All Commentary
Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Dolly Parton’s Powerful Message About the American Dream (and What Her Critics Get Wrong)

Here’s the real reason Dolly Parton’s ‘5-to-9’ Squarespace commercial made anti-capitalist critics so angry.

Image Credit: YouTube Screenshot

Everybody loves Dolly Parton. It’s not hard to see why: The country music star is a philanthropic giant with decades of charitable work, including a recent $1 million donation to fund the hugely successful Moderna COVID vaccine.

And Parton’s big personality and widespread popularity have never made her egotistical; if anything, her recent decision to decline a statue being made of her at the Tennessee state Capitol offers a masterclass in humility and grace. 

But in an unusual twist, some people are pretty upset with Parton right now. Why?

Well, Parton worked with the website provider Squarespace to produce a commercial, which aired during the Super Bowl. The advertisement updates her classic song “9 to 5” to “5 to 9,” depicting several bored office workers stuck at their day jobs who then, using Squarespace to make their websites, work after-hours to launch freelance independent businesses. One woman starts offering dance fitness lessons, a man markets his paintings, and more, as the various individuals are able to turn their gigs or “side hustles” into fulfilling, full-time work. 

Working 5 to 9, you’ve got passion and a vision,” Parton sings. “Cuz it’s hustlin’ time, whole new way to make a livin.’”

“Gonna change your life, do something that gives it meaning,” she continues. “With a website that is worthy of your dreaming.”

WATCH: 5 to 9 by Dolly Parton

‘Dystopian Propaganda?’: What Parton’s Critics Had to Say

Sounds positive and uplifting, right? Not everyone thought so.

Several prominent left-leaning critics of the gig economy, while acknowledging their general affection for Parton, savaged her commercial and the message it sent.

Writing for Newsweek, socialist writer and journalist David Sirota decried the advert’s message as “dystopian,” “propaganda,” and reflective of an “insane ideology.” He asks: “Why do we tolerate—or even celebrate—the idea that a second or third job and a 12-hour day is necessary just to subsist?”

Others piled on.

“Parton’s silvery voice is being used to promote the false virtues of working overtime, when so many gig economy workers are barely scraping by and the tech companies who employ — but misclassify — them are raking in boffo profits,” Kim Kelly wrote in an Op-Ed for NBC News. “The gig economy is a wretched alternative to a stable paycheck and proper benefits, and efforts to paint it as a matter of ‘independence’ or ‘being one’s own boss’ downplay how hard it is for so many gig workers to make ends meet.”

“It’s not ‘fun’ or ‘empowering’ to juggle multiple jobs; it’s an indictment of a system in which people aren’t paid fairly and workers are squeezed down to the last drop of energy,” Kelly concluded.

What the Critics Get Wrong

Parton’s critics, who are really just critics of the gig economy and capitalism generally, are wrong on the facts from the get-go. The premise of their argument is that the workers depicted have to work side-hustles to pay their bills and make ends meet. But that’s not actually what the ad depicts. Rather, it shows workers who are disillusioned and bored with their day jobs so they chase their true dreams after-hours.

Secondly, the critics ignore that most people aren’t forced to work in the gig economy—whether it’s driving for Uber, delivering groceries for InstaCart, or what have you—but rather they choose to do so because they value the flexibility the work provides. 

More than 70% of 1099-M gig workers say they are working independently by their own choice, not because they can’t find a 9-to-5 job,” Forbes reports.

The reality is, independent work can provide personal fulfillment and a good income, whether it be part-time or full-time. 

According to a 2019 survey, a whopping 40 percent of gig economy workers earn more than $100,000 annually, while another 35.7 percent make from $50,000 to $100,000. That seems a far cry from a “wretched alternative to a stable paycheck and proper benefits.” And of course, being your own boss, choosing which projects to accept, and having a flexible schedule are pretty darn attractive perks.

Fundamentally, working in the gig economy is a voluntary decision that many Americans engage in after weighing the costs-and-benefits compared to typical 9-5 work.

“[Freelancers] are willing to give up some of the security of standard employment (predictable income, health insurance, retirement benefits) in exchange for independence,” Dan Sanchez, Laura Williams, and Jen Maffessanti explained for

Critics who oppose the gig economy and seek to restrict it under the law would take people’s choices and options (and paychecks) away in the name of “helping” them. 

Parton’s Powerful Message is Really About Opportunity and Entrepreneurship 

Those upset about Parton’s commercial misunderstand it. The ad is not at all about necessity or “non-passion” subsistence overtime work. The country music star and American hero’s real message is about opportunity and entrepreneurship, and the virtues that come from expanding the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurship to more people. 

In a free-market capitalist system, which we still have to some extent here in America, anyone—not just the wealthy—can start a business or trade and pursue their dreams.  

As the ad depicted, even average disillusioned office workers have access to starting their own businesses and escaping the drudgery of traditional 9-5s that don’t suit them. In a free market, you don’t need powerful political connections to get approval to start a business like you would in a socialist system, or enormous resources to lobby and climb regulatory hurdles you need in a highly-regulated, government-distorted market system. 

In fact, the digital age has made starting a business more accessible for average Americans than ever before. In the past, you’d need a lot more start-up capital, including a storefront. That’s no longer the case, thanks to the internet and a proliferation of relatively low-cost e-commerce services: site builders like Squarespace, payment processors like Stripe, and online marketplaces provided by eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and so on.

Now, just like the ad shows, any American with an iPhone and a vision can become an entrepreneur, at least, in many circumstances and industries. This is only possible due to relatively low regulatory hurdles to starting a business in America—although there remain many needless barriers that need to be taken down—especially compared to many other countries where starting a legal business means first trudging through a thicket of red tape.

Our system still offers everyday people the chance to pursue their dreams, work flexibly, and make extra income. And, in doing so, they create wealth and opportunities for others: small businesses provide nearly half the jobs in the US.

So, no, Parton’s Squarespace ad was not in any way meant to celebrate exploitation or poor working conditions. It was intended to honor the virtue of opportunity and entrepreneurship in a free-market economy, values that remain relatively uncontroversial among most Americans. And that’s the real reason it made anti-capitalist critics on the Left so angry.

WATCH: California’s WAR on the Gig Economy Hurts Women (And It Could Go National)