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I’m re-posting the Levi’s ad (part of a larger campaign) that uses the Whitman recording we listened to in lecture today. Dr. Donaldson did us a huge favour by asking us to carefully consider the poem and recording on its own, without the agenda of a product attached to it. Having done that to some extend, I want to think about the poem and recording as they have been used, perhaps even commandeered or hijacked, by Levi Strauss & Co.


At face value, this ad, which is directed by American filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga (b. 1977; dir. Sin Nombre in 2009, Jane Eyre in 2011), certainly communicates a very romantic and ostensibly antinomian aesthetic and spirit, but it’s coming from a huge business that, while promoting an narrative about the United States recapturing a kind of bygone tenacity and industriousness (a manifest destiny, if you will), does little to profoundly contribute to that promise.

Indeed, the add campaign centered around the down-and-out town of Braddock, PA, is uplifting and portrays Levi’s contributing to the economic revitalization of the area, but is giving 1 million dollars to a community center enough, when the jeans are still made for pennies a day in less economically prosperous countries? (Though the definition of national economic prosperity is, today, utterly problematic.)

My point: wouldn’t manufacturing their products in the US provide Braddock with far better and longer lasting help than writing a one-time cheque for a community center and walking away?

Yes, the “creative class” hipsters who populate most of these Levi’s ads are nice to look at – all lithe and sweaty as they shoot bottle rockets in wheat fields under a full moon. Aesthetically, I’m there. I like the Ryan McGuinley-esque look. I admit it. And a part of me wants to be all, “Hey, at least Whitman isn’t forgotten. At least he lives on somehow and people are being exposed to his work whether they know it or not.”

But the more logical part of my brain thinks Whitman would be like, “Seriously? I poured my soul out! I gave you myself as a song! I offered the very atoms of my blood, and you fools use my poetry as ad copy for an ‘American’ company that manufactures its ‘Americana’ clothing anywhere but the United States and posted a 2011 net income of $32 million? You’re fucking with me, right? So not antinomian, man. So not antinomian.”

Seriously, this reads like something a ninth-grader rewrote from a Wikipedia page:

His hand on his tilted hip, his head cocked all judgmental-like. I think he’d call the ads pretty, but also pretty vacuous.

This is the last time I’ll mention the Levi’s campaign – which I’ve written about too much already. But it’s worth stressing that while this work should live on, how must it live on? To read Whitman is an exciting experience. Do we need the pizzazz of commercials for jeans that are generally more expensive than an everyman can afford to be reminded of that? What would Whitman, a self-promoted everyman, have thought?

– Joe