While America’s largest brewer of beer might not seem a likely source for social activism, the Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl commercial “Born the Hard Way” deals head-on with the negative attitude some Americans have towards immigrants. Immigration is currently a hot political issue, specifically in dealing with immigrants from the Middle East, and the most recent Presidential election seemed to be temperature gauge for how some segments of American society negatively feel about foreigners. In this essay I will demonstrate how “Born The Hard Way” ultimately supports American hegemony and the ideology that immigration is good for America by summarizing the text, applying the storytelling and race analytical methods, and discussing an article from The Atlantic which strengthens this claim .
The Budweiser commercial, “Born the Hard Way”, which I will refer to as “the text”, begins with a medium shot of the protagonist, Adolphus Busch in a bar. A person off the right side of the frame comments (in an accent) that the protagonist doesn’t look like he’s “from around here”. The commercial uses flashback to show the journey the protagonist has taken to get to the as yet unspecified “here”. Our protagonist is shown traveling on a ship in stormy seas and telling a doctor who stitches up a wound on the protagonist’s forehead that he wants to go to America to “brew beer”. We jump ahead to his arrival in America where an angry crowd is telling immigrants like him to “go back home”. The commercial jumps ahead again to our protagonist on a river boat standing next to a black man who is also a passenger. This riverboat catches fire and the protagonist must jump into the river and continue his journey by foot and rowboat until he reaches the city of St Louis. The commercial ends back with the opening location in the bar when the protagonist explains to the man who had originally made the comment about where he might be from what sort of beer he’d like to make. This man introduces himself as Eberhard Anheuser. The commercial ends as the two man shake hands and the scene fades to a title card of the brand name “Anheuser-Busch, When nothing stops your dream. This is the beer we’ll raise.”
The text can be categorized into multiple narrative elements. The genre of the text would be closest to the drama with elements of the historical and the western mixed in. The subject deals with an immigrant who comes to America to brew beer. The theme of the text is that of the unwanted immigrant finding and making their way in America through hard work and fighting adversity. The conflict of the text is man vs. society. The master plot can best be described as that of the underdog. The tone of the text is serious but also a little romantic, too. The mood of the text is sentimental, and sometimes gloomy and mysterious. The text uses a third person narrative to tell its story.
As this is a commercial for a consumer brand (not a specific product) the text employs historical characters to tell its story. The protagonist of the story is Adolphus Busch who is the first and most prominent character we see in the text and is present in every scene. The antagonist of the story would be a combination of society (in scenes where he is told to “go home”) and nature (as with the various bad weather the protagonist must endure). The foil of the text would be Eberhard Anheuser in that he appears already established in America and is the one who reaches out his hand first during their introduction. The minor characters of the text would be the doctor on the ship who gives our protagonist stitches, the angry American who tells the protagonist to “go back home”, the black man on the riverboat with whom the protagonist shares a peaceful, friendly moment, and the man who welcomes the protagonist to St. Louis. The archetype of the protagonist can best be described as that of the creator because he has a clear vision (as we see in his notebook he writes in during all through the text) and a desire to see that vision realized at all costs no matter how dangerous.
Clocking in at only 1 minute long, the text has numerous examples of intertextuality weaved throughout. The first example is an allusion to the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” wherein our protagonist is shown on a riverboat with a free black man presumably somewhere along the Mississippi. This allusion contrasts with the immigrant’s story of the protagonist and places into historical context the less than immigrant status of black people who were already living in America at the time while at the same time showing how these two communities were connected and had something in common. The second example of intertextuality would be to that of the Martin Scorsese film, “Gangs of New York”, specifically in the “go back home” scene of the text. In Scorsese’s film immigrants are one the one hand shown as being criminals, but on the other are also as being discriminated against to such a degree that it was very difficult for them to integrate into the wider American culture. Our text acknowledges this aspect of American history but by showing our protagonist in a positive light and not being embittered or turning to crime it rejects the idea that immigrants are criminals and argues they are vital to America’s economic and cultural success. I admit to enjoying both of these intertextual examples and I felt they were appropriate to the story being told.
The most prominent symbol in the text is that of our protagonist’s notebook which is the most prominent image on the screen for two of the three scenes our protagonist is seen interacting with it. The meaning of this notebook symbol is it carries the dreams and ideas of our protagonist, something he is continually updating and refining through the text. This notebook is important to the text because it represents the mind and thoughts of our protagonist, a person who we can believe is smart, thoughtful, and studious because of their assiduous notetaking. Another interpretation of this symbol could be that it shows immigrants as being literate since the prevailing stereotype of immigrants is that of illiterates who offer nothing to society. The notebook itself is a common symbol used to show the thoughts and motivations of a character and can be seen in numerous other texts such as in the texts “Heathers”, “Death Note”, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.
