Late in the Superbowl, Jeep broadcast one of those ads that promote a message and hope that if they make you feel, you’ll buy a car. Here, in an ad called “The Middle,” featuring Bruce Springsteen – a man from New Jersey – driving a jeep to the center of the continental U.S. in Kansas, visiting a chapel, putting on a cowboy hat, grabbing some dirt, and saying we can make it and be united. It fades out on a map of the U.S. with the words “The Reunited States.” It currently has 35 million views on Youtube.
1) Despite being a Michigan company, Jeep left the Upper Peninsula off its map of the U.S.
2) The ad is blatant Christian nationalism.
The image above shows a scene from inside the little chapel at the heart of the ad, and the United States. First, it’s obviously a Christian space because there’s a cross. But the cross here is placed on top of a map of the U.S. decorated in the stars and stripes. It could not be a more obvious depiction of a Christian nationalist viewpoint. In fact, it’s so obvious, that the authors probably didn’t even notice. It’s not that this is a secret pernicious plot, it’s that Christianity as default is engrained in the American dominant political culture to such a degree that the idea that crosses – and there are lots of them in the ad – don’t even register as a sign of exclusion rather than inclusion. “The chapel is ecumenical,” one person on Twitter told me, baffled at my objections.
But I am a secular Jew (and my time as a teen in Nashville taught me something about living in overtly Christian spaces). I have visited an awful lot of churches with an awful lot of political imagery. In fact, the political religious culture of Venice was my subfield as a scholar. I like churches and other well crafted sacred spaces. I like to visit them and think about iconography. But they aren’t mine. They don’t include me, unless I want to convert (I do not, thanks). So if a message of unity is surrounded by crosses, then it’s a unity that deliberately excludes me.
Jeep likely doesn’t care. They are selling a brand of white male rural cowboy hat America, a brand that is either implicitly or overtly Christian, depending on the moment. But we need to recognize Christian nationalism when we see it. When Springsteen says, lighting a candle in church, “Our light has always found its way through the darkness,” we need to recognize John 1: 5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Mostly, I am frustrated at the defenses of this ad. When immediately after it aired I voiced my frustration at all the crosses, pushback came that the chapel was ecumenical, that it wasn’t meant that way, that they didn’t even notice the crosses, that it was just a building that “was built” there, and so forth.
But it’s a very Christian ad. Look at these three giant crosses behind barbed wire, big enough to crucify someone on, the sun rising, the chapel off to the right. Then Bruce kneels down and fondles the soil.
Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S., but white Christian rural America is a tiny subset of that religion given massive political power (thanks mostly to the structure of the Senate) and overwhelming cultural power as well. “The Middle” plays right to that stereotype, excluding anyone doesn’t fit the mold. A message intended to unite us (and sell cars) ends up just emphasizing the “real America” right-wing narrative that has done so much harm to us all.
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