Buy a Hoodie, Save the World
And now, in a bizarre twist of public outrage, we are once again asked to show our support, not by thoughtful discourse or intelligent argument, but by … um, buying stuff.
Media outlets report that Trayvon Martin’s tragic death has officially been branded. Retailers across the country and on the internet are encouraging us to wear our hearts quite literally on our sleeves, as they produce T-shirts and hoodies featuring the teen who was gunned down in a Florida neighborhood a month ago.
In response to the sales, Martin’s parents have filed for two trademarks, “Justice for Trayvon” and “I am Trayvon,” in an apparent effort to keep marketers from exploiting their son’s name.
Across the country, concerned citizens are furiously buying up clothing, bumper stickers, buttons and posters. Once again, we’re doing what we’ve always done. We’re allowing merchandisers to control our message.
Some marketers claim to have noble reasons behind their efforts, while others admit to using Martin’s death to get their store name in the public eye.
Can you say, “Exploitation?”
I shouldn’t be surprised that the same nation that celebrates the birth of Christ with the purchase of iPads (and the death of Christ with chocolate bunnies) would respond to accelerated racial tensions with the purchase of a $40 hoodie. But I am.
The hard-to-swallow truth is that the way to get to an American’s heart is through his wallet (or her purse).
Clearly, it's a sign of the times. But we must ask ourselves why our indignation against every atrocity, every disease, and every injustice must be expressed through our materialism. I’d like to think that we’ve evolved some since the post-9/11 message that said the best way for Americans to fight terrorism was to go shopping. But we haven’t.
Think about it. Virtually every imaginable cause has been merchandised. Happily, we’ve bought in. Every color means something: wear pink to fight breast cancer, yellow if you support our troops, blue if you’re against bullying and red if you’re trying to raise heart disease awareness.
And don’t even get me started on the Kony phenomenon. The Kony 2012 action kit, which has since sold out (much to public fury), included a T-shirt, bracelet, action guide, stickers, buttons, and posters. On the website invisiblechildrenstore.myshopify.com the kits were sold with the following description: “People will think you’re an advocate of awesome … You can decorate yourself and the town with this one-stop shop.”
My stomach roils at the words.
This is not so much a criticism of merchandisers who are doing what they’re supposed to do, even if they do it quite “vulturistically.” After all, it’s their job to identify trends, develop merchandise, and ride the wave toward keeping them in the black. I get that.
Rather, this is a criticism of a consumeristic nation that no longer seems to know how to stand for anything if it doesn’t require them to whip out their credit cards. Our civic engagement has been replaced by one stop shopping.
It’s a wonder that Martin Luther King’s message survived at all without “I have a dream” T-shirts clothing the nation.
Ah, you say, but that was another time. Yes, it was.
I don’t wish to live in that time again, knowing that both African Americans and women were severely repressed and discriminated against. But I do wish we could move beyond the lie that “justice will be served” if (and only if) we purchase a hoodie that states that.