In the shadow of the steeple
I saw my people
By the Relief Office
I've seen my people.
As they stood there hungry,
I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
- This Land Is Your Land, Woodie Guthrie
Don't there always seem to be Super Bowl ads that generate controversy? Last year there was the Coke ad with children from around the world singing America the Beautiful, which I wrote about here.
Judging from twitter and other social media, the two biggies last night were the atrocious Nationwide commercial about childhood accidental deaths, and the Jeep ad using Woodie Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land as the background music.
For those who didn't see it, here's the ad:
Now, apparently there were many who were outraged by the use of this song to show images from around the world instead of just America. After all, this is one of the great patriotic songs I grew up with, and it is about THIS land...not other lands!
Here is a sample of the tweets out there:
"This Land Is Your Land" is about America, not the whole world. @Jeep
— Tom Metzger (@TheTomMetzger) February 2, 2015
They are showing video of places not in America while playing "This Land is Your Land" which is about America. #CommercialFail #SuperBowl
— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) February 2, 2015
Jeep should be kicked out of America for using that song as an advertisement for the world
— Nico Helems (@CheeksAndDekes) February 2, 2015
I am now boycotting Jeep because of this commercial.
— Mitch Losito (@Mitch_pulease) February 2, 2015
But, as Lee Corso would say...Not so fast, my friend!
Did you see the verse at the top of this post? Not exactly a model of patriotism, is it? What most people don't know is that Woodie Gurthie wrote This Land Is Your Land as a protest song. In 1940, one of the most popular songs on the radio was Kate Smith singing God Bless America. Reportedly, Guthrie for so tired of hearing it that he wrote a song in response to it. The song was called God Blessed America for Me. He later changed that line to "this land was made for you and me" and the song was recorded in 1944.
It had the four verses we are used to singing, but also a verse about private property and how No Trespassing signs belie the idea of it being everyone's land. And of course the verse quoted above, where he wonders whether a land with hunger can really be made for everyone.
Now let's be clear. I am not saying that I endorse Guthrie's cynicism. Quite the contrary. But I am saying that we have taken a cynical protest song and turned it into something it's not. It was written as the opposite of a patriotic song. And then we get mad when someone uses it to highlight the beauty of the whole world and its people, which God created for his glory?
It's kind of like when people use Springsteen's Born in the USA in a patriotic context. Really? Have you ever paid attention to the lyrics?
So maybe we should all chill a little. Maybe we should enjoy the fact that God made a great big world that he wants us to care for. This land - this world - was made for you and me.