It Takes a Myth to Sell a Myth

And on Super Bowl Sunday, Dodge needed to sell some pickup trucks. So Dodge made a farmer myth, with a little help from radio commentator Paul Harvey. Alan Guebert looks at the reality of both 21st century farming and the broadcaster.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  Today we introduce a new column, “The View from the Levee,” by veteran agriculture journalist Alan Guebert. Alan has been writing about agriculture and rural America for more than three decades. He grew up on a farm in southern Illinois and currently lives in the central part of the state. His email address is [email protected].

Agriculture was atwitter Monday, Feb. 4, over a two-minute pick-up truck advertisement during the previous day’s Super Bowl. The ad featured evocative photographs of farm and ranch folk to a voice-over of one-time news commentator Paul Harvey’s oft-quoted 1978 hanky-soaking speech, “So, God made a farmer.”

The two combined to put American farmers and ranchers in an almost celestial place in Super Bowl ad-dom: golden light, heaven-on-earth scenes, common folk struggling through this woe-filled vale of tears.

Everyone is talking about the ad, which included Harvey’s 1978 FFA speech over photos like this one.
Standing out in the 2013 Super Bowl ad game wasn’t too difficult given the silly, even insipid, competition. I mean, prancing male underwear models and office drones whose reggae-tinged happiness came from riding in a German-made car?

Yo, mon.

Dodge, which stitched the photos of America’s purple-mountain majesty with Harvey’s purple prose to sell pick-up trucks larger than the state of Rhode Island, hit all the right chords in the right key.

For example, a black-and-white silhouette of a bushy-mustached, slouch-hatted rancher filled the screen as Harvey intoned “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.’”

If that didn’t get lump-making going in your throat, the final photo in the sequence should have. It showed a rancher on bended—probably aching—knees in church, head down and hat in hand.

Oh, my.

Yes, it was a heaping helping of raw American myth, but myth sells.

Of course, you may not need a $55,000, diesel-clattering, four-door, moon-roofed, stump-pulling dually pick-up but how will you ever, as Harvey suggests, “shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout” or “shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire” without one?

Go for it, man.

By pure coincidence, one of the nation’s largest farm magazines, Progressive Farmer, published an online story that same day that rounded out the Super Bowl picture of where American agriculture actually is in 2013.

GOOD DAY: Paul Harvey at the mic.
In the lengthy piece, titled “Best Young Farmers/ Ranchers,” Progressive’s Dan Miller profiled Southwest Family Farms, a Kansas-based operation that “practices the art of modern-day agriculture at a high level….”

A really high level. This fifth generation High Plains farm operates a “grain-production enterprise spanning 12,000 acres—4,000 irrigated and 8,000 dryland… [and] another 20,000 acres in a custom-farming business.”

Just how big is 32,000 acres? It’s big; 50 square miles big.

In fact, the farm is so big that two members of the farming family’s youngest generation “have pilot licenses and a plane modified to fly just above stall speed over their fields” to monitor growing crops.

Moreover, reports Miller, “The family is planning for rapid growth, looking to manage 40,000 acres in another seven years.”

Whoa, buddy!

Fate delivered another delicious coincidence Tues. Feb. 5. According to press reports, a federal bankruptcy court in Michigan that day was set to sell the massive—and massively broke—Stamp Farms, LLC, a “farm” that claimed to operate 46,000 acres.

It, too, recently had been featured in a farm magazine, Farm Journal’s Top Producer. Unfortunately for FJ, the story saw daylight the same month, last November, that Stamp Farms turned out the lights.

But ain’t that the way it goes: it takes more than one picture, more than one story, to tell an accurate story.

The same is true for the almost-canonized Paul Harvey whose “So, God…” soliloquy Dodge effectively used to convert cowboy-wannabes and soft-handed farmette-owners into pick-up poodles.

The front page of Harvey’s FBI file is a letter of praise from J. Edgar Hoover.

Harvey, people often forget, was a long-time favorite of PETA, the vegetarian-powered People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

No real cowboy, pick-up truck or not, can stand PETA. Indeed, real cowboys love to say PETA really stands for People Eating Tasty Animals.

And, yet, when Harvey died nearly four years ago, PETA announced his passing “with deep regret and sadness” because he had been a “PETA Humanitarian Award” winner of the past.

Even worse, Harvey’s FBI file—yes, he has a one –dives into his bald-faced act of deceptive self-promotion to boost radio ratings in the bad old days of Cold War red baiting.

But, hey, who wants to be bothered by cold facts when myth is what it’s all about.

And pick-ups and persimmon sprouts and re-capped horse hooves.
Giddyup, partner.


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