Sunday, February 1, 2015

Woody Guthrie Must be Turning in His Grave

Jeep is an iconic American brand, GI Joes, MASH, Rat Patrol ... and all that. The present Italian owners of that brand seek to capitalize on this brand's iconic American status with their 2015 Superbowl ad for the Jeep Renegade model: "America's smallest, lightest SUV," says the ad. 

But, of course, it’s a fraudulent sign of the times. This Jeep is made in Italy on the Fiat 500X frame, which was also featured in the separate humorous “blue pill” commercial. Chrysler—including its Jeep brand—is now fully owned by the Italian company. The bottom line is the Jeep Renegade is an Italian car, employing Italian labor. It’s not “America’s” car at all.

The same is true of Budweiser, which featured a popular anthropomoric horse-puppy ad. Budweiser is owned by Belgian-Brazilian InBev. But unlike Jeep, Budweiser continues to be made in the United States, and to employ American labor.

Fiat is attempting to make Jeep into a world wide brand. Good for them, but to my ears this Superbowl ad for the Jeep Renegade struck an odd chord.

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" in February 1940 as he arrived in New York City from Oklahoma. He recorded the song for Folkways records in 1944, but it was not released until 1951. The Weavers had a hit with it in 1958, using just the first three verses, but by then the song had already been performed by countless musicians and seeped into the American consciousness. Over the years the song has achieved iconic status in American culture.

The Superbowl ad starts with traditional American scenery to the first stanza of the song: “From California to the New York island/ From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters/This land was made for you and Me.” But with the second stanza, the scenery shifts to an Asian waterway (“As I went a-walking that ribbon of highway/”), to the Great Wall of China near Bejing (“I saw above me that endless skyway/”), to Rio De Janeiro and its immense statue of Christ the Redeemer (“I saw below me that golden valley/”), to the hinterlands of the Middle East (“This land was made for you and me”).

We have associated these lyrics and “this land” with the United States. We know what this song means in the American idiom: it is a secular left response to Kate Smith’s "God Bless America" with its religious right iconography. It extolls the beauty and majesty of this land in strictly secular terms with a stridently egalitarian spirit. It is anti-corporate, and especially anti-corporate married to Christ-the Redeemer iconography. Woody Guthrie must be turning in his grave.

1 comment:

  1. I must have been otherwise occupied and missed that commercial. It is a truly bizarre take on what is a very populist and anti-capitalist song. The Jeep/Fiat team did not wish to include another verse...

    In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
    By the relief office I seen my people;
    As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
    Is this land made for you and me?