Monday, February 8, 2021

It's Not the Middle

Super Bowl Sunday. I don't watch it and I don't care about it: the game, the half-time show, the ads. I don't even talk about not talking about it, because that's boring too.

But this morning I couldn't help hearing about the Bruce Springsteen ad for Jeep because it tied so closely to a story that ran in yesterday's Star Tribune that I already wanted to write about (Capitol siege puts spotlight on Christian nationalists). If you didn't see the ad, you can find it here.

Here's my semi-expert transcription and image description. I can't do it in columns; voice-over in bold.

[Open: Drone shot over snowy, low rolling fields with a two-lane road receding into the horizon at center. Ethereal music over.]

[cut to close-up of a cowboy hat and newspapers on the front seat of a vehicle, leg of a man in background (stick shift visible at right). Cut to close-up of the toe of a brown cowboy boot as the man, we assume, emerges from the vehicle, which is a blue Jeep (logo shown by door frame. Seems to be an old one because rust is visible). Cut to three big grain silos behind bare trees. Ethereal music continues.]

There's a chapel in Kansas, standing on the exact center of the lower 48. [very small white building with prominent steeple and relatively small cross, small sign over door reads US CENTER CHAPEL. Cut to stenciled sign with a road in background. The sign reads WELCOME TO THE CENTER OF THE USA (followed by an outline map of the lower 48 then) LEBANON HAS SOUVENIRS.]

It never closes. [cut to an old windmill turning.] All are more than welcome [wheat field moving in the wind, sun shining through] to come meet here…in the middle. [those words are said over the image of a simple wooden cross over a stars and bars US shape]

It’s no secret … [cut to a man shown from chest down behind the wheel of a Jeep, writing something on lined paper at the steering wheel] The middle has been a hard place [freight train cars roll from left to right] to get to lately. [cut to show it's Bruce Springsteen who's the man behind the wheel of the Jeep, shot from the front through the windshield] Between red and blue. Between servant and citizen. [cut to a white clapboard double-car garage with a cow skull hung over the open door, an old white Jeep parked inside] Between our freedom and our fear. [cut back to Bruce driving his blue Jeep]

[Plaintive music, cut to the white Jeep driving in a city in a slushy winter street.]

Now, fear has never been the best [side view of a city bridge structure, showing tall buildings in the background] of who we are. [cut to a brown horse, fairly close to its head] And as for freedom, it’s not the property [cut to side view of a single-family home's front porch with an American flag waving in the breeze] of just the fortunate few. It belongs to us all. [cut to the windows of an aluminum-sided diner] Whoever you are, wherever [cut to Bruce drinking coffee out of a thermos cup in front of a building with a neon sign that says Lan and a snow-covered corrugated roof] you're from, [shot from above of a stream running through rocky and snowy ground] it's what connects us. And we need that connection.

[cut to Bruce's face, eyes closed, starting to look up]

We need the middle.

[barbed wire along the road and three tall, thin crosses in a field at left with the little chapel in the background at right] We just have to remember the very soil [cut to his hands feeling some dirt, wedding ring prominent] we stand on is common ground. [cut to Bruce reentering the church through the door, darkened space inside.] So we can get there. [drone shot of a mesa over a snow-covered, flat to rolling plain] We can make it to the mountain top, through the desert.

[back to Bruce inside the chapel, looking like he's praying, with a window with gauzy curtains and sunlight behind] And we will cross this divide. [cut to Bruce lighting a white votive candle in almost darkness.] Our light has always found its way through the darkness.

[outside shot, Bruce putting on a cowboy hat standing in front of the chapel, steeple and cross on the building prominent] And there's hope on the road up ahead.

[plaintive fiddle music, black silhouetted hand of a driver out a vehicle window next to a side mirror against a pink sunset. Cut to a black outline of the lower 48 on a tan cowhide (?) with a red star in the geographic center. White words in Goudy Oldstyle type appear on the left side of the star, To the ReUnited — States of America on the right side.]

[Goes to black, then the words in white, appear

I have no idea what Springsteen thinks he's doing with this ad (okay, I have an idea what he thinks he's doing), but wow, is he wrong in how he has gone about it. The ad is full of Christian identity symbols and reinforces the idea that this is a Christian nation, that there's a Real America out in those wheat fields and under those crosses. 

Thanks to David Perry (@Lollardfish on Twitter and his respondents, among others) for all of the tweets this morning that alerted me to the ad. How many atheists, let alone Jews or Muslims, do you know who would think this Kansas chapel is an ideal place to meet in a real middle? The idea that any Christian chapel (let alone this particular Christian chapel with these particular symbols) would be a great place to use as a symbol for commonality is so backwards... unless you don't really want to reach anyone but the Christians. Using any specific place of religious worship for an open community meeting, for instance, takes particular outreach to show that the meeting truly is welcoming to all, such as rotating among different locations (and even then I don't know how that works for atheists, really). How many Christians feel comfortable dropping in at a Mosque for instance? How many synagogues has the average Christian been to?

On top of the basic wrong-headedness of using Christian symbolism to represent a country founded on religious freedom by deists, we have the even greater current problem of Christian nationalism specifically, which is animating some large percentage of the insurrection and rumblings of civil war currently underway in this country. This ad doesn't talk those people down: it tells them they're right.

The Star Tribune story on that topic, which was written by the paper's long-time religion reporter Jean Hopfensperger, starts with a few words from a sermon she heard at a local church, where the preacher (minister? pastor?) wore a startling shirt that said "Democratic Platform 1. Murder Unborn Children 2. Molest the Survivors." 

The story continues with a range of examples that fit with various conspiracy theories we've heard about in recent months and years, plus the usual blame on "cultural Marxism," antifa, and BLM, as if the accusers know what any of those things mean. Here's one quote that really got my attention:

What sets ardent Christian nationalists apart is belief that God created the United States as a Christian nation, that U.S. laws must reflect their version of Christian values and that government has no right to interfere with their "religious liberties."

I agree that government has no right to interfere with their religious liberties, as long as their religious liberties don't interfere with other people's religious liberties or our very humanity and existence (including those of their own children, when it comes to health care, especially). But I don't agree that U.S. laws "must reflect their version of Christian values." That is clearly not in any document written for this country.

And this guy sounds like a piece of work:

Rev. Dale Witherington, director of the Minnesota Legislative Prayer Caucus, which supports lawmakers working to preserve the "nation's Judeo Christian heritage and religious liberties".... posted: "This is being censored because it helps demonstrate that Antifa and its ilk were behind the Capitol riots, not Trump supporters," ....

Faith leaders, he said, have the duty to speak out. "America's problems are the result of the failure of the church to do its job in raising up righteous people who are qualified to govern according to the principles given by God," said Witherington in an e-mail.

There is no line between church and state, he maintained in an online video. "That is not in the Constitution. Our nation was founded to glorify God and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ," he told an interviewer.

Where could you find a middle with this guy?

When we're talking about people like him, it becomes clear that what he would consider "the middle" has been moved so far to the right that it's not recognizable as such to well more than half the country's population. The majority of the country that believes in separation of church and state: in freedom of and from religion.

But a minority thinks what Springsteen showed in his ad is the middle, and they want to make a Christian theocracy. There are many of them, but not nearly as many as there are of everyone else. They are not the real America, because there is no single real America.

And we don't need Bruce Springsteen giving the minoritarians any more encouragement than they already have.

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