The Pause That Refreshes

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

2/6/2014 12:01:00 AM - Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Two ads are seared into my memory from childhood. One is by Keep America Beautiful for Earth Day in 1970. The commercial portrayed what appeared to be an American Indian crying over the pollution that littered our country. Later, we find out the actor was neither an Indian nor was he crying.

The second is the Coca-Cola ad, released in 1971, that showed people holding hands and singing, "I'd like to teach the world to sing."

Not only did I love the commercials, but as a child, I picked up garbage from the roadsides of my town on Earth Day and sang the song about the soft drink.

The past weekend's Super Bowl football performance may have shocked both Denver and Seattle fans. Few would have guessed that the scoring would begin with a safety, that the halftime score would have been 24 - 0 Seattle, or that the final tally would have been a whopping 43 - 8. For many of those who watched, the commercials provided a welcome pause to conversations about the lack of a football game.

Budweiser once again pulled at our heartstrings with its "Puppy love" commercial, and the Audi commercial with Sarah McLachlan still doesn't quite make sense to me.

Coca-Cola, which is based in my home, Atlanta, sparked conversation and controversy with the "It's Beautiful" ad. The song "America the Beautiful" is sung in seven languages. Its images of American life include one showing two men ice skating with their child. (This shot was quick and not even noticeable to me until the third viewing).

A controversy over the languages other than English used in singing, as well as the inclusion of a same-sex couple quickly escalated online and continues this week.

Some argued on Twitter that the song should only be sung in English:

Kevin Jackson @Theblacksphere Feb 3, "Abt #AmericaTheBeautiful during the @SuperBowl, English is our language. #Multiculturalism is 1 thing that is killing European Countries!"

Others responded that America is a melting pot and those who were arguing for English only were mistaken:

"Julie Glosson @juliegloss Feb 2, "Some get so threatened when they hear a new language. Reminder, English wasn't the first language spoken in our land. #americathebeautiful"

Coca-Cola's president of North America Brands, Katie Bayne, noted, "For 127 years, Coca-Cola has been proud to be a part of bringing friends and families together while memories are made. 'It's Beautiful' is exactly what Coca-Cola is all about: celebrating the diversity that makes this country great and the fact that anyone can thrive here and be happy. We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American."

The talking and thinking part was certainly accomplished.

The history of the song makes the controversy more interesting. The song was written first as a poem by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, when she was visiting Colorado during summer break in 1895 and was overwhelmed by the beauty of Pike's Peak.

"American the Beautiful" was rewritten several times. In 1925, a contest was held to set the poem to music. The poem is most commonly paired with "Materna" by Samuel Augustus Ward.

"That the hymn has gained ... such a hold as it has upon our people, is clearly due to the fact that Americans are, at heart, idealists," said Bates, "with a fundamental faith in human brotherhood."

Bates also wrote a collection of sonnets titled, "Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance," dedicated to the love of her life, fellow professor Katharine Coman, with whom she lived for 25 years.

America's strength is our background. A nation of immigrants who come willingly to our shores, people who choose freedom and liberty. The Statue of Liberty, standing guard in New York, provides refuge for those who are fleeing other countries looking for freedom, possibly fleeing tyranny,

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

America is best not only when it embraces a diversity of background, ethnicity and country of origin, but more importantly, when we as a nation, as individual citizens, embrace a diversity of ideas. Especially those that may be opposed to our own.

Freedom of speech: the core of liberty and democracy.