Because God Said: Farmers, Myth & Truth

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Just hearing Paul Harvey’s voice during the Super Bowl commercial featuring his words from a speech to the Future Farmers of America in 1978 was enough to conjure up my seven-year old self, peanut butter & jelly sandwich and Pringles potato chips at the kitchen table as quirky stories and “the rest of the story” were told from the black vinyl two-dialed AM radio tucked on the back of the gold specked formica countertop.

Coupled with the gray-toned images of flat farmscapes, tractors, families that looked much like mine, and endless rows plowed into the earth, the commercial was a powerful moment of near silence in the hours-long cacophany that is the Super Bowl.

And as real as it was to me, sights and sounds conjuring palpable memories and tastes from three-quarters of a life lived in South Dakota and central Illinois … it was also a myth.

The mythical norm, to be more precise.  The American dream of what farming is and should be and always has been.  By and for hardworking white heteronormative families working on the plains.

It also used a theology that says this mythical norm is the will of God, part of the very creation story itself.  It links these people and this work to the work of building and tending the divinely ordered world itself.

Then, there is reality.

“A 2012 fact sheet released by the National Center for Farmworker Health, based on a Department of Labor survey, estimated that 72 percent of all farmworkers are foreign born. They also estimated that 22 percent of crop workers were female.”

The report goes on with more detail:

68% of all farmworkers were born in Mexico;  Twenty-nine percent (29%) of foreign-born farmworkers have spent 20 or more years in the United States [and] 26 percent have been in the U.S. for 10 to 19 years.”

So Isaac Cubillos posted this video, using the same Paul Harvey voiceover with images that actually reflect the national reality of farmers and farmwork in the U.S.:

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Myth vs. reality.  The power of the image.

And the rhetorical power of Harvey’s words must not be lost.

“And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’  So God made a farmer.”

Echoing the first chapter of Genesis, the ancient priestly author’s story of creation, Harvey uses the eighth day metaphor, and repeats the refrain “so God made a farmer” several times.

It’s powerful, attractive, and seductive.  It is also a myth.

The influence of a shrinking number of farms controlling more and more of the marketplace points to another reality of farming left out of the mythical Dodge ad: Concentrated wealth and corporate control:

“2007 Census of Agriculture results show that concentration of production in agriculture has increased in the last five years.  In 2002, 144,000 [out of over 2.2 million] farms produced 75 percent of the value of U.S. agricultural production. In 2007, the number of farms that produced that same share of production declined to 125,000”

And so what we see in the Dodge ad are things that a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (to use bell hooks’ phrase) wants us to believe in so that it can survive.  It wants us to believe that the mythical norm painted by the Dodge ad is true (all evidence to the contrary) or at the very least should be true (because God said so).

And how could anyone argue with that?

 

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At the Intersections: The Sacred Feminine, Medieval Style
About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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