Colin Kaepernick is sexxxy. The way inspirational historical figures are. It gets confusing: do you wanna be like them, around them, with them, under/behind them or just them? Desire(s) are complex forces. That’s where-when corporations get in and seal the deal(s). I want to talk about corporate sex, fashion justice and other conundrums that matter.
Kaepernick is a legit Hero, archetypal in his trials. State-sanctioned brutality, exploitation of non-white labor, subjugation of black masculinity, repression of political dissent. (R)evolution as a spiral: haters can burn their shoes nailed to crosses in every damn backyard and unbothered youth of tomorrow will ‘gram their new Nike footprints in the ashes of history. The arch bends towards justice. #ImWithKaep … Nike’s corporate legacy errs on the side of athletes aligned with social progress: from Michael Jordan’s “banned by NBA” shoes to Serena Williams’ “banned by the French Open” bodysuit. The long-term empowering impact of these boardroom decisions cannot be overestimated. Nike deserves credit for just doing it. It’s right and major and yes! Or, “a terrible message“, as President Trump put it.
And… we’d be amiss to fall for the feel-good narrative alone. Nike’s market share dominance has been under pressure from Adidas, a rival with recent double digits growth. The hyped post-Kaepernick ad “boycott” has actually driven sales up by 30%. In 2018, justice is good for bu$iness. I note this not to invalidate Nike’s industry leadership or undermine its contractual player’s sheer epic-ness, but to encourage more brands to go soul-searching. As corporate personhood looms, a friend like Nike is good to have. However, it’s equally important to hold the corporation accountable for its production practices. The company currently scores 36/100 on the Fashion Transparency Index and has watched its media coverage slipping from headlines like “How Nike Solved Its Sweatshop Problem” in 2013 to “Escalating Sweatshop Protests Keep Nike Sweating” in 2017. Can we as consumers admire and admonish a brand at the same time? In 140 characters or less? In a likable square format? There’s a fine line there and I lack confidence in our collective fine-combing.
… which brings me to Nutella, Norway and Sex … JUST STAY WITH ME …
In Berlin earlier this summer, I was struck by some of the U-bahn ads. I couldn’t identify my unease at first, but I collected the receipts, in case. Nutella was telling me to B-Ready! In combination with its bright red lettering, it was alarming. Ready for what?! Nutella is supposed to provide stress-relief eating, not induce stress… Oh. Then, Fritz Kola was fronting as Banksy with its hip riff on the liberté, égalité, fraternité battle-cry of the French Revolution. While N26 Bank was calling for no bullshit and an uncomplicated relationship. Altogether, I am taken aback by the corporate co-opting of social justice, public safety and streetwise rhetoric for direct advertising purposes. If corporations were people, these three’d be annoying af. I didn’t ask them how to live. Sugar-high on second mortgage, I guess.
…and now, the SEX part. Corporate f*ckery got bolder.
Later in the summer, two more (un)related stories struck me as huh. In Norway, the US-owned convenience store chain 7-Eleven released an ad welcoming tourists to the land of fjords and chlamydia. I’ma let comedian John Oliver take it from here. The thing to know is that the data behind the claim is contested but largely true and condom use promotion is a laudable public safety effort. Do we need this tip from an American “corporate person”? How acceptable is this corporate intervention in my (sex) tourism plans? Should we rely on corporations for sex ed now? Another US-owned chain, Burger King, took the discourse further during the World Cup in Russia. It offered cash and a lifetime supply of whoppers to any Russian woman who would get pregnant by any World Cup team player. True story. Why is this American “corporate person” doing this?! It’s easy to deflect blame on rogue local offices, and both US corporations did so. I see it as a test run, a corporate foray into reproductive rights… And we thought getting and keeping politicians out of our bedrooms and away from our genitals was difficult!
… and now, back to NIKE.
As corporations, in their legal personhood, get more proactively and explicitly involved in all the aspects of our lives… this is a conversation we’ll be coming back to. Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are. That adage is “so last century”. It’s all about the brands! With social media – itself made of corporate entities – most of us don’t know most of our “friends” anymore. But check my (non)burnt Nike! That speaks loud & clear. From politics to reproductive rights, corporations are claiming their stakes. CNN Money reports that among the 18-34 year-olds Nike’s latest moves resonate as positive with 44% of respondents, reaching 68% approval within certain segments. This sexually active demographic accounts for 2/3 of Nike’s revenue. We’re in this for the long haul. And authenticity is still the hardest earned currency!
Serena Williams had posted this pair of baby shoes designed exclusively for her child by Nike with creative direction from Virgil Abloh who is also the menswear director at Louis Vuitton. The world’s largest sportswear corporation and the world’s largest luxury conglomerate support the world’s greatest athlete (and her baby). How appropriate! (?) I went through all the awwws and omgs first. It! Is! Cute! Though, mostly, I’m feeling uneasy and unreconciled about the Big Picture of all this. The very near future will require us to do more than “just wear it”. B-Ready. Now, where’s my damn Nutella?!