can be safely argued that this is, to a large degree, owed to the costly and extravagant production efforts, including big budgets of an average of four million U.S. dollars per 30-second television advertisement in 2013, stunning visual effects, and the appearance of all kinds of celebrities in them. And then there are commercials that try to win the audience’s attention with their heart-warming nature, and by deploying a patriotic momentum, as well as by addressing some deeply- ingrained American values, virtues and beliefs.
This year Chrysler’s subsidiary brand Ram entered the race with its ’Farmer’ commercial and thereby gave rise to a controversial discussion. It paints a romantic portrait of American farmers by showing compelling photographs of alleged contemporary farm life, rugged Midwesterners, and rural landscapes, as well as (mostly) men (who are predominantly Caucasian) tending to livestock, harvesting field crops and working the American heartland, all with the backing of their capable and dependable Ram trucks. The striking images are accompanied by excerpts from a speech at a ’Future Farmers of America’ convention in 1978, which was delivered by Paul Harvey, a famous late conservative radio broadcaster. In his sermon-like speech, he describes the reasons why ’God made a farmer’. At the end of the commercial the viewer is presented a unifying slogan that rounds off the idealized portrait of present-day American rural life - "To the farmer in all of us".
The haunting commercial was made to pay tribute to America’s farmers, it was praised for its earnestness, and it even won YouTube’s annual ’Ad Blitz’ ad contest, and could, thus, be seen merely as a successful, romantic, and benign commercial affirming American values. From a cultural studies’, or more specifically, an American rural studies' point of view, however, there is more to these two minutes of American primetime advertisement. The goal of this paper will be, on the one hand, to point out what myths and promotional notions about American rural life the commercial works with and how the producers used them to create a seemingly harmless commercial whose sole aim is to paint a unified and praising picture of American farmers and the farm life depicted.
On the other hand, there will also be shed light on facts that will contest the commercial's right to being called a romantic and unifying masterpiece of advertisement history, meaning the controversies and problems this commercial has been stirring up, making it offensive, ignorant, unproductive, and an actual problem itself, by disguising obvious problems in the rural sphere and blurring the need for solutions. The question to be asked in this context is whether Ram irresponsibly avoided reality with the representation of rurality in its 2013 Super Bowl advertisement.
This seminar paper will comprise three parts. First, in order to provide a basis for the upcoming analysis, there will be a theoretical part, containing general facts on myths and rurality, as well as two specifically addressed rural myths. After that, there will be an application part in which the afore-mentioned rural myths will be applied to Ram's 'Farmer' commercial. Finally, there will be a chapter on the negative side of this advertisement, addressing some of the arisen controversies and problems.
2. Rural Mythology
2.1 'Rurality' and 'Myth'
The two-part nature of the commercial's content, that is to say, its photographic material, as well as the audio material in form of Paul Harvey's speech, provides fertile ground for an analysis in the context of American rural studies. In order to approach this multi-faceted subject of rural myths, and in order to be able to eventually conduct an analysis in the course of this paper, a theoretical foundation has to be established. This chapter's purpose is to discuss the terms 'rurality' and 'myth', as well as their function, and to give an overview of these terms on a general level. Furthermore, the subchapters ’The American Farmer' and ’The Garden' serve to elaborate on specific myths and notions about how farmers were seen in the times of American beginnings, and also to expose decisive key factors that will be vital for the upcoming analysis, such as the garden myth, romanticized views of rural space, and the American countryside, as well as nostalgic representations, also in connection with religion and God.
First of all, the term 'rurality' has to be defined. However, this has so far been quite a difficult challenge among various scholars of rural studies. For the purpose of this seminar paper, it should suffice to give a broad overview of some key notions when it comes to defining the rural, as well as to set the perimeters for the questions, issues and controversies regarding Ram's 'Farmer' commercial. In this respect, some vital approaches and definitions can be drawn from Paul Cloke, professor of geography. He mentions three influential theoretical frames with regard to conceptualizing and defining the rural. In the 'Handbook of Rural Studies' he speaks of "functional concepts of rurality", "political-economic concepts", and "social constructions of rurality" (Cloke 20 f.). In terms of "functional concepts" he suggests three differently defined areas. Areas which are either "dominated ... by extensive land uses, notably agriculture and forestry", or which "contain small, lower order settlements which demonstrate a strong relationship between buildings and extensive landscape, and which are thought of as rural by most of their residents", or areas which "engender a way of life which is characterized by a cohesive identity based on respect for the environmental and behavioural qualities of living as part of an extensive landscape" (Cloke and Park 13). The "political-economic concepts" comprise three characteristics that describe rural areas as "A pleasant environment which will attract the willing or unwilling unemployed", "A 'spaced-out' geographical structure which leads to accessibility problems and costly public services", and "A distinctive local political ideology which favours the market, the volunteer and the self-helper rather than public sector intervention" (Cloke 21). The "social construction" frame shows the rising interest in academia regarding the construction, the negotiation, and the experience of idyllized meanings of rurality (cf. ibid.), as well as the emerging significance in rural studies concerning "interconnections between socio-cultural constructs of rurality and nature - which appear to be so important in the reproduction of geographical imaginations of rural space - and the actual lived experiences and practices of lives in these spaces" (ibid.).