Thursday, February 06, 2014

There is nothing more American that America, and nothing more Dylan than Bob Dylan

From the mighty pen of Sean Wilentz:

Although the ad is dopey as all ads are, and even though it is plainly hawking Chrysler, Dylan never once hypes the virtues of Chrysler's product over that of any other automobile maker. This may be a cunningly subtle pitch to Dylan's baby boomer fan base, but it's also an abnormal nonspecific celebrity endorsement.

Instead, Dylan celebrates America as a car-loving country. The ad begins with a clunky, even insipid piece of ad copy -- "There's nothing more American than America" -- only barely redeemed by being spoken by Dylan's singular voice. But then comes a jumble of images out of Dylan's familiar Americana landscape -- old-fashioned diners, Route 66 in Missouri, bronco busters, carnivals, Marilyn Monroe -- evoking a particular nostalgic national mystique, rooted in the 1940s and 1950s and redolent of Jack Kerouac.

Footage of old Detroit follows -- "Yeah...," Dylan says, "Detroit made cars, and cars made America" -- and then a paean, in prose almost certainly written by Dylan himself, to "the American road and the creatures who live on it" and to how we Americans "believe in the zoom and the roar and the thrust."
The ad is saying that America is what its people make and make of it, cars above all, which makes sense -- and which also makes it a workingman's film: The ad doesn't single out Chrysler and its cars but the Americans who build those cars, and their conviction and pride -- "the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line," Dylan intones. "So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We ... will build ... your car" -- the last sentence delivered in Dylan's cool halting cadence.

It's all, of course, a cleverly deceptive way to elide the fact that supposedly all-American Chrysler is now owned by Fiat. But the cars are still American-made -- and for Dylan, that's important.

Read it all here.  Here is the ad:

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