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February 5, 2013

Paul Harvey's triumph

In the four and a half hours of ceaseless spectacle that was Super Bowl XLVII - even the Roman numerals are excessive - there were only two minutes that made you stop and truly listen.

They were courtesy of Paul Harvey, the late, great radio broadcaster. Chrysler had the inspired idea to make two minutes of his speech at a 1978 Future Farmers of America convention into the soundtrack for an ad for the Ram truck while affecting still photos of American farm life scrolled on the screen.

The spot stuck out for thoroughly how un-Super Bowl it was. It's a wonder that CBS didn't refuse to air it on grounds that it wasn't appropriate for the occasion. It was simple. It was quiet. It was thoughtful. It was eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture, which dominates Super Bowl Sunday almost as much as football does, is not.

All the fantastic glitz and sometimes hilarious vulgarity that define the events around the Super Bowl - the halftime shows and the ads - can't make up for a desperate poverty of expression. No one has anything to say and, in any case, wouldn't know how to say it. Not Paul Harvey. His speech is a little gem of literary craftsmanship. It shows that words still retain the power to move us, even in a relentlessly visual age driven from distraction to distraction.

Harvey picks up the story of creation: "And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, 'I need a caretaker' - so God made a farmer." It goes on to describe characteristics of the dutiful farmer, punctuating each riff with the same kicker: "God said, 'I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk the cows, work all day in the field, milks cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board' - so God made a farmer."

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