The World Doesn’t End

by lizard

Our cultural landscape is littered with debris from our long, post-WWII decline. But not unlike Jesus Christ, that debris can be reborn. How you ask? Well, through the slick marketing of America’s insatiable consumer culture, of course.

A few years ago Levi’s updated their brand by pimping Walt Whitman and darkening their vision a bit. According to this Slate review, it was all very post-2008 financial collapse:

The previous Levi’s ad campaign was titled “Live Unbuttoned.” It featured smiling, attractive people dancing around to jumpy pop music. Watching those ads now, it seems clear they were conceived before the fall 2008 financial plunge. They already feel irrelevant—an attempt to capture a zeitgeist that’s evaporated.

In December 2008, Levi’s ditched its old ad agency and signed on with Wieden + Kennedy (the talented ad makers responsible for creating many of Nike’s epic, stirring, one-minute anthems). The spots that W+K came up with—this new campaign is labeled “Go Forth”—have been running since the summer in movie theaters and, increasingly, on television. From the moment we see that “America” sign half-sunk in inky water, we know we’re watching something new. The campaign inhabits a different universe from the one depicted in “Live Unbuttoned.”

Yes, and to exemplify this new gritty universe, one of the ads was filmed in post-Katrina New Orleans. He has risen indeed!

I would check out the Levi ads by following the link before reading further. They are significant (and expensive) pieces of production created by people at the top of their game.

Before I drop Bill Hicks, who explains why it is incumbent for the acolytes of advertising to “suck Satan’s pecker,” I should offer a disclaimer that the material in these posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the blogger.

That said, ladies and pricks, Mr. Hicks:

As a poet, I find the commodified use of Whitman to be unfortunate. Unlike the Mad Men episode that featured Frank O’Hara, which resulted in an actual uptick in interest for the poet and his verse, the use of Whitman has no artistic merit, just pure profit motive.

So to disentangle the poet from the obnoxious use of his verse, you can listen to this nice reading of the original poem:

In my own poetics, I’m finishing the second year of writing that encompasses my long poem project, “Z”. I’m using Whitman’s line right now, in what might be the concluding sequence.

In addition to aping Whitman, a few days ago I picked up the collection of prose poems that won Charles Simic the Pulitzer in 1990, titled The World Doesn’t End. It blew me away. For more, this NYT article is worth reading.

Here’s the intro:

Charles Simic, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry this year with a collection of prose poems, ”The World Doesn’t End,” credits the military police with having helped in the formation of his work. Mr. Simic had begun writing verse in his youth, only a couple of years after he acquired English when he came to this country from Yugoslavia. But his early work was largely imitative.

Then, he says, he was drafted and served as an M.P. briefly in West Germany and later in France between 1961 and 1964. ”The Army had a great impact on me,” he recalled. ”I was far from everything, all by myself. I had my brother in Illinois send me all the poems I had written and I sat there in the barracks at night reading them and ripping them up, saying: ‘This is Pound. This is Cummings. This is Eliot.’ And when they were all gone, I thought: ‘My God, what will I do now? I’ve got nothing.”

That last assertion turned out to be very inaccurate, though what Simic got is not something I’m going to speculate about right now.

I will offer this, which resonates personally due to my multiple aliases.  Enjoy!


          Time—the lizard in the sunlight. It doesn’t
move, but its eyes are wide open. They love to gaze
into our faces and hearken to our discourse.

          It’s because the very first men were lizards. If
you don’t believe me, go grab one by the tail and
see it come right off.

And this:

          Ambiguity created by a growing uncertainty of
antecedents bade us welcome.
          “The Art of Making Gods” is what the advert-
tisement said. We were given buckets of mud and
shown a star atlas. “The Minotaur doesn’t like
whistling,” someone whispered, so we resumed our
work in silence.
           Evening classes. The sky like a mirror of a dead
beauty to use as a model. The spit of melancholia’s
plague carrier to make it stick.

  1. 1 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Walter Whitman White | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] For additional examples of the use of Whitman in pop culture, The World Doesn’t End. […]

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