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Perennial with the Earth or Pepsi Blue Jeans?
October 7, 2009 9:44 PM   Subscribe

You may have heard Walt Whitman on TV recently. A 39-second recording from 1890 is possibly an early Edison recording of Walt Whitman reading his poem America. Now, the recording is being used in a Levi's campaign [YouTube version] (the Whitman poem "Pioneers" in the second commercial is read by the blacklisted actor who once played Grandpa Walton); a campaign which some critics think is far too romantic for today's jaded youth.
posted by blahblahblah (89 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
fuck too romantic.. how about too crass.
posted by edgeways at 9:51 PM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is there anything cool left for me to debase? No? I guess the "Pioneers" of industry have beat me to the punch.
posted by nola at 9:55 PM on October 7, 2009




From the Ad Age link:

That's why postmodernism abounds: It's a way to trick the audience by flattering them into thinking that they can't be tricked by plain old brand messages.

Great, now you tell me. And all this time I thought I had the last laugh against those ad execs when in reality they were just pandering to my inflated sense of intelligence. Damn you postmodern advertising industry. I want my money back!
posted by quadog at 10:04 PM on October 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is sort of like my feelings about free speech -- that it must even protect speech that we don't like. If we respect the public domain, then Levi's has every right to use this, as distasteful as we might personally find it. The benefits are that we get to use it as well; that Whitman doesn't simply belong to whoever can afford to buy his stuff from his estate, but to everybody on earth, however they access it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:05 PM on October 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


Cue self-righteous bullshit. Our world is run on capitalism. I'm all for excellently-produced commercials that are worth watching, that promote a classic brand that's as part of American culture as Whitman himself, and that might make a few kids wonder what that poetry is all about. I'd rather have someone hearing Whitman for the first time than sing the stupid goddamn Slap Chop song, holy mother of God.

Shall we say a little prayer for the number of people in the US, next week, who will be reading Whitman and curse the Levi's ad? Oh no! I think of Levi's! Constitutional emergency! Sorry, 4 people, we'll return you to the Geico lizard shortly.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:11 PM on October 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


I dunno, I like the commercials, who directed them?
posted by empath at 10:15 PM on October 7, 2009


You've got to hand it to them; the ad does have more finesse than bluntly saying, "Pay no attention to the Bavarian Jew the company is named after."
posted by Sys Rq at 10:20 PM on October 7, 2009


I hate commercials because I know they hate me.
posted by philip-random at 10:26 PM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


David Foster Wallace wrote a great little passage somewhere about how sad it is that our greatest aesthetic works are undertaken to sell things, and how this unavoidably tarnishes the experience for us. I'm sure some MeFi-ite can produce it.
posted by phrontist at 10:40 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Levi's has every right to play this ad, and we have every right to call bullshit.
posted by amuseDetachment at 10:45 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds as though Will Geer, a.k.a. Grandpa Walton, would make a great subject for a post.
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:49 PM on October 7, 2009


Cue self-righteous bullshit. Our world is run on capitalism.

Yep, there it is.
posted by washburn at 10:50 PM on October 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh that's what those ads are for.

Levis are just cheap sweat-shop produced junk like virtually all clothes sold in ordinary stores these days. "America" indeed. They used to be made in America, so I guess the irony is worth a wry grimace.

Our world is run on capitalism.

There's an argument that could used to justify virtually any pervasive component of human history. And in case you haven't noticed "our" capitalism-run world isn't in such hot fucking shape.
posted by nanojath at 10:58 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Years ago there was an attempt to attach a corporate sponsor to Walden Pond.

I thought that initiative constituted the apex of capitalistic crassness.

This rivals it.
posted by jayder at 11:00 PM on October 7, 2009


This is also saddening because the consumer culture companies like Levis are a part of make it harder to find this intense sense of purpose and joie de vivre the ad is aping.
posted by phrontist at 11:00 PM on October 7, 2009


Cue self-righteous bullshit. Our world is run on capitalism.

