Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Top 10 Roadside Rhymes: Number 5

5. "Shield Your Field" (Iowa).

Just an hour or two outside of Iowa City on I-80, Poetry & Popular Culture came across a billboard for Rain and Hail, providers of agricultural insurance, that simply read, "Shield Your Field." Odds are, the slogan isn't an official one—it's not displayed with any prominence on the company's web page, at least—but was, well, homegrown by a local agent with the highway driver in mind and using the lexicon of automobility itself as fertilizer. Cribbing "shield" from "windshield" and "field" from "field of vision," the slogan pairs the perils of driving—somewhere, images of windows busted from collisions with deer hover in the background here—with the perils of driving rain and hail. As drivers stay in their parallel lanes cruising past equally parallel rows of corn and soybeans, the two apparently unrelated but dangerous activities converge, protected against an uncertain and unpredictable future by the insurance policies they have in common.

As with Roadside Rhyme Number 6 (see Monday's posting), "Shield Your Field" has some uninten- tionally thought-provoking connotations. We here at Poetry & Popular Culture can't help but think, for example, of that famous line from Act II Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra when Agrippa describes Caesar's relationship to Cleopatra by exclaiming, "Royal wench! / She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed; / he plowed her, and she cropped." Given the prophylactic nature of Rain and Hail's slogan (one that recalls advice given to young men who are told—in rhyme—"if you really love her, wear a cover"), it's not difficult to imagine "Shield Your Field" being pulled into the discursive orbit of safe sex. This curious convergence can give rise to a number of interesting questions. Is the farmer (normally the one plowing and inseminating) being cast into the defensive role of the female field? Does this encourage sympathies with the land itself, or does it reinforce a culture of protective chauvinism that—even as it pours pesticides and fertilizers into the earth—imagines the outsider as violent and damaging? And what exactly is the relationship between the farmer seeking (or being asked) to "take precautions" and the insurance company offering those protections?

However one goes about answering these and other questions, it's clear that Rain and Hail's slogan is more complicated than it initially seems. In orchestrating a complex network of associations via three words posted on an Iowa billboard, the insurance company also finds itself a respectable ranking on P&PC's "Top 10 Roadside Rhymes."

Stay tuned for Top Roadside Rhyme Number 4, coming soon.

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