The one truly stunning ad on Super Bowl night was a moving two-minute Chrysler commercial featuring actor Clint Eastwood. Aired at half-time, the ad hailed the renewal of the American automobile industry and featured images of union firefighters and factory workers,
At the fifty-second point in the ad, images from last year’s mass pro-union protests in Madison, Wisconsin, were featured.
But something was missing: union signs.
The images from Madison were taken from a historic video by Matt Wisniewski, a Madison photographer whose chronicling of the protests drew international attention and praise. Wisniewski’s work went viral, and was even featured in a video by rocker Tom Morello.
Chrysler used Wisniewski's award-winning video with permission. But the union presence—and some Wisconsin history—was lost in translation.
Wisniewski’s original video, from an evening rally at the King Street entrance to the Wisconsin Capitol, features images (at the two-minute, seventeen-second mark) of signs raised by members of Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), the local education union that played a pivotal role in the protests. One sign features the MTI logo, another reads: “Care About Educators Like They Care for Your Child.”
In the Chrysler ad, the MTI logo is missing and the “Care About Educators…” sign is replaced with one featuring an image of an alarm clock. Several other union signs are simply whited out.
The Chrysler ad also disappears the identification on a statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg, the Wisconsin Civil War hero who rallied a Scandanavian unit to fight for the union with the cry: “Norsemen…the government of our adopted country is in danger. It is our duty as brave and intelligent citizens to extend our hands in defense of the cause of our Country…”
Heg became a reference point for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who rallied at the Wisconsin Capitol in February and March of 2011, and who linked their activism to a tradition of answering the call to defend basic rights and ideals. Many of the largest rallies at the Capitol were held on the grounds where Heg’s statue stands, including the rally featured in the Chrysler ad.
John Nichols' new book on protests and politics, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, will be published next week by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising