Sunday, December 15, 2013

Donna Fargo -- "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." (1972)

Skip-a-dee-doo-dah, thank you Lord 
For making him for me
And thank you for letting life turn out the way
That I always thought it could be

"The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." is possibly the most surprising musical choice ever for a Nike TV commercial -- they usually feature somewhat less syrupy songs.  (Think "Revolution" by the Beatles, "Search and Destroy" by Iggy Pop and the Stooges, "List of Demands" by Saul Williams, and other of that ilk -- loud, intense and high-energy.)

"The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." was a #1 country hit for Donna Fargo in 1972, and made it to #11 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  The singer is a newlywed who is singing to her new husband, and she couldn't be happier -- performing the simplest household chores fill her with delight because she's married the man of her dreams.

The Nike commercial that uses this song as its soundtrack features women softball players -- including members of the 2008 United States Olympic softball team.

The U.S. softballers at the 2008 Olympics
That was the last year women's softball was an Olympic sport.  It wasn't included in the 2012 Olympics, and it won't be part of the 2016 Olympics either.  Whether it is reinstated in 2020 or later is anyone's guess.

Why was softball dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 games -- which was only the fourth Olympics to feature it?

Most suspect that the Olympic powers-that-be decided that the United States was simply too dominant in women's softball.

Pitcher Jennie Finch
Ironically, the USA did not win the 2008 gold medal after winning the 1996, 2000, and 2004 golds easily.  The 2008 gold medalist was Japan, which edged the Americans in the gold medal game.

The Americans had cruised past Japan 7-0 in the preliminary round, and prevailed once again in the semifinals by a 4-1 score.  After the Japanese edged Australia, 4-3, in the bronze medal game, the Japanese shocked the heavily-favored American team in the ultimate contest, 3-1.

This Nike commercial was shot and broadcast before the American softballers' shocking defeat.  It alternates shots of the Olympic team's members in action with shots of high schoolers and even younger players.

Let's watch it now:

I love this commercial because I love girl jocks.  (I'm sorry if that is politically incorrect language, but "female athletes" sounds so stiff.)

Please don't jump to the conclusion that there's anything prurient about my love for girl jocks.  The fact that my younger sister and my daughters were such good athletes has a lot more to do with it.

My sister was one of the first female athletes inducted into her college's athletic hall of fame -- and she was voted in on the basis of her accomplishments in two sports, basketball and softball.  I saw her play exactly one basketball game, and I never saw her play a college softball game.  (She was a pitcher.) 

That's because I was almost exclusively interested in my own life back in those days.  I didn't pay much attention to anyone else.

U.S. Olympian Jessica Mendoza trying to score
I tried to make up for that when my daughters started playing sports soon after they started grade school.  I rarely missed a basketball or soccer game of theirs, and when I did have to miss one because I was out of town or when a game was cancelled due to bad weather, I would get very salty.  

I don't remember ever being sorry for choosing one of their games over working or anything else.  (There's an old saw to the effect that no dying man ever said "I wish I had spent more time at the office."  I second that emotion, boys and girls.)

This commercial goes heavy on the slow-motion shots, two of which I especially like. 

The first is at 0:14, and features a very young pitcher who is rotating her hips almost violently in order to generate torque and increase her arm speed and, consequently, the velocity of her pitch.  The second (at 0:43) is a shot from the catcher's point of view of a batter swinging and missing at a fastball -- the ball gets larger and larger and the viewer feels like her or she is going to get hit by it right between the eyes.  But at the last second, there's a cut to  a shot of the catcher snagging it.

There are some wonderful small touches in the commercial.  Near the beginning of the spot, several players are shown riding in a golf cart, their insouciant postures essentially indistinguishable from that of male players in a similar situation.  The fact that they are jocks is much more significant than the fact that they are girls.

The 2008 Olympic softball team off the field
And notice the very quick closeup (at 0:17) of a softballer's hand gripping a chain-link fence, her nails painted a delicate coral-pink color.    

I wonder why "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." was chosen as the musical accompaniment for this spot.  

I suppose we could simply focus on the title (which is the last line of the chorus) and say that the song is simply a statement of the utter joy that these girls (or women) feel when they are on the softball field with their teammates.  

But as noted above, the song as a whole is about a young newlywed who glories in a very traditional marriage -- albeit a marriage where the young husband seems to share equally in the household chores:

You make the coffee
I'll make the bed
I'll fix your lunch
And you fix mine

But the fundamental point of this song is that the singer would never have been truly happy without a husband -- for her, having a man to love is absolutely necessary to her feelings of fulfillment.

Do the softball players in the Nike commercial feel the same way as the singer?  Some of them may.  But others may find their fulfillment in athletics or a career, not in a traditional marriage.

That's especially true for gay female athletes, of course.  They aren't thanking God "for making him for me."

Very few of the athletes in the 2012 London Olympics were openly gay.  According to CBS News, only 23 of the more than 10,000 athletes who participated in the 2012 Olympics were "out" -- 20 women and three men.  

It is widely thought that there are many more gay female athletes than gay male athletes, but I couldn't find any hard evidence to back up that perception.

It is also widely thought that it is harder for a gay male athlete to come out than it is for a gay female athlete.  But it's not at all clear that's true either.  

Straight male athletes aren't really threatened when a teammate announces he is gay -- the public perception is that male athletes are generally straight, and the fact that there are occasional exceptions to that rule doesn't call into question the heterosexuality of the typical male athlete.

But as Dr. Pat Griffin (an expert on LGBT issues in sports) has noted, “I think straight women historically have been very concerned with the image of sports and being tagged with the lesbian label, which has lead to a lot of division among woman in sports.”

Brittney Griner
It does seem to be true that gay female athletes who come out of the closet are subject to much less scrutiny than gay male athletes.  When female basketball superstar Brittney Griner acknowledged last April that she was a lesbian, there wasn't much attention paid to that.  But when Jason Collins -- a relatively unknown NBA veteran -- became the first active male professional athlete playing a major team sport in the United States to come out, his story was all over the newspapers, ESPN, and sports-talk radio.

One reporter attributed that to the fact that "[a]n openly gay female athlete almost isn't news.  A lesbian in the locker room conforms to a stereotype, just as a straight male athlete is a stereotype."

Or perhaps the two announcements were treated so differently because women's sports never get nearly as much attention as men's sports -- regardless of the subject.

As I noted above, the enjoyment I derive from watching girl jocks is due in large part to the pleasure and pride I felt when I watched my sister and daughters play sports.  When I watch this commercial, I see them -- and their teammates -- in every one of the softball players who are shown throwing a ball, swinging a bat, or simply running to first base.

To me, every one of those girls is strong and graceful and utterly beautiful.  More importantly, every one of them seems to be having the time of her life.  

Two lines appear on the screen near the end of this commercial:  "We have softball.  You can have everything else." 

For most female softball players, that's no doubt something of an exaggeration.  But I hope each one of them has felt that way on occasion.  Perhaps during the moment of exhilaration that follows a diving catch or a game-winning hit -- or perhaps after a devastating defeat like the one the 2008 U.S. Olympic team suffered against Japan, when teammates hugged each other and the tears flowed.  

Here's a live recording of "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.":

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. The photo of the softball team dressed for an "off the field" occasion reminded me of a line from Gretchen Wilson's "I'm Here for the Party": "I may not be a 'ten' but the boys say I clean up good."