Ginsberg’s “tanked-up clatter” vs. the Gray Flannel Suit vs. a Third Way
Peace for the Listening Lurking Capitalist
We’re at the Beats and Allen Ginsberg and Howl now in our march through modern poetry. A recent discussion took in a stanza that seems relatively autobiographical, describing Ginsberg’s failed flirtation with advertising:
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue
amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regi-
ments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertis-
ing & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down
by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
There is lots to talk about in this section (indeed, the entirety of Howl begs for response and discussion), including “leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter” and the irresistible “nitroglycerine shrieks.”
Of particular interest to me was the quickness with which our TA/discussion buddies blasted the hackiness of advertising copy. Of course the poets are right (and anybody actually creating ads readily confesses to their role in purveying crass capitalism), still…not everything is “clumsy, tacky copywriting.” That knee-jerk reaction to advertising covers a lot of ground well. But the comment misses the diabolical under-the-skin genius of the copy that got through and has already been ingested and now guides our subconscious. Professor Al hit closer to home when brought up “very slick” old slogans that remain memorable. Ginsberg’s insights at that point are perceptive and well-wrought, but I cannot help but insist on seeing the beauty of some advertising. The turn of a phrase that attaches (yes, at times parasitically to a target brain) is, well, amazing. It’s a kind of poetry let loose among today’s pages and screens and whispers.
There is a way to be at peace with using creativity to solve business problems. The way of peace wanders alongside the grove of manipulation without wandering in. This path follows a course of respectful persuasion, with nods to the “I and Thou” while resolutely trimming and toning messages for real-life use.
There is a way between “clumsy, tacky” and slick manipulation. That is a way of service that can be beautiful in its workmanlike portrayal of practical truths.