Race and Ethnicity method
The race I will be analyzing from the text will be white since they are the most prominent race depicted in the text. Two distinct behaviors of the white race are depicted in this text, 1) the hard working and imaginative immigrant who prevails through his own agency against any adversity is the predominant behavior shown (chiefly through our protagonist though also in the minor characters), and 2) that of the racist, angry native who wants immigrants to “go back home”. The physical appearance of the characters is of them wearing period accurate clothing, however our protagonist’s clothing is well kept and clean, even in the bad weather, whereas the angry, immigrant-hater has an unkempt appearance due to his longish hair sticking out of his hat. The hegemonic values of white people in this text revolve almost exclusively around work, specifically a strong work ethic, even the immigrant-hater can be assumed to hate immigrants because he fears they will take his job away. White people are seen on the move in search of work and even when relaxing in a bar, such as our protagonist and foil, are still “at work” in that they are making contacts and business deals with each other.
It is much easier to compare the portrayal of white people as representing the value of hard work than it is to contrast this representation, especially when dealing with advertising which seeks to enforce hegemonic values of work ethic in hopes of influencing potential customers into identifying with their brand. Most television shows and films perpetuate American hegemony and ideology by showing white people as having jobs or careers, and even when they do not, white people are shown as being highly resourceful, such as in the films “Jerry Maguire”, “Boiler Room”, and “The Social Network”. In contrast to this image of white people valuing work ethic would be the film “Gangs of New York” which, incidentally, is used as intertextuality in this very text we are analyzing. In “Gangs of New York” white people are shown as being criminals and more apt to kill each other than possessing a “pull up your bootstrap” ethic. It would be fair to say examples of white people valuing a strong work ethic far outnumber those which do not, and on the occasions where texts show white people not engaging in the traditional work ethic, such as the television series “Breaking Bad”, the amount of hard work going into a criminal enterprise outweighs the amount of work that a person would have to put into a traditional 9-5 job. White people, therefore are consistently shown as being hardworking, and highly resourceful.
While one example in the text is shown with white people interacting with another race the main relationship in the text lies between the various white ethnicities and cultures. The audience of the text is rooting for our protagonist because the audience can relate to this hard working outsider who is trying to succeed against great odds, a struggle many in the audience, an audience which spans the globe since this is a Super Bowl commercial, may be very familiar and sympathetic with. The power in this text is held by the same race as our protagonist, however since our protagonist is German he is singled out as being a foreigner among his own race and thus is not in a position of power outside of his dreams, as represented by the notebook symbol. This fracturing of a similar racial group via ethnic differences is one we know through hindsight as one which is a temporary setback for our German protagonist since the brand being represented is literally named after the protagonist, and since German people are not typically singled out anymore in America as being a hated class. Each of the characters are shown as being active in this text, chiefly through their hard work as with our protagonist making his way across an ocean and continent, as well as the numerous people, blacks included, who fled the burning riverboat on their way to a new life in St Louis. Everywhere in the text people are moving and are on the move and this represents the active, hive-like nature of hard working Americans – most of whom happen to be white in this text.
Overall the text provides a positive portrayal of white people. White people are shown as being hard working (as with our protagonist’s difficult journey), studious (as with our protagonist’s assiduous journal keeping), kind (as with the doctor who stitches up the protagonist), and industrious (as with the business handshake at the end of the text). The audience would be highly influenced by this text because it represents white people in a manner the audience is used to seeing them portrayed, and it reinforces what white people believe themselves to value: hard work leads to success. In a small way the text does hurt white people’s social standing among whites across the globe by exposing the American hatred and anger sometimes levied at immigrants in this country, specifically in today’s political and social climate where immigrants from the Middle East are not trusted and seen as dangerous and whom our government is actively trying to keep from entering the country. Though only one person of color is shown in the text, the audience is being persuaded that the white protagonist immigrant is a stand-in for all immigrants.
In Brian Alberts’ article in The Atlantic he describes the role immigrants played, specifically German immigrants, in bringing beer to America and the role it played in naturalizing these immigrants. And like today’s climate which has seen a sharp rise an anti-immigration sentiment, hostility towards immigrants was strong enough to form groups, one of which was known as the “Know-Nothings”, who banded together into temperance organizations protesting this beer these immigrants were attempting to brew and sell to Americans. Our text taps into this moment in history where beer played a role in “immigrant activism that negotiated American economic and cultural life and in turn transformed both German-American citizenship and the brewing industry.” (Alberts)
“Born the Hard Way” aims at a political and social message that reinforces the positive role of the immigrant in the American experience. And while the status of the immigrant has often been the focus of hatred and jealousy, the ideal of America as a nation who values immigrants and their hard work is a deeply held belief and a major component of American ideology. This text supports the traditional ideology and hegemony of America through its focus on immigrants, mainly white men, and how they can prosper and achieve business success. Though this ad does not attempt to directly deal with the status of people who are Muslim, it attempts to show immigrants as being hardworking and productive members of society who can contribute to our culture so fundamentally that what they offer might eventually become a major symbol of hegemonic American identity: Budweiser beer.
Alberts, Brian. “How Budweiser’s Super Bowl Ad Taps America’s Contentious Immigration Past.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 05 Feb 2017. Web. 18 Apr 2017.
BudweiserCanada. “Born the Hard Way.” YouTube, January 31, 2017. Web. 12 Apr 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZmlRtpzwos