Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Walt Whitman for Levis (2)

A while ago I did a post here about the new Levis campaign that makes use of Whitman, sometimes directly and sometimes in spirit, to promote blue jeans. Denim, with its democratic character and iconic associations with America, would be just fine with Whitman, who'd doubtless be wearing Carhartt were he walking the streets of Brooklyn today. A thoughtful reader, though, sent me a link to this commentary on the campaign from another blogger, and it's certainly worth a look. This link also includes a TV spot where you hear in the background the Edison wax cylinder recording of a voice that's probably Whitman reading a bit of verse. I don't agree that this is the most offensive commercial ever produced -- actually I think it's pretty beautiful, taken sheerly as a piece of videography on American themes -- but Webster's points about the folks who bring you Levis are crucial ones. I personally reserve that "most offensive ad" tag for those oil company commercials that show you a shining natural world, or suggest that big energy companies are out to make the planet a marvelous, clean and safe place.

Anyway, the contradictions inherent in the Levis ad (America is noble and cracked, jeans belong to everyone but somebody very rich owns the company, work clothing is the language of the people but you look really hot and sexy in them) all seem present for Whitman, too. How can he be a booster for development and forest-clearing (see "Song of the Broad-Axe") and talk about the nobility of Native Americans"? How can he be at once a spiritual visionary and a tireless self-promoter? How be a sexual radical and an avuncular sage? Do I contradict myself, very well then...

4 comments:

Elisabeth said...

It's the contradictions in all of us that fascinate me.

Therefore I think it's best not to take the self righteous road, especially as we are all of us paradoxes even unto ourselves.

I love the way you point out such contradictions in Walt Whitman when it's so easy to idealise the past.

Mim said...

Whitman lived in a time when it seemed America would never be depleted no matter how many trees we cut down. What consequences are we blind to now? Rich people are necessarily evil.

Mim said...

PS: I meant to say, Rich people are NOT necessarily evil.

renkath said...

It was pointed out to me that the long version of the ad has a scene with two men kissing, while the short version shows a heterosexual interracial kiss. This difference made me wonder if Levi's was being beautiful for artistic reasons, or exploiting homosexuals in the long version to be "hip", cutting it in the short version to be "safe". Maybe I am a cynic? Curious what your take is on it...