|Nike sweatshop in China.|
The Great Nike Wars of 2018 are fascinating, but neither because of Colin Kaepernick nor the “post-purchase boycott” shredding of gear.
Rather, it’s about a tacit admission that by now, we’re all branded by brands. We accept corporate America’s framing of the terms of consumer engagement just as totally as peasants in medieval Europe did the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
We’re resisting the wrong thing. You can’t burn your Nikes, then grab a bite at Chick-fil-A. You can’t make Kaepernick’s ad your Fb cover photo, then trot over to Target. Of course, you can — but there’s more than a little hypocrisy in the choices.
In a few minutes, I’ll be publishing this entry. Quite a lot of you will open fire from both angles on social media without the essential component of reading the linked essays. Just be aware that in this day and age, genuine resistance takes the form of actually doing homework.
Following are three takes; first, a veteran columnist from the Bay Area.
Nike backs Kaepernick: A declaration of war? by Scott Ostler (San Francisco Chronicle)
Nike has made Colin Kaepernick the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.
From its vast roster of superstar endorsers, Nike is shining its gigantic spotlight on an unemployed quarterback who is taking legal action against the NFL, and whose kneel-down protest against police brutality has split America roughly down the middle.
Nike’s campaign means war. Cultural, political, economic, social.
Writing for The Nation, Dave Zirin finds the center of the target.
Global, multibillion-dollar corporations that run an archipelago of sweatshops don’t underwrite rebellions. They co-opt and quash them. If anyone can navigate this snakepit, it is Colin Kaepernick, but it won’t be easy. The revolution will not be branded. We should be honest about that. The message of standing up to police violence and racial inequity shouldn’t end up in a swoosh-laded graveyard. That’s the risk that comes with this sponsorship. But if anyone has earned the right to take that risk, it’s Colin Kaepernick.
But it’s The Baffler for the win.
Something for Nothing, by Nathaniel Friedman (The Baffler)
If corporations come off as sinister and oppressive, brands convey a message that’s relentlessly personable and accessible. We’re haunted by the aloof, godlike specter of corporations whenever we pay our bills or contemplate our election-season choices; we engage with brands on a daily basis, allowing them to define us even as we reciprocally try to define their uses and significations. And perhaps most essentially, we ascribe meaning to them apart from what they actually are. In what one might terms the Citizens United style deregulation of commerce in our psyches, we relate to brands as if there were an ideology, agency, and governing sentiment underlying them. Brands are companions, friends, and allies. The alternative—that we’re all dupes incapable of imagining a life not circumscribed by our relationship with these entities—is absolutely grim and raises all sorts of difficult questions in its own right.
Viewed in the context of the charged psychic minefield of brand symbolism, the embrace of the Kaepernick ad as an unconditional triumph is a gesture of self-preservation. The current state of debate surrounding putative loyalty to the national anthem and the NFL—both patriotic brands cultivating a similarly charged sort of signification among a very different consumer demographic—requires us to interpret the Nike-branded message as a token of progress because otherwise we would have to admit how cut off we are from any real version of dissent or meaningful opposition. Our own capacity to trust Nike belies an underlying sickness that we would rather not address. That we are okay with a politics mediated by brands puts the onus on us—which is to say, where it should ultimately belong. Unless Nike stuns everyone by expanding its partnership with Kaepernick to the point of adopting his worldview to influence corporate practices, we should view these efforts neutrally. Having Kaepernick around is good for the discourse; but our own ready inclination to pat Nike on the back for the culture-war troubles it’s now fending off largely by design points to some disquieting truths about ourselves.
Being pro-Kaepernick doesn’t require you be anti-capitalism. Nor does seeing value in the ad make you a sinister sell-out. Ideally, though, the ad’s appearance can serve as a teachable moment, illuminating our relationship with brands even as the Kaepernick-Nike alliance also highlights the consumer psychology at work in establishing and cultivating our loyalty to consumer brands: their agendas, their putative virtues, or their capacity for political action. Corporations wield real power. But brands are a figment that we feed every day—and if we ever we plan to reckon with them, we must also truly reckon with ourselves.