Did you catch it? Forget Beyonce and the unflattering photos of her that went viral. I’m talking about the Super Bowl commercial that has everyone talking. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here. I wasn’t able to watch the game, but immediately heard people talking about it being the best commercial of the day, you know, as commercials go. And when I finally did see it, I admit, I was overjoyed with professional pride at seeing the still image celebrated during one of the most watched television slots of the year.
And almost just as fast a chorus of critics started singing about Dodge misrepresenting today’s real farmers, who are a lot less white than the commercial would have you believe. See a few examples here, here, and here. Surprisingly, the last one comes from the folks that host my website. They were actually the last ones I expected to chime in considering the fact their whole business revolves around the still image. If anything I thought they’d be celebrating the commercial with the rest of us. On the comments to this blog post people even complained about the lack of diversity among the PHOTOGRAPHERS! Somebody replied that, yes, they should’ve had blind, deaf, mute, Asian, Black, Indiginous, gay, and lesbian ones, too…or something like that. Out of all the criticism, I actually preferred Funny or Die’s approach.
I originally wasn’t planning on writing this, but after seeing so many people, including people I know personally, complaining about the commercial, I thought it was my duty to speak up, if for no other reason than for a simple appreciation of the craft I’m so passionate about. In fact, one of my friends posted one of the articles above on Facebook, and without much consideration I made a pretty snarky comment about it….then felt bad and tried to explain myself a little more. Of course, sincerity is easily lost in a Facebook comment, no matter the intention. But the rub is I know this person really cares about farms, and people, and food security and production. I have several friends who are working diligently to improve all of the above, with at least one in D.C. working on the policy aspects, and a couple more getting their hands dirty on actual farms.
My dad is originally from a small town in southeast Kansas. My earliest memory of farm life was visiting my great uncle Shorty on his. I remember he had just gotten a new air-conditioned tractor and was proud to show it off to his nephew who had gone ‘Hollywood’. (It was funny that we were like rock stars because we lived in southern California, nevermind our town was just a boring extension of the endless L.A. suburbs into the inland desert.) It was also there that my grandma used to take us fishing in uncle Shorty’s stocked pond (yep, she’s also a die-hard sports fan and all-around rebel, too). Since then I haven’t known many farmers, but yes, the ones I have look pretty similar to the ones shown in the Dodge commercial, at least in skin tone. Dodge dropped the ball on the redheads, too.
On the other hand, I’ve driven Interstate 5 from L.A. to Eugene, Oregon for the last five out of six years and know the majority of the farmers I see along the way are Mexican. I’m half-mexican, too, but that side of my family worked the railroads more than farms. I guess it doesn’t really qualify my observations about the issue in any way, but I still can’t help but point out that most of the people complaining about the commercial are highly-educated sons and daughters of university professors, or otherwise privileged in some way. No doubt, I am, too. But then I’m not complaining about a TV commercial. (I’m complaining about the complainers…you know, so much better! )
But I guess that’s what gets me. The people who have the least to complain about are the ones who do it the most and loudest. And believe me, it sometimes pains me to see how much age and experience has tempered my outlook on life. I always felt like Che Guevara when I lived in the mostly conservative area of southern California I’m from. Then I moved to Eugene and felt like I was turning into G. Gordon Liddy.
I guess that’s where I’m going with this. Life is short. I spent a lot of time in my younger days complaining about the world and sincerely, if not a bit naively, believing I can change it. I still think I can, but the scale I’m shooting for has gotten much MUCH smaller. And I realize the timeline of change in our democracy is much MUCH longer than I ever thought before. Is it just one of those things people have to learn through their own life experience? Probably. Can I say anything in this blog post that will change the complainers’ minds or mellow them out a little? Probably not. But the likelihood remains that more people are like me than not. They crave moderation and appreciate the things they have more than the things they don’t have.
If you’ve made it this far, then you’re probably one that can appreciate what the Dodge commercial had to offer- great images of real farmers. That’s all it is. It’s a damn commercial for chrissakes. It’s not a Ken Burns documentary. It’s an advertisement for selling trucks to a specific and targeted demographic that used great images to do so. And the fact everyone is talking about it, positively or negatively, is a testament to its power, and ultimately, the power of photography.
Nevertheless, even if they can’t appreciate a commercial for what it is, the complainers raise valid points about the current state of farming in general. But even they miss addressing a more relevant point about the disappearance of traditional farms and farmers. Even they are holding on too tightly to the sentimentality they accuse Dodge of pandering to. As the photo above illustrates, urban farming is the future. It’s growing in cities around the world, where more and more of the population is residing, and provides a healthier alternative to the rightly vilified factory farm. I haven’t heard a word from the complainers about the possibility of what future farms will look like, you know, while we’re on the subject.
Finally, I’ll share a little ditty (the musical form, if you will, of what I’m trying to say here) from my last album written while I was smack dab in the middle of grad school where complainers really cut their teeth.
As Alex Haley used to say, “Find the good and praise it.”