Farmers in the commercial also looked far poorer than their vast machinery and fields might have indicated. They often look worn and perpetually worried, given their paranoia that at any given moment a price crash, a sudden freeze, a bad case of pneumonia are not just bad tidings, but so bad that they can wipe out a year’s work. There is no such thing as PERS for those in the Super Bowl commercial, no concept of spiking your retirement package in the last two years on the job, no demonstration because you’re asked to chip in 10% of your health premium costs.
In the farmer’s twisted mind, $50 for new Levis is just the sort of splurge that marks the road to perdition of spending what you will soon not have. I’ll pass on their passing on the $200 eyeglasses and $300 sneakers that seem to be the favored target of the poor of flash mobs. (I was always amazed while at CSU that my students, deep in debt and working at minimum wage jobs, often had more expensive sneakers and shades than did I.) As a smart-alecky high school student body officer, forty-two years ago I used to have to go to the Selma school board meetings. Every time a teacher requested more money for a trip, a principle wanted a new project, or a committee demanded a conference outing, the five farmers on the dais — dressed in shabby jeans and scuffed boots — would drawl out “nope,” or better yet: “Show me where we get more money coming in, and I’ll let a little more go out.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, the sense of tragedy in rural faces apparently too hit a chord at a time when the wealthiest government in the history of civilization borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. Should we assume that Americans suffer from malnutrition rather than obesity, and that big-screen TVs and iPhones are as rare as shoes and staples? To listen to the president is to really believe that a third of the nation has no decent shelter, heating, air conditioning, TV, electronics, or cars — and all because the other two-thirds somehow gobbled them up. (One of the strangest disconnects of my schizophrenic world of Stanford and Selma is to see the mostly overweight poor at the Selma Wal-Mart, and the mostly wealthy anorexic-looking at Whole Earth in Palo Alto; the deprived in stucco newer 1800 sq. ft. tract houses, the privileged crowded into old clapboard, shabby Menlo Park cottages; hoi polloi in shiny late-model 4×4 Ford and Chevy trucks, hoi aristoi often crammed into tiny five-year-old CRVs. But all that matters is that the “poor” are supposedly deprived of symphony, quality museums, and access to summers in Tuscany.)
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. 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?