Deafheaven and Ray-Ban collaborate to donate cringe across the planet.
From the first time I saw 1986’s homoerotic volleyball thriller/military propaganda tool Top Gun, I’ve held it as an inviolable truth that Ray Bans make you look really fucking cool. Likewise, from the first time I cast my eyes in Acclaimed Metal Vocalist George Clarke‘s direction, I’ve been steadfast in my belief that Deafheaven is really fucking cool. “RAY BANS”, reads my left pectoral muscle. “DEAFHAVEN,” unfortunately misspelled on my right pec. These two chest tattoos guide me on my daily path to cool nirvana. Unfortunately, after seeing this recent Ray-Ban + Deafheaven advertising campaign, my faith in the relative coolness of both parties has been shaken to its core.
Luxottica-owned Ray-Ban launched an extremely ambitious advertising campaign, curiously titled #ItTakesCourage. Through this campaign, the company “encourages Ray-Ban users to be courageous in their own lives,” which is a thoroughly meaningless thing to do. For some reason, I don’t see consumers whose only common trait is a tendency to incinerate $180 for a basic pair of sunglasses suddenly engaging in civil disobedience on behalf of disadvantaged groups. But I digress.
Why Publicis, the megaglobal advertising behemoth behind this campaign, decided #ItTakesCourage would be an appropriate concept for selling sunglasses, is a mystery to me. The campaign is clearly co-opting activist language to add emotional weight to ads for luxury sunglasses. For such a heavy-handed concept, it’s surprising the creative team didn’t go further with their print ads. Here, I made one for you:
Which brings us to an unexpected but fitting bedfellow for luxury consumer goods: Deafheaven. This California black metal band has enraged metal purists endlessly since the release of 2013’s pink-covered ode to desperately wanting a luxury-filled lifestyle, Sunbather. The band’s conventionally handsome frontman, with his stylish clothes and hair, is a typical target for vitriol. In the context of an ad campaign, George Clarke is an excellent model. Perhaps the campaign should have settled for aesthetically pleasing photography of The Greatest Wizard‘s supple frame and withering good looks instead of releasing this amusing mess of branded content disguised as a Deafheaven profile. This shiny shitshow is wrapped up in a vague concept of “FACE CRITICS.” From the very start the profiler swings for the fences:
When George Clarke was a 16-year-old punk growing up in Modesto, Calif., he had this trick. It involved a tiny flame. Before school, or occasionally there in the hallway, he would take a lighter to his sharpened black stick of eyeliner—typically procured from the local Sally Beauty Supply—in order to make it blear on thicker, like charcoal. (Liquid eyeliner was too complicated: “We were brutish and didn’t take our time.”) A spiritual descendant of such goth luminaries as Bauhaus and the Cure, Clarke wore black eyeshadow as well. He did not care when classmates disapproved. “It always ended with this bitter thought,” he recalls now with a knowing laugh, “‘You’re stupid and I’m not, you don’t get what I’m doing. And that’s your fault, not mine.’”
I bet “Teenage Punk Wears Makeup, Shocks Peers” was a pretty thrilling headline in the 70s.
(On a whim, I ask Clarke about opera, and he enthusiastically recounts how he and Deafheaven bassist Stephen Clark were recently discussing Pavarotti—“how serene opera can be even though it’s so dramatic.”)
****DEAFENING FART NOISES**** So dramatic. So serene, you guys.
With that, it has been well documented that Deafheaven’s awed and blackened dreamscape has often appeared to the chagrin of black metal purists. From behind their computer screens, these keyboard-critics find that Deafheaven sully the genre’s sanctity by making it more palatable—by taking a purposefully unapproachable form of music and making it accessible, by commodifying an underground art, by making it inclusive rather than exclusive, by swapping out its mystique for a clearly-defined face, by effectively complicating it. (“The whole idea is tired to me,” Clarke sighs.)
I am hardly a Deafheaven detractor. I chose New Bermuda as my favorite record of 2015. As a matter of fact, I think it’s awesome that these fellas can actually make some money in a field that generally rewards years of hard work with endless kicks in the ass. Many in the internet blogosphere have been unnecessarily cruel towards the band. BUT LET’S GET REAL FOR A SECOND. Deafheaven are hardly the first band to create dreamy, shoegaze-influenced black metal. They are, however, the first to accept a very public, very sloppy blowjob from a luxury sunglasses manufacturer.
The biggest rule Deafheaven have broken, in Clarke’s eyes, is in their willingness to be incredibly vulnerable.
As a band, Deafheaven always remind me of a mantra from ambient master Brian Eno, one he shared in the 1993 film Imaginary Landscapes: “Go to an extreme and then retreat to a more useful position.” In learning from the extremes of black metal, but refusing to limit the breadth of their imagination or the fullness of their heart, Deafheaven have effectively raised the stakes of a strident sound.
Thank you for your shockingly pretentious interjections, Person Who Is Profiling Deafheaven.
Every aspect of this ad campaign, from the tortured writing, to the problematic hashtag, to the throwback 90s imagery of print ads, is bad. There are so many moving pieces that the campaign is almost impressive in its twitching wreck of directionless ambition. I hope whoever wrote this horrible “FACE CRITICS” creative brief is prepared to face the very real criticism of this campaign: It’s hella lame, dude.
I’m still a fan of Deafheaven’s music, but I’m glad these ads have turned me off of Ray-Bans. It’s foolish to spend more than $20 on a pair of sunglasses, anyway. They’re bound to get destroyed in the pit.