That's not me slapping you. It's the invisible hand.
posted by scody at 11:00 PM on October 7, 2009 [13 favorites]


Karl Marx dancing with a vacuum cleaner in 5...4...3...
posted by Sys Rq at 11:08 PM on October 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'll admit that it's interesting to see popular culture, or at least a wing of it, actually recognize something that (a.) occurred outside of living memory and (b.) actually existed, as opposed to the mythologized cowboys of Marlboro spreads or Pontiac Minivan commercials or god knows how many political campaign ads.

There is perhaps some little danger that the profit motive, having infected one august American lyricist, will develop poet-to-poet transmission and infect the entire population, leaving nothing but simulacra as divorced from their original contexts as the poor deists trapped in McNaughton's "One Nation Under God." Fortunately, once the ad agencies get past the triumphal bits of Whitman, they'll find that the rest doesn't really lend itself to moving product:

Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)


VICKS DAYQUIL. NOW WITH THE SOOTHING POWER OF ELDERBERRIES.


On, on I go, (open doors of time! open hospital doors!)
The crush’d head I dress (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away),
The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard
(Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly).


ARMY STRONG.

...But as I pass, O Manhattan, your frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering response to my own—these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.


I'M THINKING ARBY'S.

posted by Iridic at 11:11 PM on October 7, 2009 [21 favorites]


That's not me slapping you. It's the invisible hand.

But I don't mind the Invisible Hand Jobs.
posted by evilmidnightbomberwhatbombsatmidnight at 11:12 PM on October 7, 2009


Just took a full look at those two Youtube links and man, those are awful ads. Ugly, self-important and wrong, wrong, wrong. This is far better.
posted by philip-random at 11:24 PM on October 7, 2009


I don't get how exposing a bunch of people to Walt Whitman is a bad thing. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that my first exposure to Jack Kerouac was through a car commercial. I probably never would have read On The Road in high school without it (which is the only time someone SHOULD read it).
posted by empath at 11:29 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


holy crap that levi's Stranger commercial is amazing.
posted by empath at 11:30 PM on October 7, 2009


Well, I liked the Pioneer ad, though I'm old enough to have earned my jaded world view. I didn't buy any Levi's though (as I already own four pairs,) I went out and bought a copy of Leaves of Grass.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:32 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just took a full look at those two Youtube links and man, those are awful ads. Ugly, self-important and wrong, wrong, wrong.

Yeah, self-important is what Wieden + Kennedy does best.

Oh, and their ads are self-important, too.
posted by dersins at 11:47 PM on October 7, 2009


David Foster Wallace wrote a great little passage somewhere about how sad it is that our greatest aesthetic works are undertaken to sell things, and how this unavoidably tarnishes the experience for us. I'm sure some MeFi-ite can produce it.


"How sad it is that our greatest aesthetic works are undertaken to sell things, leaving our psyches morally stained. Which is why I use New and Improved Infinite Zest!"
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:09 AM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's hard to be impressed by these newfangled Levis ads when you're a child of the 70's.
posted by nanojath at 12:10 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cue self-righteous bullshit. Our world is run on capitalism.

And it's run so well.
posted by delmoi at 12:18 AM on October 8, 2009


No Jimmythefish, this is not a nation-splitting catastrophe, but it's still saddening. Levis using O Pioneers in this context measures the worth of the poem by how successful it is at raising sales--not on the merit of the poem itself. The value of anything in a marketing campaign, from images to audio to games to tweets to face to face conversation, is measured by how many monetary transactions can be credited to it. To place something in an ad is to ignore or deny that it has intrinsic worth. So yes, it is sad to imagine that this will be some people's first contact with Whitman.

That the ad is excellently produced--and it certainly is that--actually makes it worse. The intensity of the fraction-of-a-second faces, the sense of youthful delirium, images of traveling and expanse, the emphasis on bodies and the sexual and primitivist notes, synchronicity of sound and action, and so on all add up to something pretty arresting. On my first viewing I was simultaneously jealous, attracted, and thrilled (and reflexively disgusted at the cynicism of using Whitman). It elicited a strong gut reaction, and on that it is a very successful 63 seconds of video, but there's nothing else there. The clip is pure sensation associated with a brand. And after 63 seconds we'll have the Geico lizard, and instead of youthful intensity we'll feel affection and amusement. And then that will give way to another set off sensations-cum-brand. And then another. And then another.

Poems like O Pioneers are supposed to be the antithesis of this, things that can endure and reward us. And because O Pioneers can do those thing, in a few years we'll have mostly forgotten about its association with Levis, save maybe for some blog posts about the top ten marketing campaigns of 09 or somesuch. The world is not ending, I know, I know. It's still depressing to see Whitman used for something so facile, calculated, and in the literal sense of the word heartless.
posted by postcommunism at 12:31 AM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Related: South African insurance company Allan Gray resurrects James Dean in a poignant, "what if"-style documentary ad (video)
posted by Rhaomi at 12:40 AM on October 8, 2009


"Whereas in the real world all particulars are fungible, art
protests against fungibility by holding up images of what reality itself
might look like if it were emancipated from the patterns of
identification imposed on it. By the same token, art - the image of the
unexchangable - verges on ideology because it makes us believe there are
things in the world that are not for exchange. On behalf of the
unexchangable, art must awaken a critical consciousness toward the world
of exchangable things." Adorno via AskMetafilter.
posted by johnny novak at 12:44 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm gonna go against the tide here and say that I think that ad is pretty amazing. I see this beautiful interplay between the things that last and the things that don't. Between things of the earth and of memory. A lot of subtle visual metaphor and allusions. For me, it's the cohesiveness of the tone and sentiment that is really strong, which is interesting considering the juxtaposition of old and new elements. I think that in itself makes a statement about timelessness.

There's a lot going on here, and whoever sat in that concepting meeting knew exactly what they wanted.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:05 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow, I've now just spent twenty minutes watching old Levi's commercials. This seems to be a remarkably successful ad campaign. Unfortunately I dislike pants so it's been wasted on me.

I do like this commercial, as well as The Stranger linked above.
posted by Jawn at 1:18 AM on October 8, 2009


I dunno, I like the commercials, who directed them?

The director of the B&W "America" commercial is Cary Fukunaga. His feature-length debut, Sin Nombre, hit DVD a few weeks ago. It's about a group of Hondurans -- one of whom is being chased by his former gang -- traveling on top of a train through Mexico towards the U.S. It's pretty good. The basic plot feels a little familiar but it's visually gorgeous and dark. Here is a trailer.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:51 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


AMERICA
DONALD DRAPER

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.
Go forth.
posted by steef at 3:22 AM on October 8, 2009


It's a fantastic advert. Bruce Weber rip off though.
posted by fire&wings at 3:32 AM on October 8, 2009


Well! it's been a while, but that IS a cool commercial.

Funny - 50 years ago a recording existed and not many cared. Funny - how long it takes to gain appreciation, even in a place you spend your whole life lauding.

But, that's us, we grazers ... we reap as we move, seldom seeing what we've plowed ... until with age we slow enough to turn and say: how far all that was, wow.
posted by Twang at 3:47 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a two disc collection out there, called In Their Own Voices, which is two CDs of American poets reading their own poetry. It's one of my favorite things, and Whitman is on the CD. There is an atrocious noise which makes it sound like they decided to record in a train depot. Slowly, you begin to understand that the recorder is what is making the noise.

It's a fascinating collection, not least because it also includes Langston Hughes, Charles Bukowski, William Carlos Williams, and, almost at the end, Allen Ginsberg reading his version of America. It's worth picking up.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:59 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shouldn't Levis be using Ai Qing instead of Whitman considering Levis are no longer even made in America?
posted by any major dude at 5:32 AM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those commercials are pretty opaque. I mean, what exactly are the features and benefits of Levi's? No help here.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:35 AM on October 8, 2009


I hope that recording *is* Walt Whitman. That guy was fuckin' amazing.
posted by grubi at 5:35 AM on October 8, 2009


So when will Flo the Progressive Insurance Girl start reading Sylvia Plath?
posted by Spatch at 5:43 AM on October 8, 2009


It's still depressing to see Whitman used for something so facile, calculated, and in the literal sense of the word heartless.

This kind of attitude irritates me endlessly because mostly it betrays an elitist condescension to the audience - it assumes that no one sitting in front of this ad has the complexity of intelligence to enjoy the combination of poetry and film while ignoring the B.S. brand attached to the end of it. This is arrogant. There are plenty of people out there, myself included, who can go "Fuck Levi's, but man that 28 seconds of poetry and film was quite a fantastic little artistic short". What if Whitman had been used in a music video? Or what if Levi's had been one of the corporate sponsors of a traveling exhibit of Whitman's works? The vast majority of avenues for regular people in our day and age to enjoy or get access to culture of this sort is through corporate sponsorship - and that is a GOOD THING because back in the day, most access to "culture" (or, ironically, the things that are old enough nowadays to be considered to be 'art' by the vast majority) was restricted to the wealthy. So what if this poetry came through the boob tube - the people who are going to be enriched by exposure to it are the same people that would be enriched by exposure to it at school or at a museum; the people who are gonna ignore it are the same people who are gonna ignore it regardless of how or where it's presented.
posted by spicynuts at 5:55 AM on October 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, anyone's who's read Whitman and thinks he wouldn't be amused and vigorously enthusiastic of this use of his poetry hasn't been reading him deeply enough.
posted by spicynuts at 5:55 AM on October 8, 2009


Interesting. The NYT article was published in 1992. They were skeptical, and one of their observers called it a long shot as to authenticity, but a quick Google search seems to show that scholars have concluded that it's the real deal.
posted by texorama at 6:18 AM on October 8, 2009


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the Plum-alicious Froot-Blasters (tm)
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for Breakfast, Snacktime, or Any Time!

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
and so Resfreshtastically Plumalicious! (tm)
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:41 AM on October 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


Also, anyone's who's read Whitman and thinks he wouldn't be amused and vigorously enthusiastic of this use of his poetry hasn't been reading him deeply enough.

That may be true. He was a fan of youth subcultures, which jeans once upon a time represented.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:51 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


My husband and I caught that commercial a few nights ago. We stopped, watched, looked at each other and said, "What the fuck are they selling? Oh, jeans." Yet another commercial in which the product is a mere footnote. Do these kinds of commercials actually sell anything? Are there people who actually go out and buy jeans because of this? I buy the jeans which fit me, which are not Levis. The Geico gecko is cute, but I recently shopped for car insurance and they did not have the best rate or coverage, so I didn't go with them because they have a lizard on their ads.

I stopped being outraged by the use of art in commercials a while ago. Outrage fatigue set in after too many of my favorite bands sold out. Personally, I think Whitman doesn't get nearly enough attention anymore, and as crass as it is, I can't really work up the energy to be upset about it.
posted by threeturtles at 6:52 AM on October 8, 2009


I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats Levis' in the refrigerator on the display table and eyeing the grocery sales boys. I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops boot cut? What price bananas Japanese selvedge? Are you my Angel?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:56 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I heard the commercials on the TV I wasn't watching while making dinner, and stopped what I was doing to go listen/watch.

Thanks for letting me know whose poems they were, they were beautiful.

I'm not having any urges to buy Levi's, either, in case you're wondering.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:11 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we respect the public domain, then Levi's has every right to use this, as distasteful as we might personally find it.

As far as I'm concerned, Levi's, Inc. is not a person, and has no right to anything.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:16 AM on October 8, 2009


Interesting points, postcommunism. And an interesting rebuttal, spicynuts. I have only seen the 'O Pioneers' ad in movie theaters and on the big screen it looks amazing. I've seen it twice and both times it made me sit up and take notice.

I have not bought any Levi's, so as a commerical the "O Pioneers" ad didn't work on me. However, I have enjoyed the "O Pioneers" ad as an amazing short film.

Can art exist within a commerical? Invert this question: can commercial products be art? Of course. Plenty of music, movies and other works of art are made for commercial gain. Walt Whitman himself made money on 'Leaves of Grass.' Capitalism and Art are not enemies.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2009


My immediate reaction when I saw these commercials was, "Yay! Poetry!" I really don't know that many people who read poetry anymore and I don't believe I know anyone who listens to poetry. So having such excellent recordings playing during prime time is a pretty neat thing. (And I love Will Geer so much. He radiated so much warmth as Grandpa Walton that I just wanted to reach in my TV and give him a cuddle.)
posted by jrossi4r at 7:23 AM on October 8, 2009


Hey, it's still better than Wranglers' using a severely-edited clip from CCR's "Fortunate Son" some years back in one of their ads.

(They used the first lines, "Some folks are born, made to wave the flag/Ooh, the red white and blue" and then cut straight to an instrumental break for the rest of the ad, skipping over the very next lyrics: "And when the band plays 'Hail To the Chief'/They point the cannon at you".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on October 8, 2009


It does exactly what any good commercial does. It makes you hear/read the name Levi jeans for a split second ..whether you roll your eyes or not is of no consequence. It gets you to notice the brand among the million of other messages you hear every single day.
posted by wyldeboi at 7:34 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think they were both beautiful commercials. They have soul. I want to watch them again. I want to be a part of it. Youth are optimists, dreamers, pioneers, this ad speaks to them without irony, and I think it will be appreciated.
posted by dearsina at 7:46 AM on October 8, 2009


GeckoDundee : It sounds as though Will Geer, a.k.a. Grandpa Walton, would make a great subject for a post.

Not blacklisted for as exciting a reason as you might think... As a self-proclaimed communist, he refused to testify during the witch-hunts of the 1950s, so con-gress branded him with Joe's scarlet letter.
posted by pla at 7:52 AM on October 8, 2009


Yet another commercial in which the product is a mere footnote. Do these kinds of commercials actually sell anything?

A lifestyle. They carefully research what lifestyle people associate with their brand, and then sell sell that lifestyle.
posted by dersins at 8:04 AM on October 8, 2009


That was a very well-made ad. Jeans notwithstanding, hearing Whitman's voice and words made me tear up a little, which took me by surprise, in that I'm not usually very feel-y.
posted by everichon at 8:10 AM on October 8, 2009


Whoops-- no posting before coffee, me. Let's try that again:

Yet another commercial in which the product is a mere footnote. Do these kinds of commercials actually sell anything?

A lifestyle. They carefully research what lifestyle people associate with their brand, and then sell that lifestyle, or they carefully research what images consumers associate with the lifestyle that the agency people want the brand associated with, and then sell that lifestyle with a thin veneer of branding tacked on.
posted by dersins at 8:20 AM on October 8, 2009


I think they were both beautiful commercials. They have soul. I want to watch them again. I want to be a part of it. Youth are optimists, dreamers, pioneers, this ad speaks to them without irony, and I think it will be appreciated.

I think they were both ugly attempts to sell me crap I don't need. They are soulless. I fear that I will now be bludgeoned with them repeatedly, on TV, in movie theaters, online. I want no part of this. Youth are optimists, dreamers, pioneers; they are also gullible, naive and ripe for slaughter. They will go for this shit like all those kids from the town of Hamelin who chased after the Pied Piper and were never seen again, likely sold into slavery, or maybe just eaten.

Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography.
posted by philip-random at 8:23 AM on October 8, 2009


Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography.

Setting aside Sturgeon's 90%, shit, let's say 99%, you are missing out on a lot.
posted by everichon at 8:33 AM on October 8, 2009


I Sing the Toothbrush Electric
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:42 AM on October 8, 2009


"Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography."

