December 29, 2009

Levi's celebrates Manifest Destiny

Levi’s urges youth to conquer Native Americans again

By William EasterlyLevi’s has a new ad campaign that suggests American liberty is still a work in progress. One of its new videos has a voiceover reciting the Walt Whitman poem “O Pioneers” with youths dancing around a fire wearing Levi’s. The recitation includes lines like

Pioneers! (America) O Pioneers!
Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

O you youths, Western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship,
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
Ample, fresh, and strong the world we seize,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

Against whom are our weapons supposed to be used? Whose world are we seizing? Any 3rd grader could tell you: Whitman is referring to the war against Native Americans by westward-bound settlers and the US army.

Does Levi’s want to celebrate that? Well, try to see it from Levi’s point of view: their company wouldn’t even exist if we hadn’t wiped out the Indians.
Levi's Jeans Controversial Ad Campaign: O Pioneers--Go Forth

By amyellensodenLevi's Jeans is currently running a lengthy ad campaign that is being considered by many to be controversial. The ad, currently running as part of the previews in many movie theatres throughout North America, is thought to be carrying a conflicted message of racism.

The ad features a reading of Walt Whitman's poem "O Pioneers" and flashes through many different images of youth wearing Levi's Jeans. The message is controversial due to the connotation that the "O Pioneers" poem suggests. Whitman's poem is about the war against Native-Americans by the US army and settlers.

Another critic likes this ad campaign better:

Walt Whitman Thinks You Need New Jeans

A stirring new ad campaign from Levi's.

By Seth Stevenson
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."

For one thing, it's a universe in which the ever-present soundtrack is Walt Whitman poetry. This spot uses a wax cylinder recording believed to be audio of Whitman himself reading from his poem "America." The second spot in the campaign employs a recording of an actor reading Whitman's "Pioneers! O Pioneers!"

Whitman is an involuntary spokes-celebrity here, and perhaps you deem this ad a desecration of all he stood for. I can't say I blame you. But were you forced to choose a clothing line for our favorite barbaric yawper to rep, you might choose this one. Levi's is the rare American brand that was actually around when Whitman was alive. And there's logic to this match between a quintessentially American poet and a quintessentially American product. Whitman's verse allows Levi's to evoke not only its proud history but a forward-looking present—the pioneering, American mindset that Whitman captured and that Levi's hopes to embody.
Comment:  "Pioneering" evidently means "Running away to a new country because I couldn't make it in the old country. Give me land, water, and other free goodies because I don't want to pay for them."

There's no need to be vague about the nature of the "pioneering American mindset." Whitman's contemporaries made it clear what that meant. Here are two examples from A Shining City on a Hill:  What Americans Believe:It is only the warlike power of a civilized people that can give peace to the world....[T]hat the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace to the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of this world hold sway.
Theodore Roosevelt, Expansion and Peace, The Independent, December 21, 1899

God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing hut vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given its the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man. We are trustees of the world's progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us: "Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things."
Senator Albert J. Beveridge, Congressional Record, January 9, 1900
Nice of Beveridge to make clear the linkage between the US and Germany under Bismarck and then Hitler. Yep, he sure nailed the tendency of Anglo-Saxons to "establish system where chaos reigns" via conquest, subjugation, and genocide.

For more on the subject, see Manifest Destiny = America's Pathology and The Myth of American Self-Reliance.

Below:  "Go Pioneers! O Pioneers!"

1 comment:

Jet said...

A interesting note: Wieden and Kennedy also handles the advertising account for the American Indian College Fund and Coca Cola (a big corporate contributor to the AICF)