Titled “The Middle,” the ad begins with a hovering drone shot — always a drone shot! — over an empty two-lane highway. A folded newspaper flaps ominously on the front seat of Springsteen’s 1980 Jeep CJ-5 as he begins a spiel in the introspective cadence honed during his recent Broadway-to-Netflix thing: “There’s a chapel in Kansas standing on the exact center of the Lower 48. It never closes. All are more than welcome to come meet here — in the middle.”
This is, in fact, a real chapel in Lebanon, Kan. — but Jeep and the Boss are proposing it as a metaphorical reconciliation site for a nation of broken citizens who remain deeply terrified of one another. As the camera hops between images of bridges, trains, flags and horses, solemn streaks of steel guitar float behind Springsteen’s unity monologue as if quietly mourning his integrity. And this is sad. Springsteen was famous for refusing to cave to advertisers across his 48-year career, but now here he is on our Super Bowl screens, squinting into the middle distance like a parody of himself.
Hey, maybe his intentions were good, or maybe he thought this farce would be okay after Bob Dylan did his dumb Super Bowl commercial, or maybe this whole cash grab is going straight to charity. It doesn’t matter. Despite the healing sound of his voice, Springsteen is ultimately preaching reconciliation without reckoning — which after January’s Capitol siege is no longer an acceptable path toward progress. Plus, this is Bruce Springsteen. Isn’t he the guy who’s supposed to know everything about hard work? Suggesting that we should all swiftly and metaphorically travel to the nucleus of White, rural America to make up and move along feels insulting and wrong.
Baffling, too. Springsteen’s songbook has long stood up for the marginalized and the disenfranchised, but here, in lieu of writing a new song, he’s sticking up for a car company whose products are hastening the death of our planet — a death that the boomer demo being courted with this two-minute clip won’t have to witness.
“It’s no secret,” Springsteen says in the ad. “The middle has been a hard place to get to lately.” Yeah, sure, but this isn’t a secret, either: It’s a lot easier to long for the middle when you won’t live long enough to see the bottom.
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