Photo Credit: Mathew Brady
Walt Whitman in Bogey's white shirt.
Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
All seems beautiful to me.
—This is Walt Whitman for Volvo.
Don’t get me wrong. I depend on advertising for my living, and Flagpole in its earlier years used a lot of movie stills in ads, until that day we received a letter from The Humphrey Bogart Foundation informing us that we owed them $8,000 for using a picture of Bogey wearing a white dress shirt in an ad for Gibson’s Menswear. It all turned out OK, but it surely taught us a lesson.
If you’re like me, and you stay glued to MSNBC to keep your outrage screwed to the sticking point, then you’ve been bombarded lately with the advertisement for the new Volvo S90, in which a cool guy with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard takes off on a road trip, while the voiceover cherrypicks a few lines from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.” I guess old Walt’s copyright ran out a long time ago, so he’s fair game to try to help the former Swedish auto company seem quintessentially American, even though it’s now owned by the Geely Holding Group, a Chinese multinational corporation.
Now, y’all: Believe me, I love Volvos. I drive a Volvo so old it was made in Sweden. I’m happy for the guy in the ad who takes his road trip and has that staring contest with the fox. But look: Google yourself up a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.” There’s a whole education waiting for you right there in that one glorious “barbaric yawp,” as Emerson called it before he warmed to Walt.
“Song of the Open Road” is a glorious evocation of all-embracing life—men, women, blacks, whites, rich, poor, everybody—and life lived outside, “in the open air,” not in an air-conditioned car. Walt Whitman writes about getting out amongst the folks, all the folks. He took to the open road literally afoot, and he sings the song of the America he passed through, challenging us all to celebrate each other in all our differences and to open our eyes to the glories of this wonderful country.
The voiceover for the car ad, on the other hand, seems to stress how it is all “mine.” Selecting those few lines out of Walt’s sprawling, all-inclusive poem, makes it all seem beautiful to “me,” seen through the windshield of a luxury automobile.
Forgive me. Rachel has made me jumpy. It just seems like selfishness is the new normal. I know it always has been, but lately it seems to have the government stamp of approval. Hazel Moates said, “No man with a good car needs to be justified.” Apparently, the same thing is true for health insurance under the new Republican plan. Anybody who can afford a Volvo S90 will get a good insurance rate and a fat tax break. It’s those who can’t afford luxury cars who won’t be able to afford health insurance, either, and will have their insurance subsidies cut instead of their taxes.
The Republicans can say with Walt Whitman, “All seems beautiful to me,” because it is all rigged now to benefit the guys with the big cars. Those walking, not so much.
In fact, Joe Wisenbaker, the “Grumpy Retiree,” notes that the “death panels” are back. Read the whole thing on his Grumpy Retiree Facebook page. Here’s his gist.
“My take is that our majority-party members are in the process of acting as a death panel—something that never existed under the ACA. The kinds of ‘economies’ they are looking to impose will put many people at risk for the ‘benefit’ of being able to ultimately reduce the taxes paid by the well off. Further, the consequences on our health ‘system,’ as flawed as it is, will do nothing but imperil the lives of retirees such as ourselves. Precipitous and ill-considered changes to health care economics in the service of a political agenda will kill far more surely than refugees turning to terrorism.”
Makes it pretty difficult to be light-hearted.