One of American’s best contemporary thinkers, Victor Davis Hanson, has now offered his take on the speech, which transcends the advertisement. Hanson, now a professor, a classicist and a columnist, grew up on the kind of family farm Harvey described.
“Even if the clip was a bit corny and overdone, the late Paul Harvey was a masterful throaty narrator in the romantic age before the onset of America’s now ubiquitous metrosexual nasal intonation,” Hanson wrote for the PJMedia.com website. “It was not just Harvey’s mid-20th century voice that intrigued millions, but his unapologetic praise of the farmer’s work ethic, religiosity, and family values that he implied were at the core of American greatness, and were shared by all sorts of other American originals: the truck driver, the steel worker, or waitress whom we now all praise and yet prep our children not to be.”
Hanson, like other commentators have done, contrasts the commercial authenticity with the superficiality of the Super Bowl itself.
But why is that? At the time Harvey, even then a legendary radio personality, made the speech, only about 15 percent of Americans lived and worked on farms. Now, the number is about 1 percent.
It’s because although few of us actually farm, we see the worth and value in the activity and the lifestyle — even if we romanticize it a bit.
“It is a human characteristic not just to identify vicariously with something we are not but might like to be, but even to bond with something that we know we admire in the abstract but we would not like to be in the concrete,” Hanson writes. “Who would prefer to stay out in the country in a drafty house day after day in rote labor, rather than visit the mall each evening?”
Hanson has done both; “I felt happiest when farming full-time and the unhappiest when trying my best to escape it.”
Yet he recognizes the uncertainty of crop prices, weather and regulations, even then, made farming too risky for most Americans.
“I am happy for farmers who have the acreage to capitalize on the prices,” he says. “I rent my 45 acres out now, the last tiny bit of a larger family farm whose other fifth-generation stewards looked a lot like those in the Paul Harvey Super Bowl commercial and went broke or sold out or retired exhausted.”