This past year, our television sets have asked us a very fundamental question: Where’s Jill? The query was posed by a concerned horse, and a quick answer was given by a white dog with a Southern accent: She was really lonely and out walking the cornfields again.
The camera confirms the dog’s story – she was strolling contemplatively through the stubble in her faded jeans and ’80s haircut. What I think the commercial really meant to suggest, however, was that there are Jills everywhere in rural America.
The advertisement was for farmersonly.com, which has not only grown to 2 million members but was apparently thriving enough to solicit airtime during the Super Bowl.
The second part of the commercial shows a middle-aged man, wearing tinted glasses and a ragged shirt, carrying a bucket of feed out to a small herd of Angus, one of which ponders if that farmer will ever find true love.
During the county fair, there was a perpetual debate regarding whether beef cows or dairy cattle were cooler animals. For the first time, I’m starting to feel cheated, having never had a Holstein call me out on being lonely.
The reason I gave up on the time machine was not the difficulty of quantum physics, but the fact that if I went back 10 years and tried to explain the existence of farmersonly.com, I would have been committed to an asylum and forced to relive the Bush presidency again.
Apparently the dating site found success early, because the later commercials contained higher cinematic value regarding camera work.
In one of them, three actors in “stage hillbilly” demeanor argue over the length of a caught fish until the youngest of them, still in his mid-30s, finds a profile picture of an average girl fishing. He promptly announces that he has to prepare for his date. Both advertisements end with the slogan: “City Folks Just Don’t Get It.”
One of the advantages of living abroad is that one can commit the majority of his indiscretions without word reaching back home. Perhaps one of my latest acts of imprudence was that I watched the season premiere of The Bachelor.
Chris, a crop farmer from a small town in Iowa, is given a group of 30 beautiful women that he must winnow away until he finds his soulmate. They were stunning, generally composed and not farmers. One girl arrived on the set wearing a pig nose.
Another, after Chris explained what he grew, asked: “What’s alfalfa? Never heard of it. Is it organic?” I said out loud to my computer screen, “Chris, city people just don’t get it.”
As any viewer expects in reality television, there were many cringey and staged moments, such as Chris leaning on a fence and looking contemplatively into the distance, or when he shoveled corn inside a grain bin wearing a nice shirt and new jeans.
The moment that verged on unbearable for me, however, was when Chris said that while he appreciated the opportunity to be on the show, part of him was also worried how the harvest season was going back in Iowa.
After seeing the episode, I called up my father. I promised him that if I was ever in a room with 30 beautiful women, I wouldn’t be giving a damn how his cows were milking.
Here’s my second indiscretion: I visited farmersonly.com. Purely in the name of column research, obviously. You can’t enter the site without providing a zip code and email address. Once I had done that, I was deemed Cowboy 1823259.
It is often traditional for Asian students to choose an English name when they study in America. In some ways I felt like a Naoki Fukushima who the other kids were calling Michael. On the other hand, I’ve never gotten to think of myself as a cowboy before.
When I first saw the commercials for the dating site, I was sure it had instantly flopped. The advertisements were not only unabashedly over the top but made fun of rural people at their own expense. More than that, in a Hollywood age Americans aren’t codified to see average people on the screen or believe that we’re one of them.
The appeal of The Bachelor is getting to picture ourselves as the man in the suit with a roomful of porcelain women fawning over us. Jill, in her cornfield angst, did not look like any girl on a reality show. She didn’t dress up, nor did she wear make-up.
On Jill’s behalf, I was torn. While it was somewhat original to show a person on a regular day, doing what they do (with their talking animals), I suspect Jill would probably put on nice clothes and wear makeup if she was on a date. I didn’t know how fair the portrayal was to her.
It turns out, the site was correct in betting that there are a lot of Jills out there. Clicking through the profile pictures as Cowboy 1823259, I couldn’t help but notice how many women weren’t wearing short dresses, lipstick or using advantageous camera angles.
I’m guilty of taking every picture off Facebook that reveals my big nose, but here people directly faced the lens as they were, in their common clothes and everyday smiles. Many of them were older and not models, which somehow made it braver.
I was a bit taken aback to realize I knew some of them. There were neighbors and people I went to school with, as well as others that seemed generally familiar.
Although the commercials may have framed it as a joke, it seemed like a place where very average people were putting themselves out there. Whether or not they were as lonely as their cows may have pegged them for, they were trying.
It’s hard to say what the next few years will bring, but who knows: we might be on the verge of a rural population boom. PD
Ryan Dennis is the son of a dairy farmer from western New York and a literary writer. The Dennis family dairies and maintains a 100-plus cow herd of Holsteins and Shorthorns.