Where was all this newfound attitude coming from? The hat, the crossed arms pose, the "I just want to ride my bike" jibber jabber? Levi normally comes across, and rides, like a guy who would have a problem dispatching an opponent in his moment of weakness. He's the Un-Lance, the Un-Mercyx. Yeah, sure, he rides pretty damn well, but he just doesn't have the kick-the-bastards-when-they-are-down instinct that every great campionisimo has. He's more of a California softy nice guy, who wants to be liked by everyone. So where does a guy like Levi, and a company like Trek, come up with this ad campaign?
It bothered me all afternoon. Then, after mulling these questions over like it was a trigonometry test and I hadn't studied, it suddenly hit me where Trek was getting Levi's whole marketing routine from:
We want to be free! We want to be free to do what we want to do! We want to be free to ride. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man! And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. And that's what we are gonna do. We are gonna have a good time... We are gonna have a party.
That's what Peter Fonda's Heavenly Blue character says while delivering the eulogy for his friend, Loser, in Roger Corman's execrable 60's biker (motorcyclist) flick, "The Wild Angels".
Then right after that speech, ol' Blue takes a bunch of prohibited prohibited drugs, chugs a bunch of whisky, desecrates the church, knocks out the preacher, and leads motorcycle 'club' in an inside-the-church gang rape of Loser's ex-old lady. Near as I can tell, that was pretty much the equivalent of a hitting for the cycle as far as blasphemy goes, a triple crown of transgression.
I'm sure Levi and Trek didn't intend to send quite that message when they came up with their ad campaign. But it immediately triggered these associations for me, and because I ain't that unique probably caused others to make the same, or similar connections. The cultural cues are there on the surface, even if the ad campaign doesn't trot out the entire historical subcontext for you. You can't help but associate "just let Levi ride" with similar pleas from Heavenly Blue and earlier (bad) biker films. C'mon, man. Levi just wants to ride his machine, and not get hassled by the man, man.
That's the problem with our pastiche pop culture and the marketing habit of appropriating cultural artifacts without attribution or context, just recycling them as if culture was an enormous compost heap. Thing is, all the crap you just toss on the pile doesn't just turn into nice tomatoes. Like a lot of other forms of cheating: you can start co-opting pop culture messages to support your cause, crafting something thinking it will turn out alright, but you have no idea about what kinds of conclusions people will draw about you along the way, and what kind of associations they will make and what kind of trouble it will ultimately land you in.
Sure, people can interpret your intentions the wrong way, but that's how it works. Like say you were a pro cyclist and your boss was accused of cheating over a long period of years, and you followed him to a new team known for cheating, run by a sketchy, sketchy government. People might think you are a cheater. Not saying you are, but that's the conclusion a lot of people might draw.
Things happen in a context. It's a mistake to think they can be easily divorced from it.