Those combinations, while exceedingly rare, are my favorite! They should be encouraged, not dismissed.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:42 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography.

Aren't you a delicate little flower? I must say, as much as I like to imagine myself as Des Esseintes, too, it's a simple fact that the work of nearly every artist, writer, or musician you've ever encountered was either produced for commerce or produced with the wish that it might be sold. In fact, you even paid 5 bucks to write those very words.

I want no part of this.

I think Ted Kaczynski's shack is still available.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:49 AM on October 8, 2009


Is it really the poetry + commerce thing that's offputting here, or more specifically "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" + some lame bush party? For me it's the latter.
posted by Beardman at 10:01 AM on October 8, 2009


Using a public domain recording of Whitman reading one of his poems is crass commercialism, but dozens if not hundreds of commercials use classical music such as the Prelude to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, and no one bats an eye?

I mean I see both sides of the argument here, and I'm not entirely unsympathetic to those who find it distasteful, but why doesn't the same argument apply to classical music, widely used in commercials, and that usage almost never decried?

(And yes, the clumsy edit in the commercial I linked to cut the piece down to one minute bugs me a lot more than the usage of the music in and of itself.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:20 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


*Simple guitar-plucked music draws the audience to an earlier time. Interior shots of a happy white family settling down for dinner. The mother laughs with the daughter as she smears flour down the front of her apron; they have been making cookies.*

(Voice Over)
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
*Husband goes outside. Tracking shot over shoulder follows him. Brilliant sunset. Mountains visible in background. He walks to his son, who is cutting wood at a CRAFTSMAN workbench*

(Voice Over)
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.

*Husband puts hands on son's shoulders. Son is startled, as he has been wrapped up in honest work. He smiles at his father, and continues cutting wood*

(Voice Over)
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour

*Husband and son walk back. Shot cuts, and in frame is sun setting behind Vermont mountains. Boy and father walking towards a house overflowing with light. Fade to black, and text: "CRAFTSMAN... letting you get more done"*
posted by codacorolla at 10:21 AM on October 8, 2009


Ha, one of my friends is the models at the waterfall in the commercial. They filmed that at Multnomah Falls a few miles east of Portland, OR.
posted by wcfields at 10:25 AM on October 8, 2009


Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography.

This is such a load of codswallop I don't even know where to begin. Let's start by saying it's a clear indication of a complete lack of intimacy with the history of art and how artists throughout history have been patronised and financed. Not to mention the fact of the ridiculously impossible to ignore marriage of art with commerce that anyone who has ever tried to establish themselves as a marketable professional artist in the modern era cannot ignore. Who do you think buys fine art?
posted by spicynuts at 11:50 AM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow that second to last sentence...not really english. Sorry.
posted by spicynuts at 11:51 AM on October 8, 2009


Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography.

Given that art + commerce produced the Sistine Chapel, I think this conclusion may need a little rethinking.
posted by scody at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2009


There's a rather obvious difference between trying to sell your art, and using someone else's art to sell your stuff. I'd say it was also rather obvious which one philip-random was referring to, and I wish everyone would stop pretending otherwise even if it means they don't get to be Angry On The Internet.
posted by regicide is good for you at 12:51 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, screw it. If it makes me elitist, “self-righteous”, naive or a just plain curmudgeon I stand by my assertion that this melding of Whitman and product pitching is crass, and furthermore it offends me. I am sorry if commercials where your first introduction to Kerouac, Whitman or whomever, but that is not an excuse. If you have reached adulthood without being exposed to certain things it is a failure on some level, the school, your parents, yourself… it is not the advertiser’s job to educate you on culturally significance works of art, the advertiser’s job is to sell you shit, and when they pull stunts like this it is just fucking lazy. They are unable to write their own powerful original copy so they purloin the best they can find. Whitman’s poetry works because it is NOT designed to sell anything, except for perhaps itself.
There is also a line between consent and exploitation of material from a source that can not give consent. I don’t like it when Clapton, Iggy Pop or whomever license their songs for commercials, but I can live with it. They have control over how their material is used, and if they don’t mind being directly associated with cheap beer or expensive cars, well so be it. Whitman is unable to give consent, so it’s alright to use his stuff however people want to, well as long as the commercial is classy right?

