One commercial is stirring some conversation about rural America, particularly rural Georgia. There seems to be two camps who are debating whether this ad celebrates or insults rural folks. And both sides of the argument make a few good points. But this is yet another example of where the truth of both sides can be assembled to create option three, the right option.
I wanted to write this piece after reading an op-ed by AJC writer Maureen Downey. Downey says she is undecided about the ad but was bothered by the child narrator. While I agree with her that childhood should be a hopeful time the word that comes to my mind about this ad is “reality.” It’s the uncomfortable reality of rural life that city and suburb dwellers would rather not be confronted with while at a Super Bowl party.
I’m glad they chose a kid to narrate the ad. I think it communicates the message more effectively. Here we have a young man who actually sounds like he’s from Georgia (except for pronouncing the second ‘t’ in Atlanta) explaining to the entire nation that he was born in this small town, and he hopes to have a future in this small town. His “big dreams” aren’t about leaving the only home he has ever known to seek fame and fortune in some big city. He’s content to have a career, a home, a family, a future. And those who know much about rural life can tell you that if you have all those, you’re probably living better than your neighbors.
If you’ve never seen the sprawling Kia factory in West Point you can’t really understand the impact that place could have on a town of 3,728 people. I’m sure most of the employees commute from elsewhere as West Point doesn’t have the population to support that kind of operation. And yes, I’d rather there be many small successful businesses to help build the local economy but you work with what you have. Left with the option of Kia and nothing, I’ll take Kia in this situation.
What Kia did, purposely or otherwise, was to draw a contrast between life in rural Georgia and the glitz, the glamour, and the excess going on 81 miles up I-85. It drew the contrast between Atlanta and the rest of Georgia - a place where we spend billions to secure a party that will gross a few million vs a place where we don’t spend squat for any reason.
There were several small town guys in Sunday’s game. Quite possibly the local heroes of those towns. For every one of those players there’s 5 or 10 thousand back home who will never leave that town. If you ask them they’re liable to tell you that’s okay with them. That’s home. It’s where they intend to take their stand, for good and bad. Some will farm, some will build things, fix things. Some will run a cash register at the local gas station. Some may go away to college and then come home to teach at their local school. Many will do whatever they can to make a living. That’s reality. While it’s not encouraging kids to dream big, it is showing them that if your football or acting career doesn’t take off, you’re not less of a person. If you’re not an executive in an office tower 81 miles down the road, you still have value as a human, what you will do still matters, perhaps even more than that fancy job in the city. It’s telling them what was said in the closing line, that I do so love, “No, we are not famous but we are incredible and we make incredible things.”
That’s not just true at the Kia Motors Assembly Plant in West Point, Georgia. It’s true in thousands of small towns across America.
So, did the ad celebrate or insult? I’m afraid the better question is: how did the ad impact you and how is your perspective on reality in small rural towns changed? Watch it again. Be uncomfortable. Be changed.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire