Here’s an amazing TV commercial for Levi’s Jeans starring…. Walt Whitman!
Yes, that’s his actual voice reading the 1888 poem America in this video poem/commercial. Here’s another video poem for Whitman’s Pioneers from Leaves of Grass..this time read by actor Will Greer. (These pieces are directed by M. Blash of the ad agency Wieden & Kennedy).
When I watch the commercials, I am convinced that I am the mistress of my own fate. I’m just not sure if I’m okay with that fate being sold to me for $40 a pair by a man who worked nearly his entire life to eschew the mainstream. If Whitman wore jeans, he wore them because they were the clothes of the rebellious, not because they were the affordable uniform of the pretty.
I’m actually all for corporations co-opting public domain images and sounds and stories. It’s good to have a lifeline to previous eras, good to see a contemporary rendering of an early poem. Perhaps it would be better if videographers did these kinds of reworking outside of ads (so we don’t have to spend so much time guessing at the video’s hidden agenda). What next – Emily Dickinson being used to sell deodorant?