Brand World Atheist
The Levi's ad using Walt Whitman's poem "America" repositions Levis within their target-- audience, as a hip company making cool jeans because they're using a poet to 'empower' America's youth. Here's to empowerment, I think?
It's a 60-second spot that uses a wax-cylinder recording of Whitman reciting the poem, black & white footage, jittery camera-work, and synthed-operatic soundtrack to create a manifesto-themed gauntlet thrown at America's youth with the phrase "Go Forth" emblazoned as a nicely designed logo on a flapping banner at the end. The spot is basically a poetry video, using beautifully filmed images of the disenfranchised reflecting the poem's tone without literal interpretation, but as soon as the logo appears, I feel sort of duped. And here's where I get lost, because for an ad at least it's trying to say something, right...but why do I feel poetry getting re-appropriated once again, right...but how great to have poetry on television, right? ("Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity" a nugget from T.S. Eliot, which leads to my mommie dearest moment, slapped left and right...it's a poem—an ad—a poem—an ad—a pair of jeans...sob sob).
Selling religion and seeking converts — advertising is all about creating a world for the brand. A belief system with a personality to attract the right demographic. The followers whose lives will be affirmed if they drink the leader's lemonade. How different is Walt Whitman from Joe Camel now? If I saw a poem entitled 'My Nose My Self' written by one, Joe Camel, in an anthology of Amercian rebels...I'd be curious, but I couldn't get past that name. A brand-world atheist has no brand loyalty. When you buy a pair of Levi's, you are changing your pants, not the world. But when you go on the campaign's website, you feel change is in the air (how timely, eh) because you can leave your own thoughts in the infinite declaration gallery...like casting off a poem in a bottle, hoping it reaches shore. But how cool to have a forum to leave your thoughts for the world, but isn't that what Twitter's for? And then there's a giveaway that uses a scratchy-voiced response to Whitman as a call to action to find buried treasure. Which is better than their previous Spike Jonze-directed spot, but not as original as this Michel Gondry-directed spot.
At least both of those make no bones about being ads, and are still filmic. The Go Forth campaign has a patina of self-seriousness in its, "getting a platform to sound out," ...very Rebel Without A Cause. Expertly designed in a massive campaign around a unifying theme: to be heard and seen, not even understood, just acknowledged so that you may go forth and discover your voice. Core values in America's heartland of equal chances, right? To re-imagine America as a teen. To use language in the reinvention of American youth that reflects each generation's media-drenched libido. Giving us an implied retro-hooligan under the layers of a smoothed-over-DIY-aesthetic is what obscures the poem that tries to mix rebellion with business.
And this is how you talk to an impressionable, unformed consumer from across class, gender and racial territories. You reach for a bottom line; rebellion. You jump on the raging hormones that scream: I want to be different. And how do you propose different to an indifferent youth in an over-saturated America? By using that common difference: America. Let's make it cool to be an American rebel by showing one that won't offend the parents who have the cash. Make America the brand and give her a makeover for the kids. Like a radio hit, give the vocals a processed sound using static noise effects (scratchy wax cylinder) which is very noise-core. (Here you go, make your own noise cocktail, hit the loop button and play a few of these at the same time for your own brand-world jingle.)
Jeez, this post sounds bitter...don't mean to...just question how far poetry has to adapt to be appreciated by the general public. When I see a corporate entity put such an effort, it really is a victory. So then is my actual trouble with today's smoothed-over youth? Or with advertising's pliable fingering?
One last thing; Whitman's reading here is more rebellious than anything else in the spot. More power to Daddy Walt!
A self-proclaimed “lingualisualist” rooted in the languages of sight and sound, Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx and is a longtime resident of New York City. He is a poet whose highly acclaimed performances and live shows combine vocal and physical improvisation and theater. He is the author of...