Robert Frost shilling Jeeps?

Unless it’s the Superbowl, I usually don’t pay attention to ads when I watch live tv. So watching the X-Games last Sunday, I was tuning out during the ad breaks when a familiar, sonorous voice broke through my inattention — “The woods are lovely dark and deep…”
Looking up, I saw a Jeep plowing through a snowy woods and and heard Robert Frost intoning “and miles to go before I sleep.”
I paused the TV.
“Come quick!” I shouted to my husband. “You are not going to believe this. They are using Robert Frost to shill Jeeps!” (If you haven’t seen the ad, go ahead and watch it now. I’ll wait… Done? Ok.)

I was flabbergasted. Floored. Furious. I had an instant “It’s the end of the world.” “Robert Frost spinning in his grave.” #i_don’t_want_to_live_on_this_planet_anymore reaction.

Since then I’ve had a bit of a change of heart, and I’ll tell you why. You see, because of this ad there are thousands of people who have never heard of Robert Frost or read one of his poems that are being exposed to the beauty of his words. Really. I can prove it.

Using Google Trends, you can see that searches for Robert Frost and “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” have not spiked significantly in January (meaning that people who see the ad and identify the Robert Frost poem are not looking it up) but if you look at the google trends for phrases that are quoted from the poem such as “woods are lovely” and “miles to go before I sleep” you will see a big spike in January that coincides with the first airing of the ad:

So there are thousands of people who are reading Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” for the first time.
Maybe some of them will then read a couple of Frost’s other poems.
And perhaps a few of them will discover a love of poetry.
And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Or maybe we should go with my first gut reaction and arm ourselves with pitchforks and storm the Henry Holt offices in protest.

What do you think, fellow poetry lovers?

For your weekly poetry fix, head on over to Poetry Friday hosted this week by Karissa at The Iris Chronicles.

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11 Responses to Robert Frost shilling Jeeps?

  1. Pingback: Poetry Friday | The Iris Chronicles

  2. Tabatha says:

    It’s an interesting question. That comes up a lot with classical music and other songs, too. On the one hand, I think it’s nice that people are motivated to look into it and learn more about the words. On the other hand, people who loved that poem already don’t want to associate it with Jeeps.

  3. Katya, you pose a very interesting question! I’m of two minds about it, too. Not crazy about the cheapening of art if used to sell stuff, but glad if it somehow reaches more folks. Maybe other commenters today will offer more wisdom. Thanks for the discussion!

  4. Rich Bowen says:

    The reason that I love Frost (and Neruda, and Wendell Berry) is that they use common language to point out the breathtaking beauty in common things. (Neruda’s book “odes to common things” is by far my favorite poetry book.) Exposing more people to these poets is bound to create some new poetry lovers. Much more so than, say, Wordsworth or Dickenson. They’re both great poets, but they are much harder to read, and so contribute to the “I hate poetry” feeling that I hear so many people saying who, it generally turns out, haven’t actually read any poetry worth reading.

    Anyways, all that to say, yes, I agree with your conclusion. I don’t think that it cheapens art to let the common man appreciate it. I consider that an awful snooty attitude, which largely contributes to the common man’s antipathy to art.

    And, after all, that Jeep is a work of art, too.

  5. david e says:

    that isn’t just frost’s poem, that’s frost himself reading it. i remember hearing the recording of him reading his own work when i was in 7th grade (on vinyl, back in the day) and the minute i heard it knew it was him.

    don’t know if his estate got a cut for that, but nice to actually hear a poet’s voice on television, even if it is shilling jeeps.

  6. Linda Baie says:

    It’s a question that is examined often at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, where my daughter works. Their mission is to make art accessible to everyone, not just those who believe they “know” art. And they have built a successful community of people who feel welcomed. Who is to say that the common arena of communication, i.e. TV, might not open a new era of poetry lovers? Jeeps can take us to nature too; maybe Frost isn’t such a poor connection? I believe I’m coming at this because my expertise is reaching middle school students, & sometimes I have taken some interesting approaches to helping students connect to poetry. I haven’t seen your ad, so really am only responding to your words. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I had seen it first. Thanks for such a thoughtful question.

  7. jama says:

    Great question, Katya!

    I understand your first reaction to the commercial, which would likely have been mine, too.

    Still, if Dylan can sell Victoria’s Secret, Frost can sell Jeeps. Everything in this country gets commercialized, sooner or later. As long as it’s done in good taste, I won’t object (and even if I did, it’s something inevitable that I can’t control).

    I like how you checked Google Trends for evidence!

  8. Polly says:

    You might like this article…
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2009/dec/02/rise-poetry-in-advertising

    discussing a recent (whisper it) Mcdonalds ad here that was depressingly well done. Not Frost tho’.

  9. Tara says:

    I may be in the minority here, but I kind of like the idea of Frost’s voice reciting his much-loved poem in this unexpected way. Like David, I remember listening to his recording on vinyl and rather thrilling at the experience – I think it’s wonderful for a modern audience to experience Frost this way…and then to run to the nearest bookstore to check out what else he wrote. It’s a gift that keeps giving, don’t you think?

  10. Julie Larios says:

    The Cynic in me wants to say that not many people watching the Super-Bowl will follow through at the library and read his work. But the True Believer in me wants Frost to enter every household in America, who cares what the delivery mode is (do those two people in me cancel each other out?) I guess I’ve also got another person in me asking “What would Robert Frost think of it?” Hmmmm…hard to believe he would be happy with it. I had a similar reaction when Madison Avenue paired up Nike Air Max with the Beatles’ song, REVOLUTION, a song which meant more to me in the 60′s than a pair of expensive basketball shoes. You know, I don’t think it’s about people being elitist and snobbish if they don’t like seeing a connection between advertising and poetry. It’s more about whether America’s consumer mind-set (“If you love America, go to the Mall…”) fits in with poetry (“If you love America, go to the library….”) I don’t think it’s about intellectuals trying to protect their little darlings from the masses, as one comment here suggests. I think it’s about an instinctive discomfort with pairing up art and conspicuous consumption. We need more Jeeps in this world? No. So banking on the possibility that Frost’s poem will somehow get us to buy a Jeep strikes me as odd. Maybe some English major who ended up with a job on Madison Avenue was desperate to share Frost in any way he or she could. I think my three voices are still arguing on this one.

  11. I love combing through the responses to your thoughtful question, Katya. I personally don’t feel any antipathy towards sharing the beauty (or is the aesthetics) of poetry in various medium – be it TV, movies, commercial ad or whatnot. I watched the video clip, I found it cool, even. The juxtaposition is so unlikely and so unexpected, it has made me grin from ear to ear. Good on you for looking at google trends as well – this might be a good research question to explore further – will encourage my graduate students to follow through on this one.

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