On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the American Super Bowl. As always, part of the show has nothing to do with football: The Weeknd will be performing at halftime, and a number of celebrity commercials are already making waves on YouTube.
One of the more popular ads is a “redesign” of Dolly Parton’s “9 through 5” commissioned by website builder Squarespace. Unfortunately, the beloved icon’s toneless misstep can be the day’s biggest surprise.
Dolly Parton herself is no stranger to good press. To say the country music legend is loved is a massive understatement.
Dolly Parton herself is no stranger to good press. To say the country music legend is loved is a massive understatement; The woman is up to her ears in good will since she entered the country music scene in 1967 with her ironic chart topper “Dumb Blonde”. Despite her penchant for self-irony and a healthy sense of fun, Parton is also a shark in the boardroom. She outsmarted the unfortunate Nashville, Tennessee power brokers who once tried to control her career and have since built an empire.
Her reputation as an accomplished businesswoman is well deserved, but so is her philanthropic legacy. There’s a reason Parton is not only respected but genuinely adored, and her big heart is an important factor. Just this month we read how Parton refused to use her position to skip the line for a Covid-19 vaccination (after donating $ 1 million for its development) and how she won a Presidential Medal of Former President Donald’s Freedom has rejected Trump – twice. (The latter move delighted many fans who viewed it as a sign of the famous cage star’s true political leanings, but ultimately it was more about planning than their personal politics.)
This is Parton’s very first Super Bowl ad with its revamped classic anthem “9 to 5”. Fans were initially excited to see what the reigning queen of country music had come up with, but it quickly became apparent that Parton had made a rare misjudgment.
Rather than paying homage to the spirit of the original song that didn’t question the exploitative nature of everyday life, the commercial for Squarespace offers a thin ode to the sideline. The office workers are portrayed as overjoyed to keep working after hours, their part-time jobs are portrayed as liberating, fun, and fulfilling, and the song itself encourages them to “be your own boss, climb your own ladder”.
It’s a perfect storm of gig economy propaganda. And it’s particularly disappointing news to hear from someone like Parton who once warned us, “You’re only one step on the boss’s ladder” and made her cinematic debut as a secretary sick of the sexual harassment of her boss she almost shoots him.
That cinematic debut – “9 to 5” in the 1980s – helped make Parton an even bigger star, while highlighting the kind of drudgery, disrespect and humiliation with which so many workers, especially women, contribute faced with work. (The song was written specifically for the movie’s opening credits.) It reflected the goals of the real and still active 9to5 movement that fought for better pay, better working conditions, and an end to sexual harassment at work plaguing millions of workers today . In an accidental hat tip to the anarchists of Chicago, the “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we want!” As early as the 19th century, the title song “9 to 5” warned that it was no longer possible to work eight hours a day in a dead end in order to earn a living. ”) With the implication that this too was too much to ask about.
Now Parton’s silver voice is being used to promote the false virtues of overtime when so many gig economy workers are barely getting around and the tech companies they employ – but misclassify – are making Boffo profits. The gig economy is a pathetic alternative to a stable paycheck and reasonable perks, and efforts to label it as a matter of “independence” or “owning a boss” downplay how difficult it is for so many gig workers to make ends meet. The lack of a safety net has become even more apparent thanks to the increased demands and dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic, which Parton himself helped fight. Delivery drivers, grocery buyers and other gig workers have become a lifeline for so many, yet they remain robbed of the protection and dignity they deserve.
Now Parton’s silver voice is being used to promote the false virtues of overtime when so many gig economy workers are barely showing up.
As author Sarah Smarsh notes in her new book, “It Comes All Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs,” Parton has long been a voice for poor and working class women and their approach to the kitchen table towards feminism Has resonated with generations of women who couldn’t afford to go out of work to protest, but who still knew how to fight for what they deserved.
Knowing this context, it is so disappointing to read the lyrics to this new song and hear them literally sing the praises of “work, work, work”. It’s not “fun” or “empowering” to juggle multiple jobs. It is an indictment of a system where people are not paid fairly and workers are squeezed to the last drop of energy.
It all begs the question: why did she do it? Parton’s every public move is so calculated and she protects her image and her heritage so much that it is really unsettling when she disappoints so many fans in one fell swoop. It will do little to tarnish their glittering heritage, but it still hurts. For Slate, music critic Hilary Hughes said, “The commercial will air and the world will move on, but the fact remains that Parton – an artist rightly hailed as one of the most skillful, altruistic, and generous artists of all time – diminished you of the most powerful and popular messages behind her own work as she disguises it as tribute. “
You can imagine that the Squarespace executives who introduced her to the idea played the “empowerment” angle, possibly phrasing it as a means of encouraging more creativity and experimentation. The press release tweeted that the song was meant to “celebrate a new generation of entrepreneurs and give anyone with a dream start-up the opportunity to get started,” which apparently fits right in with Parton’s own story. I’d bet my lower dollar that the real horrors of the gig economy and the broken American economic system never showed up.
And as much as we all love Parton, she’s still a capitalist and still a very, very rich woman; She has a vested interest in raising her public profile, and Squarespace certainly paid dearly for the privilege of borrowing some of her glitz. Parton doesn’t need the money herself, but between funding her philanthropic endeavors, helping her family and the local community, and expanding her empire, I can see she welcomes an influx of dirty gloss. The reality is that it made good business sense and she was always a smart business woman.
As Dolly Parton herself once said, “It’s a game for the rich,” and it looks like she’s still there to win it.