So screw it, again, I don’t care if the world is run on capitalism and you think I am a dick for opposing this. I also oppose giant floating billboards in the sky, advertising projected against the moon in the night sky, billboards in general, and all manner of cultural rape. I may not get it, but I want something different then what we have, which is acquiescence. “Eh, if it looks good it can’t be bad”, I actually am old enough to remember when popular singers would get torn a new asshole if they actively shilled for a product, but now it’s all ok because we’re ruled by capitalism and have grown up ignorant of our cultural past. What next… “The 15th amendment (now sponsored by Walmart)”….
posted by edgeways at 1:06 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


This kind of attitude irritates me endlessly because mostly it betrays an elitist condescension to the audience - it assumes that no one sitting in front of this ad has the complexity of intelligence to enjoy the combination of poetry and film while ignoring the B.S. brand attached to the end of it.

Spicynuts, I don't mean to come across as condescending. My objection to this ad is not that it's presenting a poem to first time listeners in an academically incorrect way, or that it is somehow disrespectful to Whitman. Nor am I objecting to art as commerce. I'm objecting to art, and to the genuine reaction this particular bit of film evokes, in the service of commerce. It was made to sell something else--and not by pimping a product but by trying to pimp the viewer's emotional reaction--and there is no other reason for it to exist. Within the context of the ad both the poem and the youthful intensity which the ad conveys are degraded into something even sneakier than a sales pitch.

Not to mention that despite the overall success of the video I can't shake the feeling that each one of those kids, while they scamper around the woods and rub up against each other, is thinking "this shot is gonna look great of facebook." Yech, personal branding.
posted by postcommunism at 1:07 PM on October 8, 2009


You know, screw it. If it makes me elitist, “self-righteous”, naive or a just plain curmudgeon I stand by my assertion that this melding of Whitman and product pitching is crass, and furthermore it offends me.

Hey, it offends me, too, for many of the reasons you eluciadate. At the same time, I am able to see that philip-random's gross oversimplification is, well, a gross oversimplification of the history of art (and the history of culture, and the history of mass communication).
posted by scody at 1:15 PM on October 8, 2009


Art + commerce have about as much in common as love + pornography.

Guilty of oversimplification, I guess. Yet I still stand by it as, if you read my whole comment, you'll see that it starts as a point-by-point disputation of a previous comment, which among other things, posited that the two commercials have "soul".

Sorry, but that offends me, and when offended, I tend to rant.
posted by philip-random at 2:03 PM on October 8, 2009


Are there people who actually go out and buy jeans because of this?

There would not be a multi-billion dollar industry for it if they did not.

Can art exist within a commerical? Invert this question: can commercial products be art? Of course. Plenty of music, movies and other works of art are made for commercial gain. Walt Whitman himself made money on 'Leaves of Grass.'

It's one thing to make money from a work of art. It's quite another to create "art" solely for the purpose of making money. That is not art (imho, of course).

See: The Gift (nice to see three of my favorite authors love the book ...).
posted by mrgrimm at 2:10 PM on October 8, 2009


Dylan Thomas reads for VW
posted by minkll at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2009


Lest we forget: Think Different Wore Khakis
posted by Sys Rq at 3:06 PM on October 8, 2009


Whitman’s poetry works because it is NOT designed to sell anything, except for perhaps itself.

I'd always seen Whitman as one of the true salesmen of a certain kind of American attitude. Granted, it's one which is largely missing from modern culture, but his way of singing the praises of the American countryside, of its people, of its idealism... Leaves Of Grass is nearly a book of Psalms to a kind of Americanism which we have basically forgotten today.

