Tuesday 16th January 2018,

The Tender Same-Sex Moment in Levi’s “O Pioneers!”

Aymar Jean Christian October 29, 2009 uncategorized Comments Off on The Tender Same-Sex Moment in Levi’s “O Pioneers!”
Levi's - OPioneers! (Go Forth) Commercial

Embedded within the rapid stream of images in Levi's brilliant O Pioneers is a tender same-sex moment

Levi’s Jeans “Go Forth” ad campaign (dir. Sin Nombre‘s Cary Fukunaga for the firm Wieden+Kennedy) has been gaining some fans, most notably Slate’s Seth Stevenson. I’m not sure how popular the vid is on YouTube; between all the reposting it might have views in the low hundred thousands. I certainly stopped and paid attention when I saw the first 30-second spot, America, on television. The one-minute version is even better, since it contains the scene of young people protesting, presumably, some kind of Wall Street executive. The use of Walt Whitman’s poetry is great, and the use of his (purportedly) real voice is even better. Having not read Whitman in years, I’d forgotten how idealistic his poems sound. It’s very refreshing. Makes me actually want to read poetry.

What struck me most though was a very subtle, tender moment between two men in the campaign’s second spot, O Pioneers! (based on another Walt Whitman poem). It’s a strikingly sensual moment and very charged — with love and eroticism — in a way I can’t remember seeing in a major ad campaign. Most advertisers treat homosexuality as a joke, gimmick, or punchline in ads these days. A few treat it matter-of-factly. But sexiness and tenderness are, if not taboo, at least seen as difficult to represent. I looked up another gay Levi commercial from two years ago and it is, in keeping with the times, gimmicky. Plus, the two men only walk side by side, suggesting they will eventually hold hands, just not on Levi’s watch!

YouTube - Levi's gay commercial_1256781812033

Two men can't hold hands.

I won’t oversell this. Within the stirring montage of the Levi’s commercial, the same-sex moment gets less than a second and not even a full frame (it’s trapped in a dissolve transition). It also appears as though this commercial is airing on LOGO, but I haven’t seen it on any major network, which is interesting, though unsurprising.

Still, it’s a beautiful artistic choice, and I agree with Stevenson that the commercial is, like many music videos today, a small work of art. Bravo.

UPDATE! (4/9/10)

I missed this really well-made spoof by the Upright Citizens Brigade (it’s only a little homophobic):

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

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