Dee makes two central points. One: Madison Avenue is sucking the meaning out of words that frequently pop up in ad copy, such as 'truth' and 'simple' and 'authentic.' Two: Artists have taken to collaborating with advertisers, from Lou Reed (in a spot for the BBC) to underground poet Emily XYZ (in a Nike commercial); this taints the purity of art.
As for advertisers' alleged vampirism, Dee is adamant: "The real violence," he writes, "lies in the notion that words can be made to mean anything, which is hard to distinguish from the idea that words mean nothing." This is the path of reasoning favored by the loopiest of radical feminists and other victimhood junkies: if people use words you don't like, or other people's interpretations of those words displease you, their speech constitutes 'violence.' Of course, you have to wonder who gets to decide what words really mean. Whose goals are worthy enough to permit the use of 'honest' or 'beautiful?' Is Dee, a novelist, voting for high-minded snobs like himself?
His belief that it's somehow wrong for artists to lend their work to advertisers is only moderately less objectionable. It's consumers who decide what flies and what doesn't, so advertisers use beloved songs at their own peril. Nike blew it for me with their use of the Beatles' "Revolution," but I happen to think the choice of that track was an unwise move from a sales point of view (why risk ticking off your customers?), not a moral one. Our poor novelist friend, however, hears "the hoofbeats of the horsemen of the cultural apocalypse" when he sees Lou Reed performing "Perfect Day" in that BBC commercial. Its immodest two-minute length aside, I thought it was a fine spot. Like beauty, 'appropriateness' is very much in the eye of the beholder.
If you decide to look up Dee's piece, you'll notice it's interrupted by a survey from Harper's ad department, wishing to learn more about the demographics of its