For 47 seconds, you only heard the familiar raspy voice. No, can’t be. Wouldn’t be. He would never. Then, he appeared, our most famous iconoclast Bob Dylan, pitching Chryslers and touting buying American and imploring us to let Asia assemble our cell phones. After the two-minute, $16 million ad ran between the third and fourth quarters of Super Bowl XLVIII, the Internet handed down a scathing indictment: Bob Dylan, mega sellout.
As former Globe music critic Steve Morse put it on Facebook: “Just stunned to see Dylan do an ad for Chrysler in the Stupor Bowl. He really needs the money, huh? How truly sad. Bye bye credibility, Bob.” It was a sentiment shared by more than a few.
Advertising signs they con You into thinking you’re the one That can do what’s never been done That can win what’s never been won BobDylan
— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) February 3, 2014
Bob Dylan 1966: "Build a fire on main street and shoot it full of holes." Dylan 2014: "We will build your car."
— Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson) February 3, 2014
Others said it’s simply Dylan being Dylan.
He's someone who has confounded expectations for 50 yrs. Why anyone expects him to embody their squishy idealism is beyond me. #Dylan
— Seth Mnookin (@sethmnookin) February 3, 2014
Bloomberg leaped to Dylan’s defense, calling it “one of the most overtly political acts he’s committed in years,” and saying his songs support his stance.
If, as Dylan’s songs and nostalgia seem to suggest, he badly wants a renaissance in American manufacturing (and the lifestyles it enabled), then there’s simply no better way to accomplish that — not even another protest song — than hawking Chryslers (and Cadillacs) to Americans, even if — ultimately — the profits (and losses) from those Chryslers are destined for Italy. Most of the jobs, however, remain in the United States. Indeed, Dylan’s decision to align himself so closely with American autoworkers and the car company that employs them (after all, he says, “we” will build your car) might be the most political two minutes he’s recorded since the mid-1960s heyday that, in the wake of the ad’s airing, his critics claim he has betrayed.
This isn’t Dylan’s first Super Bowl ad appearance. He appeared for Victoria’s Secret in 2004 and Pepsi in 2009. The difference with the Chrysler spot is that Dylan is the messenger. It’s not just grainy footage and his soundtrack. He appears and he endorses.
Maybe, as Morse suggested, it is all about the money. Dylan also licensed “I Want You” to a Chobani yogurt ad last night. Tough to make the case that that one had a political agenda, right?
Update: One astute reader points out, “The song playing on Dylan’s Chrysler commercial has the chorus, ‘I used to care, but things have changed.'” Maybe he’s indeed trying to tell us something.