Am I the only one who finds the new Bernie Sanders ad oddly existential?
Every time I hear the song “America”, I’m filled with a haunting sense of loss and alienation. It strikes me as a deeply existential song about people searching for something that doesn’t exist. It’s always made me think about the bigger question of what America is—the abstract idea of America, America as a country, and my ambiguous sense of place within it. The ad uses the most optimistic lyrics of the song: “Let us be lovers/We’ll marry our fortunes together/I’ve got some real estate here in my bag/Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike/They’ve all come to look for America.” But it doesn’t include the lyrics that evoke a deep sense of loneliness: “And the moon rose over an open field/Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping/I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Not to mention the part about boarding a Greyhound in Pittsburgh, which in itself evokes imagery dystopian enough to make even the most die-hard optimist want to jump off a bridge. It’s not a cheery song. It’s certainly not a fun little ditty about how great America is. And it’s about the last song I would expect to be used in campaign ad.
I’ve read several analyses of the ad, and most of them come to the conclusion that it's exploiting nostalgia, which I think is totally incorrect. The ad is not exploiting nostalgia--it’s exploiting our growing sense of alienation and loss of identity, in a strangely brilliant way. It takes the common tropes of campaign ads (wholesome dairy farmers, small business owners, families at the dinner table), and juxtaposes with them this song that is strongly associated with alienation--then ramps it up by showing crowds of people cheering and uniting behind a cause, while the lyrics “They’ve all come to look for America” flash on the screen. I have to hand it to them; it is very affecting. Admittedly, I’m susceptible to emotionally-charged ads, but I still think this one is pretty genius. (Disclaimer: None of this is to say I’m voting for Sanders or anything—I’m undecided.)
Mr. Typist and I get regular visits from the Jehova’s Witnesses. They’re nice people and Mr. Typist will spend a fair chunk of time chatting with them. If Mr. Typist isn’t home, they usually read me a bible verse or two and go on their way. This morning when they came by, they asked for Mr. Typist specifically. When I told them he was still sleeping, they said, “Oh. Well, can we come back later when he's awake?” “Umm...sure,” I said, even though I felt summarily rejected. I almost wanted to shout after them, “You know, I’m pretty confused about God! I could use some answers here. I have a vague sense of something missing in my life.” But instead, I shut the door and sulked. That's what it's come to, folks--Mr. Typist gets requested by name, and I don’t get so much as verse from 2 Corinthians.