Sunday, September 27th, 2009 | Author:

A former student, Amanda Rutstein, just sent me this link to a Levi's commercial.  I think you will recognize the poem (indeed, I think some of us have trashed it--does this change your mind?), but the images, sound effects (gun shots?), homoeroticism, etc. call for some analysis.  Among other questions, would Whitman love this or feel co-opted by capitalism?  After all, Levi's are the working man's jeans...

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  1. Avatar of tallersam tallersam says:

    I am not so sure that Whitman would feel co-opted by this commercial. After all, how many millions of people are going to have seen this commercial before its run is through? How many people can still quote their favorite beer commercials from past Super Bowls? Commercials are a great way for people/companies to get their messages out, and I think that it would appeal, in a lot of ways, to Whitman’s appreciation for technology. I’m not exactly sure about what I think about the idea of Whitman being mad about “being co-opted by capitalism” in general, either. I don’t think he would mind his work being used in a jeans commercial, especiall if he was able to direct it or something like that. I wonder if Dickeys might be more along Whitman’s lines though?

    What really stands out in my mind though, is how fake those people look, as the lines of the poem are being read over them. They don’t really look like they’ve handled an ax before, or even gone out in the woods before. I know that shouldn’t surprise me, since it is a commercial after all, but it doesn’t feel very Whitmanic to me. Actually, now that I think about it, Whitman wasn’t above posing (remember back to the 1855 frontispiece).

    The fire, with all its undertones, definitely seems like something Whitman would approve of. The beauty of bodies, and that liberation, is being embraced on the shore, which contrasts directly with the “weary elder races beyond the seas.” The torch of the fire can burn bright enough to attract others to join in, although it can also bring the unwanted attention of the authorities (as Whitman himself found out).

    Interesting commercial.

  2. Avatar of s-words s-words says:

    Sam, “Whitman wasn’t above posing,” but he also insisted on the kind of artifice (where artifice was necessary) that dealt in something more substantial than a mere product. The frontispiece was a defiant assertion of the “fact” of the writer’s body, in body language provocative enough, in the context of the book it accompanied, to require the viewer to respond with a recalibrated worldview. Here, the object is something thinner, more conventionally “sexy,” more… denim-y. Though this commercial counts as a new foray for Whitman into a world he seems not to have entered before, the shadowy, street-running pretty people, their fluttering “go forth” banner, and the self-consciously “indie” score all smack of advertising strategies that have been used to sell cars, detergant etc. for at least 4 years now. Whitman here seems appropriated to peddle what, in “Song of the Open Road,” he would have called “the old smooth prizes,” here posing as the “rough new prizes” he’d like to hand out (128 in online 1892 edition). Levi’s position as a leading clothing brand makes their alignment with subversive woodsiness seem more than a little suspect, especially when all members of the ostensibly diverse selection of chasers/kissers/jeans-wearers in these commercials are united by the immutable fact of television advertising: sheer slender gorgeousness. For contast with that uniformity-of-attractiveness, turn back to “Open Road.” These are the mixed-up types Whitman insisted would, as the banner says, “GO FORTH”:

    “Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied,
    Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
    They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go,
    But I know that they go toward the best–toward something great.” (127)

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