Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Rural Mythology Is Alive and Well in America

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl this year. But I did see the “God Made a Farmer” ad that Dodge ran on it about their Ram trucks that got pretty good reviews. I’ll embed below, but if it doesn’t display you can click here to join the 2.7 million people who’ve seen it on You Tube so far.

This video is a full frontal display of rural mythology and sentimentality in America. The ideal of the yeoman farmer continues to have a strong hold on the American psyche despite that fact that a) there aren’t that many farmers left in America and b) farming today has become an almost entirely industrialized activity. We live in a metropolitan century, but that’s not the identify American’s like to hold of their nation. It’s easy to see how this mythological view of the country can affect decision making.

I grew up in a rural area did my share of farm work, so I’m not opposed to farming. But we need a new mental model of America to reflect 21st century reality if we hope to deal with our staggering structural unemployment problem (among many other challenges).

Oh, and FYI to Dodge and Paul Harvey, in the Bible the hard toil of farming that this ad glorifies is not part of the original good created order, it is a curse from God for sin. “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread till you return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

16 Comments


16 Responses to “Rural Mythology Is Alive and Well in America”

  1. George V says:

    I wouldn’t get too hung up on anything emanating from the Big 3. The American car companies are obsessed with looking tough, rugged, mucho, and sexy to the point of almost being comical. General Motors marketing department probably views all of the GM product placements in Transformers as their coup de grâce to the worthiness of other automotive marketing departments.

    Meanwhile, you’ll see that the foreign car companies aren’t afraid to look hip, intelligent, and even cute at times. And, of course, they’re leading the pack, especially with younger people that actually afford a new car.

  2. Chris Barnett says:

    My comment will tie this piece back to the last one.

    It is rather fashionable in urbanist circles to decry factory farming. So this view of “authentic” American farming is a little related to that hip, urban vibe. It embodies, one might say, the urban mythology around farming.

    However, as the son of someone who grew up on a “hard working” (i.e. subsistence) farm, I also understand that glorifying the yeoman farmer has probably passed its expiration date.

    Five generations of my family did subsistence farming in Appalachia. I’m glad I spent a hay season there, glad I’m not there any more, and glad that the Amish have taken my family’s place.

  3. Quimbob says:

    Glad someone else got the biblical twistings in that.

  4. Ed Lincoln says:

    Most “farmers” have other careers. Their “farming” is to avoid property taxes, and be able to afford their land — to enjoy a country lifestyle, or to eventually sell to developers.

  5. Richard Lewis says:

    Grit. In the face of Adam’s fall and hostile nature, mankind has had to wrench a living from the soil. Are we so jaded that we cannot, should not celebrate the centuries-old tenacity dramatized by the advertisement?

  6. Alon Levy says:

    What Chris said. The glorification of farming is an urban thing. It’s about tying the nation together, by positing a mythological peasant who embodies the normative member of the nation. This is also related to making the country seem magically scenic, to justify close control over it. Parisian painters would paint Provence’s landscape, New Yorkers would paint Niagara Falls, etc.

  7. Racaille says:

    ” in the Bible the hard toil of farming that this ad glorifies is not part of the original good created order”

    This is absolutely correct.

    It wasn’t until the influence of 18th century French/English philosophers that the idea of toiling in the fields was a noble exercise.

  8. Steve S. says:

    Diana Lind and Next City put up a rebuttal of the Dodge commercial–see here.

  9. Racaille says:

    George V says:

    “Meanwhile, you’ll see that the foreign car companies aren’t afraid to look hip, intelligent, and even cute at times. And, of course, they’re leading the pack, especially with younger people that actually afford a new car.”

    Indeed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdTyISEM-D8

  10. DBR96A says:

    “The American car companies are obsessed with looking tough, rugged, mucho, and sexy to the point of almost being comical.”

    Never mind that Dodge produces a full-size car (the Charger) with an award-winning V-6 engine bolted to an eight-speed automatic transmission that not only enables the car to accelerate from 0-60 in less than seven seconds, but also achieve highway fuel economy over 30 MPG. Big, macho and sexy, but refined and efficient nonetheless. A car doesn’t have to be “cute” or “hip” to be smart.

    Chrysler’s 3.6L “Pentastar” V-6 engine has been named one of Ward’s Automotive’s “10 Best Engines” in 2011, 2012, and now 2013. Here are some quotes directly from Ward’s Automotive about the engine:

    “For its amazing utility, supreme NVH and smooth power delivery, the Pentastar V-6 wins Ward’s 10 Best Engines honors in its first year of eligibility.”

    “The engine also is designed to meet all future emissions standards, including PZEV and Euro6, without exhaust-gas recirculation.”

    “‘NVH is definitely its strength,’ writes Editorial Director David Zoia on his scoresheet. ‘The Pentastar is the refinement champ in its class.'”

    By the way, the Charger with its V-6 gets low 30’s on the highway without Fiat’s multi-air technology. Expect mid-30’s on the highway once that technology is included. And no, the engine is neither Italian nor German. It was engineered in good-ol’ Auburn Hills, MI. It really is amazing what Chrysler engineers can do when you actually let them do their fucking jobs without meddling or cutting off their resources.

    Be prepared for Chrysler’s compact cars to feature nine-speed automatic transmissions in the not-too-distant future, and highway fuel economy in the 40’s.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    3.6 L engine? You’re doing it wrong.

  12. George V says:

    MPG in the low 30s for Chargers? Maybe on the highway, and only for some Charger models. The average overall MPG is still firmly in the 20s (the Charger R/T gets a whopping 16 MPG in the city according to Chrysler).

