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I can’t get Clint Eastwood out of my head. What with that gravelly voice and those death-grip like focused eyes, he’s been stuck there. Admittedly, I only watched portions of the middle of the Super Bowl—primarily to see Madonna and the half-time show—and the final quarter of the game. Entertaining as all that may have been it’s been Clint and the Chrysler commercial that’s been replaying in my mind.
If you’ve not seen it, you may view it here: It’s Halftime in America.
The approximately two minute ad begins with the sound of a roaring crowd subsiding into what we are to assume, appropriately placed in the viewing schedule, is the game’s halftime. Walking towards the camera through the darkened stadium tunnel backlit from the light of the playing field is the silhouette of Mr. Eastwood casting yet a larger shadow on the tunnel wall accompanied by the sound of the solid footfalls of his boots. Every bit tough, stoic, and “manly” he states:
“It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.”
Cue the inspirational music, beginning softly, but with brass instruments so it’s still conveying a strength and power (think something akin to Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man and Appalachian Spring together.) The scene segues to what appears as a rural front porch in a dewy early morning, then a flyover view of Manhattan, then various images of “average Americans” beginning their days:
“It’s halftime in America, too. People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.”
Then, just under sixty words and thirty seconds into the promo we have the words and image of what brand is technically being “advertized”: Detroit. With the City of Detroit’s flag clearly emblazoned with the words Detroit and Michigan solidly waving, Mr. Eastwood goes on:
“The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.”
To be clear, the commercial is for a brand, for the Chrysler Group and their trademark “IMPORTED FROM DETROIT.” They’re selling cars. And yet, obviously, the commercial is about so much more. They’re not just selling cars. They’re not just selling the all-important image. No, they’re selling more than an image, an idea, a hope, and a yearning.
The ad continues with Mr. Eastwood acknowledging that we’ve been knocked down, we’ve fallen on a hard spell. “We”? “We,” Detroit. Sure. “We,” the American Auto industry. Yep. But “we” purposely hangs there signifying more. We, America.
“It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.”
Yeah, this isn’t just an ad for cars, this is purposely and ad for America. And blatantly so as it concludes with a close up of Clint Eastwood,
“Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin.”
As I began, I can’t quite get Clint out of my head. Perhaps it’s a man-crush. Sure. I admit it. Perhaps it’s good marketing. Again, I buy it. And frankly, I grew up in the steel belt now rustbelt region of Youngstown, Ohio, an area still dependent on GM’s Lordstown Assembly Plant so all that grit and pathos that Clint Eastwood conveys about the average “working man” and woman stirs something in me, I confess. And finally, I will also confess the ad speaks to me politically. In first viewing it and discovering it was about Detroit and the auto industry I thought it certainly couldn’t hurt Obama either. Not alone in that idea.
I admit all of the above may be true but Clint has been in my head for another reason, one certainly not as direct or clearly associated as one would like to admit. It has to do with the state of the church. It is the custom of my local church to hold it’s congregational annual meeting on the first Sunday of February, aka Super Bowl Sunday. Therefore, I’d been doing a lot of thinking about the state of the church, especially my local congregation when first viewing that ad. In the days that have followed, I’ve been preparing to go to a Reformed Church in America denominational-wide event where we will be entering a Conversation about the future of the church. As such, Clint Eastwood’s voice has been babbling in my head all week.
There seems to be in many churches great anxiety and fear. Fear of decline and anxiety over change. There’s something very germane midway through the Eastwood ad where he says, “I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.” I believe he could clearly be talking in part about the state of some in our churches and what they are experiencing. This is certainly not in all congregations but it does seem palpably present in so much of the mainline church. I’d want to be very careful with slippery metaphors but is there something about American Protestantism akin to the North American auto industry?
The ad, or at least that portion of it, describes some of the current condition of where the church may be in part, it may also hint at our response to that condition. I’m not entirely comfortable with the overly masculine and certainly patriotic tone of the ad being incorporated further into church life. Nor does the sport analogy of halftime and healthy faith formation connect, at least not for me. Nevertheless, is there something of our response that can be like Mr. Eastwood coming in at halftime and giving “the team” a pep talk, reminding us the games not over? Maybe some of our churches need that? Maybe pastorally and theologically we need it. Not sure. But damn that Clint Eastwood; can’t get him out of my head this week.