I still remember the ad: Mean Joe Green limping off the field down a gray corridor to the locker room, where a boy of about eight offers to help. Mean Joe says no. The boy insists that Mean Joe take his Coke. The football player relents, chugs the brown soda, then turns to the disappointed kid and utters the famous line, "Hey kid, catch!" He tosses his sweaty jersey to the disbelieving kid and smiles from ear-to-ear. Have a Coke and a smile!
It's about as syrupy as the Cola's secret formula, especially viewed through today's eyes. But when it first aired in 1979, that ad hit its mark. We were less cynical then; more open to pictures of brotherly kindness. A lot has changed. I used to watch the Super Bowl and its ads with my parents--I was nine when that Coke ad ran. I don't remember worrying about what we might see. It was pre-DVR but for the most part, the remote control's off button was untouched. No longer.
Last night we stayed close to the power switch on our TV (the remote's broken and we still don't have DVR), wanting to watch some of the game, but doing our best to weed out the raunchy and degrading commercials. Not just because we have four children, but because most of what aired during the time outs and half time is twaddle.
By the final quarter, I was in bed half asleep. Sometime before the Ravens' triumph, Steve started talking about the Tweets that were going around about "the farmer" ad. Being a big Paul Harvey fan, he pulled it up on his iPhone and played the spot. In my half awake state I listened, dumbfounded.
According to ABC News online, the ad "wasn’t flashy or filled with special effects but Dodge Ram’s Super Bowl commercial that featured the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey’s tribute to U.S. farmers might have won the hearts and minds of viewers Sunday night. … The spot immediately set Twitter ablaze, with viewers registering their overwhelmingly positive reaction to the commercial."
It was hard to believe such a sincere piece could make the Super Bowl cut. Harvey praised the selfless, sacrificial, tough, unbending, tender nature that is essential to a farmer--"somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing." Listening to Harvey's comforting voice, I felt like Linus searching with Charlie Brown for the perfect Christmas tree in a psychedelic age. Surrounded by strobe lights and towering pink, orange and yellow aluminum Christmas "trees," Charlie Brown sees the twig that captures his heart.
"Gee, do they still make real Christmas trees?" Linus asks, unbelieving, as Charlie Brown declares about the twig, "I think this tree needs me."
And so I fell asleep thankful, surprised by the answer to my Linus question. "Gee, do they still make sincere, hard-work affirming, sacrifice honoring, soul-inspiring Super Bowl commercials?"
It turns out, that in the midst of the garish, glitzy, soul-eroding fare, they do.