It may possibly be a travesty that they are using his words to sell bluejeans, but I don't think it's honest to claim that Whitman was not trying to create a market for an attitude, which is what modern advertising also seeks to do.
posted by hippybear at 3:15 PM on October 8, 2009


"Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied, over there beyond the seas?We take up the task eternal, and the burden, and the lesson, Fhtagn! O Fhtagn!"

Thing about today's jaded youth? They're jaded.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2009


If you have reached adulthood without being exposed to certain things it is a failure on some level, the school, your parents, yourself

I dunno man, there's a lot of stuff in the world. Sometimes I find out about things from Metafilter, sometimes I find out about things from TV commercials. I'm pretty sure someone could live their whole life without ever hearing about Jack Kerouac without that being a failure on anyone's part.

Just for reference, what are your approved vectors of exposure to good things in the world?
posted by empath at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2009


It's quite another to create "art" solely for the purpose of making money. That is not art

Oh, horseshit. The entire Renaissance was commissioned work to advertise for the Catholic Church and wealthy patrons. You think those artists were doing portraits of the DiMedici's because they were strikingly beautiful?
posted by empath at 4:43 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, horseshit. The entire Renaissance was commissioned work to advertise for the Catholic Church and wealthy patrons. You think those artists were doing portraits of the DiMedici's because they were strikingly beautiful?

Exactly. And hell, forget the Renaissance: artists have always worked on commission. My dad's a successful professional artist. He kept a roof over our heads, food on the table, sent two kids to college, and ran an art gallery because he made art for the purpose of selling it. Painting is his life's work; he enjoys and is better at painting than anything else -- so why shouldn't he do it to earn a living? Is the painting that sits in storage, never to be sold, a better example of "real" art than the painting he made on commission for Paul Newman that currently hangs in Joanne Woodward's dining room?

Lots of people love to toss around dramatic pronouncements about What Art Is and how no Real Artist would ever sully their sacred, magical, muse-inspired work with the base filth of the material world. These people tend not to be working artists or to know any working artists.
posted by scody at 5:15 PM on October 8, 2009


Advertising is an inseparable part of modern media. If I am going to be marketed to, I prefer the advertising to be interesting and artistic. I thought the ads were well crafted and enjoyable to watch. Do they make me want to buy jeans? Probably not, though if I were to buy jeans I might have a higher regard for Levi's based on their ads. I see ads like this as the opposite of condescending.
posted by ryaninoakland at 5:37 PM on October 8, 2009


I've read me some transcendentalism, and recognized the poem, but I never knew a recording of Emerson even existed. I own a lot of jeans, even a couple of pairs of Levis, though obtained second-hand I think. Anyway I'm not sure the commercials are about jeans, though they are about brand. And they're effective. That doesn't make me like them any less. And I'm really glad it's bringing people to Emerson. And I'm glad to have found out about that recording.

And I'm not sure he would have liked this campaign. He might have, but he might have just as easily hated it, and raged against it. He was kind of a nutfuck like that.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:41 PM on October 8, 2009


HI, WALT WHITMAN HERE

Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable -- the SHAM WOW has it all!

For the low low prices of $9.99! Call now!
posted by empath at 5:43 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Commercializing Whitman is nothing new—his friend Horace Traubel was already doing product placement in his contemporary biography/memoir:
I had this afternoon called on Jo Fels at their soap-factory on North 3rd Street, and had been taken by him through the large establishment and had its mysteries more or less (some of them greatly less ) cleared. He insisted among other things that I should take a box of soap "for Walt Whitman," which I did, much to W.'s enjoyment. He slowly unfolded one of the cakes. "It is quite providential," he exclaimed—"quite in the nick of time—hits the nail square on the head... Now when you go out to the store, you'll only have to get the matches—the rest is provided for. And do you see how fine it is?—the color of it—the odor!"
posted by dickymilk at 6:32 PM on October 8, 2009


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