The halftime indulgence is over, and the game clock has run out as America returns to the workplace nursing a national hangover on the day after the Superbowl. No, the blowout score is not the source of America's aching misery, nor is the gluttonous consumption of acres of lukewarm nachos and an ocean of cheap beer the cause. America's collective head aches because Bob Dylan or his music has appeared in not one but two commercials.
Let's face it. We have been here before after the Superbowl.
Yes, it is disturbing to see "the voice of his generation" busking for yogurt.
Dylan's act--on stage, on records, in interviews, in movies, in print--is largely if not totally a persona. "Bob Dylan" is a character played by one Robert Allan Zimmerman in the theater that is our culture. I am far from the first to make this point, but it is one worth reiterating. "Bob Dylan" is a postmodern construction--the creation of R.A. Zimmerman, the conceptual artist and CEO of BobInc. Furthermore, as with many of his fellow conceptual artists, there is a strong streak of the satirist in Dylan's art. Satire is notoriously difficult to define, but it always involves a mixture of what I call "critical vexation" and subversion. And, the most effective subversion is the least detectable subversion.
A thought experiment: imagine that one "Bob Dylan" is merely a conceptual iteration of R.A. Zimmerman's constructed artistic reality. This "Bob Dylan" is brilliant and talented certainly, but he is also frustrating beyond comprehension. Even those who adore him find things about him that are unbearable--his torturous religious journey, his romantic escapades, his intense privacy, his insistence on reworking his songs and lyrics, his aping of others' writing (often decried as plagiarism), his political apoliticism, his train-wreck-like movie appearances, his paintings, his voice, etc. In other words, he is most vexing, but he always seems to have a higher purpose. What if, just what if, that purpose is a critique of our culture's most strongly held assumptions and values.
The several times I taught an upper-level university course on Dylan, I ended the semester by having my students write a paper describing how Dylan challenged their cultural assumptions and/or values. Often some students in the class did not like Dylan or his music, but not once did even the most hostile or indifferent student fail to identify some internalized principle that Dylan challenged. It was an impactful way to end the semester, but the students' responses also support the suggestion in my question here: Is "Bob Dylan" largely a satiric persona designed to critically vex his audience and subvert the culture's settled assumptions?
Dylan appearing in a commercial is upsetting and uncomfortable? Look at that Chrysler ad again.