O’ Pioneers

Wieden + Kennedy’s “Go Forth” campaign for Levi’s is an ethnography of America’s unyielding, evergreen optimism, or, a youthful charge declared in the words of Walt Whitman. (Only this year have I truly read Whitman, thanks to a proseful 15-hour documentary about New York. He brandished a big beard and grew up in the woods of Brooklyn, which might explain today’s hipster.)

“America” incorporates the only known recorded sound by Walt Whitman. What splendor! All this energy could have been spent on something more meaningful than jeans. Nonetheless, art is art, is art.

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2 Responses to “O’ Pioneers”

  1. Not Telling says:

    I love Whitman. And these are terribly sad-making, beautiful as they are. Perhaps it’s just my mood, but I find the French Gay McDonald’s ad–equally comprised with de-spiriting potential–gauche and harmless, forgivable, in its own way even quaint, and powerfully suggestive in the way suddenly lowering a voice can be; the way quiet talk demands attention. On the other hand, the recordings of Whitman, for example, aren’t positively recordings of Whitman, there is scandal about that. But the truth of things, authenticity (I dare say), is washed away on the high-tide of….consumerism doesn’t seem the right word, neither does capitalism. Something else. And it’s certainly not simply industriousness; my Imago-Whitman loves Industry, because in that there is/was something robust and honest. I have a hard time reconciling the weakness inherent in a deceit and manipulation (advertising) with the Industry, brawny youth, and robustness that the Levi’s ad tries to embody and with which it tries to associate itself. The myth of a once-real man isn’t mine to own; I can accept that. Maybe it’s the cognitive dissonance the Levi’s ad compels that is so disturbing…. Maybe the McDonald’s ad is more palatable because the boy’s strength is in his omissions, his deceit is forgivable, lovable, strong. McDonald’s coupled their deceitfulness with our own tendencies toward mendacity. There is a roundness and wholeness to that argument. We want you to buy burgers. You want people to buy your expressions of self. We’re friends in this, comrades. And it is a painful sad thing that we must endure, the ad seems to say, reasonably enough. Whereas the Levi’s ad….well, the bludgeon is too dull and the horse is surely dead, still, one last blow: the Levi’s ad compels cognitive dissonance and rapes a hero’s legacy.

  2. Nate says:

    “Not Telling,” thanks for your note. I wasn’t convinced I should reply: you’ve shared an expression of feeling, such expressions aren’t fodder for debate. I share your concern, that advertising can co-opt and distort ideas and movements into profit-driven manipulation; of a greater disconnect advertising has wrought upon the popular mentality, that encourages decadence and a misleading message of paradoxically perennial, yet never satiated, happiness. This destructive power is not lost on me, yet I am equally hopeful in advertising – like a good speech – as a positive force. To me these concerns are not isolated to the advertisements above.

    On the question of authenticity, I find few answers: as your authenticity is not my authenticity; as we grapple with our false hope in a more “authentic” past, we see clearly that cultural appropriation and co-opting, even for the motive of profit, is not new. Whitman himself forged testimonial letters to the Times in praise of his own writing, so he might sell more books. His poetry is no less authentic to me.

    I don’t share the view that Whitman’s legacy has been tarnished. Is it the aesthetic of the advertisement you take issue with, or, like a symphony’s sponsors, the supporting profit motive? Regardless of societal implications – I credit you for examining this, as the issue was decidedly too complex for me to tackle in a blog post – I believe these advertisements nonetheless are works of art that convey an authenticity of feeling true to Whitman’s own.

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