"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 February 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Jean Splicing



It's not news that brand names

have long since replaced

adjectives in the discourse of

popular culture. As Bret Easton

Ellis so tragically proved, it's

much easier to describe

"character" in terms of products

consumed than through situations

which would shape and mold

personality - and it leaves that

much more room for "invasive"

explorations of character. But

after a brand name achieves the

level at which it no longer

stands out among common

nouns, when its mention in

movies and songs and children's

books (House. Tree. Coke. Dog.)

is no longer a case of product

placement but of common sense,

then the ad men fly to San Juan

and spend the rest of their days

forever in blue jeans...uh,

Levi's that is.



Of course, when a single product

name begins to represent all

products within a given category

(not that we would ever call our

Girbauds Levi's), additional

means are needed to protect

the brand identity. One

recourse is the pursuit of

authenticity, seen in the site's

historical section, Faded -

undoubtedly referring to the

memories of American public school

graduates. Given Levi's status

as an integral part of Every

American's Casual Uniform, a

company timeline makes some

degree of sense - even if the

language employed therein does

not: "Yes, it's true. Even back

then Levi's jeans were considered

the coolest."



Levi's history writ hip packages

the past in "featured decades."

Summations such as that for the

1930s - "this was a big decade

for new stuff" - might lead one

to believe that the folks at

levi.com weren't working too

hard on this section. But when

it comes to describing any

event's political impact, you

can almost feel the muscles

pulled as they stretch

historical truth, courtesy the

World Book Encyclopedia, into a

smooth gloss. A "fairly major

decade for women"? Come on.



But these would-be George

contributors really hit their

stride in this absurdly

noncommittal assessment of

Franklin Roosevelt: "There are

many who agree with his policies

and many who complain that even

today we're still paying for

them. However, at the time it

may have been just what the

doctor ordered." Wonder if the

presence of Spike Lee in the Levi

director stable keeps them

from using this tack in

describing the Civil Rights




Of course, history can be as much

about what's left out as what's

included, and Levi's

appreciation of the past is as

even-handedly all-embracing as

the global market whose fly it

buttons: "Fact is, if you've

raved, raved much, raved a

little, or even wanted to rave

at all, it's part of your

history too." We do belong!


[Inner Seam]

Historical losses aside, what

disappoints most about the site

is that Levi appears to be

playing their B team. While the

downloadable presence of Gus Van

Sant's evocative "They're even

better the second day" ad would

excite film buffs and pedophiles

alike, the majority of the site

consists of misguided attempts

to educate on trends whose

cutting edge wouldn't slice a

gummi worm.


[La Di Da]

This means learning more than

you wanted to know about "top

girl DJs around the world," like

one named "La Di Da" from "the

now funky Czech Republic."

(Because, as we all know,

funkiness is a fringe

benefit of capitalism.) Then

there's the section titled "Bomb

the Wall," whose art, from

intriguing to inexplicable, left

us comfortably numb.



Levi's applause for artist Mark

Jackson takes these art-world

leanings to their most absurd

conclusion. Ever since the Zoom

years, people have invented

languages and wielded them like

private jokes to secure a slice

of respect via confusion. While

we credit much of our appeal to

this phenomenon, Levi's

exploration of "Strecnology"

recreates the glory of

obfuscation with one crucial

misstep: they explain too much. A

term like ISAPT (Interactive

Space Age Paint Technologies)

does sound provocative, but once

we find out it refers to

correction fluid, the glamour is



[He Likes It!]

Then there's the

behind-the-scenes look at some

Levi commercials, in its own

way as fascinating a study of

modern media as The Real World

Reunion. Seemingly derived from

some marketing interoffice memo,

much of this rhetoric is best

left behind boardroom doors,

such as the mention that one new

commercial "hints at elements of

past Levi Strauss & Co. ads but,

will create a stir in its own

right" and that another is

"inspired by the current

interest in cyber-space and

space travel."



Come to think of it, much of the

philosophy-meets-lingo sounds

sort of familiar: "The beat is

energy. It cannot be destroyed."

"Dig on what's dope and

eliminate what's not." "Either

you ride the wave of the future

or you drown in it." We're left

with a vague suspicion that Levi

and Yoda were once in cahoots.

After all, given Levi's success

over the past century, you have

to figure they have the power of

the Force behind them, at the

very least.



Unfortunately, it would take a

force more profound than

anything envisioned by George

Lucas to successfully marry the

kinetic whimsy of Levi's TV

vignettes to the slow-boat

drudgery of net technology.

Reason #374 why Spike Jonez is

more likely to direct the next

Tampax ad than levi.com 2.0?

It's not just the budget, it's

the stunts - and, as Spike makes

clear in his on-site interview,

it's all about stunts. Obviously,

cameras mounted onto soapbox

racers are still more compelling

than QuickCams mounted to closet




Then again, making a website

more entertaining than a pair

of wet jeans might not make a

great stunt, but it would be

more fun than watching the

Spiv cycle.

courtesy of Polly Esther