Bob Dylan: Sell Out or Champion of American Manufacturing?

Bob Dylan starred in a commercial for Chrysler that aired during the Super Bowl’s third-quarter and the 72-year-old rock legend is now predictably being called a sell out, which for Dylan fans who have followed his career throughout the years is a cry of indignation that’s starting to sound pretty hollow. Dylan is of course weird and reclusive and isn’t known for allowing his music to be used in advertisements very frequently, but this is far from the first time the man has done a commercial — or been called a sell out by his fans.

Back in 1965 when Dylan began experimenting with using electric guitars, the folk purists who hailed him as the purest of them all screamed “sell out,” booed at his concerts, and even famously called him “Judas.” Of course, now Dylan’s electric albums recorded post-1965 are considered to be his best work, with Highway 61 Revisited being named the fourth greatest album of all time by Rolling Stone and the song “Like a Rolling Stone” being called the greatest song of all time by the same publication.

He’s also done much more ridiculous commercials than the Chrysler spot, including starring in an ad for Victoria’s Secret alongside model Adriana Lima in 2004. That ad, which was Dylan’s first ever physical appearance in a commercial, drew a considerable amount of outrage among Dylan’s fan base and a considerable number of raised eyebrows among everyone who happened to see the commercial — even though during an interview given back in 1965, when asked how he would sell out, Dylan prophetically responded that it would be by advertising “ladies’ garments.”

“Was I not supposed to do that?” he snapped at Rolling Stone in 2005. “I wish I had seen it. Maybe I’d have something to say about it. I don’t see that kind of stuff. That’s for other people to see and make up what they will.” Dylan also starred in a commercial for the Cadillac Escalade in 2007, which got the same negative, indignant response from his fans as the Chrysler spot is getting now.

The other Super Bowl ad Dylan was featured in was for Chobani Greek yogurt. Although he didn’t himself appear in the commercial, Dylan did lend the track “I Want You” from 1966′s beloved album Blonde on Blonde. The Chrysler ad is the one drawing the vitriol of Dylan’s fans, but it has more of a Dylan-esque political message than the yogurt commercial featuring a grizzly bear that ransacks a store searching for all-natural yogurt with no artificial ingredients.

“Is there anything more American than America?” Dylan asks nonsensically at the beginning of the Chrysler spot. Apparently Chrysler has decided to make that their inscrutable new slogan. From there the ad goes on to encourage consumers to buy American, because historically, America (and Detroit specifically) has been known for making the best cars. Going with a previous theme Chrysler has employed for their ad campaigns, images of particularly ‘American’ things like the American flag, cheerleaders, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Rosie the Riveter, and vintage footage of Dylan are spliced together, while Dylan’s gravelly voice goes on to tell you why you should buy American in general — and Chrysler specifically. ”You can’t import the heart and soul of every woman working on the line,” he says. “Let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone, we will build your car.”

Some of the criticism surrounding the ad comes from the fact that Chrysler is not really an American company, but is owned by the Italian Fiat. Despite marketing campaigns under the “Imported from Detroit” slogan and starring all-American celebrities like Eminem, Clint Eastwood, and Berry Gordy, Chrysler’s profits don’t stay in America.

While some are airing the age-old cry of “sell out,” others have praised the ad as being one of Dylan’s first outwardly political statements in years. A report from Bloomberg claims that endorsing American-made cars is a perfect representation of Dylan’s nostalgia for an America that profited on manufacturing and spent that cash exploring the open road. The article points out that most of Chrysler’s manufacturing operations take place in the United States and employ Americans, even though the company is technically foreign-owned.

Given Dylan’s response to any and all criticism that has been given to his decisions and his work musically or otherwise, it’s highly unlikely that he gives a damn whether anyone thinks his a sell out or a champion of American manufacturing.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS