Happy Independence Day! As you know, I am a fan of Walt Whitman. From his ridiculous beard to his barbaric yawp, there is nothing about this man that I don’t find either delightful or fascinating. He is The Greatest American Author of All Time. OF ALL TIME. I don’t normally use superlatives, but Whitman merits it.
But this post is not about Whitman (although it could be. I could argue that Whitman is, in fact, the Quintessential American, except that I don’t think that. I think that might be Andrew Carnegie. I’m still working on that one). This post is about this commercial and how well it expresses what America is all about. Watch and learn:
The voiceover accompanying the video is thought to be Whitman’s own voice recorded on a wax cylinder. He reads the following lines from his poem “America”:
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.
Now, Seth Stevenson over at slate.com has already done all the hard work of rhetorical analysis, and I don’t intend to speak over him. Rhetorical analysis is not my forte at all. I just want to point out in passing that there’s something very, well, very American about using The Greatest American Writer of All Time to talk about the American Spirit in order to sell blue jeans. The sheer audacity of using our patriotism to meet bottom-line demands is so perfectly American it’s almost laughable. It almost doesn’t matter whether Levi’s is an American corporation (with so much corporate inbreeding, who can really tell anymore anyway?) It’s that kind of audacity that, sure, brought us Bernie Madoff and Enron and all that, but it’s also brought us Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (flipping the bird at higher ed to go become billionaires), it’s brought us advances in medicine and technology, and, heck, it’s what dragged us all here from wherever our ancestors came from all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It’s that audacity that said, “Screw you, King George, you crazy old bat! We can do this better ourselves!”
So yay for Levi’s. Yay for Whitman. Yay for audacity. And yay America.