Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Modernity: The Walt Whitman Project

After scrolling through some of my peers’ blog posts, I believe that I am the only person in the class who Walt Whitman follows on the social networking site twitter.

For me, this indicates that Whitman and his poem are relevant in the 21st century. I am not surprised that someone thought highly enough to create a FB page for Whitman, but the twitter page did surprise me somewhat. While I admire Richard Wright more than any other writer, I don’t envision myself taking the time to make a twitter account to celebrate my favorite lines from his haiku’s or novels.  Ultimately, I appreciate the twitter account because I am a “twitterer”: as a result, the tweets of grass that are offered up serve as reminders to me to remain up-to-date on my readings and allows me see which lines resonated with the person who created the account.

As my search for presence of Walt Whitman in pop culture continued, I ran into this cartoon attached to an op-ed piece on the Bloomberg website:
Walt Whitman, First Artist of Finance

Written by Robert Schiller, the piece cites Whitman’s novel “Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times” as one of the his attempts to earn money suggesting that “fiction” is “more marketable than poetry.”  Ultimately, Schiller’s commentary focuses on “the myths surrounding economic equality in our society.” As a result, He utilizes Whitman’s attempts to earn money as something other than a writer of poetry. I believe Whitman would sarcastically retort “Why not simply a writer?” While I believe that Schiller is justified in his use of Whitman as an example of a pioneering poet, thus far my reading of Whitman lead me to believe that he was anti-materialist and if he did seek to earn money that it was for the purpose of publishing his poetry for the masses.    

In the same vein, I believe Levi’s brand jeans utilized a poem that was meant for the masses to market their legendary denim in 2009. I was hesitant to utilize this advertisement out of fear of oversaturation, but the uneasiness that I felt watching the commercial outweighed my fear. The easiness I felt while watching the advertisement stems from the marketers choice of models more than the choice of using Whitman's poem.  I have mentioned previously that I believe that Whitman's Leaves of Grass speaks to modernity and that modernity and expansion are inextricably linked.  Levi's denim jeans were created as a response to the needs of gold miners who needed "durable" pants. In and of itself, the Goldrush of the late 1840's and early 1850's represents expansion and provides the missing link for me between Whitman and Levi's. The more I view the commercial, the more I can envision Walt wearing the jeans that are more commonly associated with hipsters presently than gold miners of the past.  


  1. [Hi! You were randomly selected for this week's obligatory homework assignment: offer constructive feedback on three other student's Whitman project. I hope you find this comment both illuminating and entertaining. Thanks!]

    I intend to do the same project, so hopefully we can aid each other in our endeavors. Although, and let me try to understand you correctly, are you suggesting that your project will focus more on the negative ways in which Whitman has influenced modernity? Or instead defend misconceptions or corruptions of his character? Or something completely different?

    If the former then you may have a more interesting subject matter on your hands, but it will be more difficult. It's hard enough to find traces of Walt at all, let alone negative ones. If the latter, you will help improve society by correcting injustice towards this great poet, but it may not be particularly useful other than sounding smart at parties ("Actually, like, I think Whitman was anti-materialist, ok?)

    Let me know if these guesses are off the mark.

  2. Please excuse the late response. I've been a little under the weather. This post was related to the weekly assignment to find Walt in pop culture. I'm going to try to put Uncle Walt "into context," as Professor Hanley would say, by doing a cross cultural look at other poems that I believe capture more of a spirit of the times in than any of the poems within Leaves of Grass.