    Chrysler, if you ask me, is probably the worst offender of the Big 3 when it comes to not understanding that people don’t care so much about horsepower and wide bodies anymore. Maybe that’s why the company seems to change hands every 5 minutes – it has toxic, old-fashioned values that it can’t seem to shake. If Chrysler still exists as a meaningful entity 20 years from now, I’ll eat my fixed-gear bicycle.

  13. Scott T says:

    I live in an urban area. I grew up in rural communities in Nebraska. My wife grew up on a farm in Montana. The farmers I know are real people. They do toil – and it isn’t romantic or sentimental. They are entrepreneurs. They work harder and longer than anyone I know in my urban area. Their skills and their knowledge stretch from chemistry, biology, animal husbandry, carpentry, welding, mechanics, hydrology, hydraulic engineering, meteorology, quick books, taxes, estate planning, law, mechanical engineering and much more.

    To trivialize farmers and dismiss them by saying there aren’t that many and its mostly an industrialized activity – reveals a inaccurate stereotype and generalization. Technology and productivity has definitely changed farming but it hasn’t depersonalized farming. Farmers are amazing risk-takers. My opinion is that the sentimentality reflected in the Dodge ad reflects reality. I was impressed by the ad as it glorified someone that is not exalted enough – the American Farmer. I still won’t buy a Dodge truck though.
    I’m probably missing your point – but in the process of making your point – I felt you dismissed real farmers. You lost some credibility with me. I agree with your comments and observations about urban issues. I’m afraid your rural mythology doesn’t reflect reality as much as the Dodge ad.

  14. DBR96A says:

    “MPG in the low 30s for Chargers? Maybe on the highway, and only for some Charger models. The average overall MPG is still firmly in the 20s (the Charger R/T gets a whopping 16 MPG in the city according to Chrysler).”

    No shit; it’s a full-sized car. There were no full-sized cars that got 30+ MPG on the highway 10 years ago, and Dodge is doing it now with a basic engine and no hybrid technology. As for the Charger R/T, it comes with the “HEMI” V-8 and an older five-speed automatic transmission. That engine will be bolted to an eight-speed automatic next model year, so you can expect improved fuel economy once that happens. By the way, the vast majority of Chargers sold are equipped with V-6s, so most people who buy Chargers are getting 30+ on the highway.

    “Chrysler, if you ask me, is probably the worst offender of the Big 3 when it comes to not understanding that people don’t care so much about horsepower and wide bodies anymore.”

    Yeah, that’s why Chrysler’s sales in 2012 increased by 13% year over year, including a 23% increase in retail sales. (Fleet sales decreased, and now account for only 26% of all their total sales.) They were the only domestic automaker to increase their market share last year. Pickup trucks and SUVs accounted for 49% of their sales in 2012, down from 55% in 2011. Their pickup truck/SUV sales increased by 14%, but their car sales increased by 41%.

    “Maybe that’s why the company seems to change hands every 5 minutes – it has toxic, old-fashioned values that it can’t seem to shake. If Chrysler still exists as a meaningful entity 20 years from now, I’ll eat my fixed-gear bicycle.”

    No, it changed hands because Daimler-Benz sucked all the cash and resources out of it over a period of nine years, and then tossed the leftovers to Cerberus, which didn’t know what to do with them. When Daimler took over in 1998, Chrysler was worth $36B and had $12B in cash reserves. They were the most profitable automaker in the world per vehicle sold. No, not Toyota, not Honda. Chrysler. By 2007, Chrysler was only worth $7B and was operationally bankrupt. In nine years under Daimler, Chrysler lost 81% of its value, 46% of its market share, and 100% of its cash reserves.

    Chrysler’s all-time maximum market share came in 1996 (15.9%), two years before Daimler arrived. Their all-time minimum market share came in 2009 (8.6%), two years after Daimler left. That ought to illustrate just how disastrous the Daimler era was for Chrysler. No, Chrysler had no autonomy either; all decisions made in Auburn Hills had to be approved by the people in Stuttgart first. Everything passed through Daimler executives. If the problem was Chrysler’s values, then Fiat wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference for them. The problem was Daimler’s values.

    Just because Mercedes-Benz makes good luxury cars doesn’t mean they know their hands from their ass when it comes to running a volume automaker. Right now, Fiat is embarrassing Daimler by doing more with less. In fact, it’s reached the point where Chrysler is now subsidizing Fiat. (Fiat has taken a beating from its exposure to the Euro crisis.)

    Your next homework assignment is to calculate the average fuel economy for the compact Dodge Dart. (It’s actually almost a mid-size car based on interior volume, but whatever.)

  15. seanleroy says:

    The verse symbolizes the toil with which we all experience from time to time but hard work is also the grace by which the earth is re-subdued and brings forth the fruit that echoes the blessing of God on the land.

  16. Adam B. says:

    Thank you, Scott T. I am the son of fourth generation farmer and I found this post so incredibly elitist.

    I’m not sure where some commentators are getting their data, but the farmers I know aren’t in it to avoid property taxes or to live a “country lifestyle”, whatever that means. They are in it b/c we do need producers, we have a demand for food and need people to work the land. Is it industrialized? Damn right it is. But it’s also some of the hardest work a person can do.

    Most “farmers” have other careers. Their “farming” is to avoid property taxes, and be able to afford their land — to enjoy a country lifestyle, or to eventually sell to developers.

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