If it makes you mad, you'll click on it. And more brands are catching on.
This year's London Fashion Week attracted the standard cornucopia of high end brands showcasing their weird-as-hell designs, from Victoria Beckham disregarding the impracticality of peep toe boots in the winter to Burberry debuting a hoodie with a noose as the drawstring.
Yes, they did that. And yes, everyone was uncomfortable.
Liz Kennedy took to Instagram this week to voice not only her opposition to the clothing item, but how flippantly her concerns were disregarded at the fashion show. "Suicide is not fashion," she posted. "It is not glamorous nor edgy and since this show is dedicated to the youth expressing their voice, here I go.
"Riccardo Tisci and everyone at Burberry it is beyond me how you could let a look resembling a noose hanging from a neck out on the runway. How could anyone overlook this and think it would be okay to do this especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth. The impressionable youth. Not to mention the rising suicide rates world wide. Let's not forget about the horrifying history of lynching either."
After her post gained media attention, Burberry was quick to respond with a rote apology. Marco Gobbetti, the brand's chief executive officer, issued a statement to CNN, "We are deeply sorry for the distress caused by one of the products that featured in our A/W 2019 runway collection. Though the design was inspired by the marine theme that ran throughout the collection, it was insensitive and we made a mistake."
But the line's nautical theme was inconsequential, as Kennedy noted, "There are hundreds of ways to tie a rope and they chose to tie it like a noose completely ignoring the fact that it was hanging around a neck. A massive brand like Burberry who is typically considered commercial and classy should not have overlooked such an obvious resemblance." She went on to describe feeling "extremely triggered" by the drawstrings' resemblance to a noose, alluding to a history of suicide within her family. She added, "The issue is not about me being upset, there is a bigger picture here of what fashion turns a blind eye to or does to gain publicity."
Burberry is only the latest fashion brand to release a wildly problematic clothing item, as there's been an uptick in the bizarre trend of companies trading outrage for publicity. Earlier this month, Gucci pulled a black "wool balaclava sweater" from its stores after public backlash highlighted its resemblance to blackface. Gucci stated on Twitter that the brand "deeply apologizes for the offense caused" and gave a bland, generic claim to "consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld."
But when Piers Morgan is the voice of reason, something is sorely wrong. In response to the blackface sweater, Morgan posted, "I refuse to believe NOBODY at @gucci realised this would create a 'black face' racial firestorm...unless every member of their staff is a complete halfwit...which leads me to suspect they did it deliberately...which, if true, makes Gucci despicably cynical."
I refuse to believe NOBODY at @gucci realised this would create a 'black face' racial firestorm.... ...unless every… https://t.co/iqLpSZWLFn— Piers Morgan (@Piers Morgan)1549556190.0
In fact, it is unlikely that no one objected to Gucci or Burberry's inflammatory designs. It wouldn't even be out of the ordinary if they pursued outrage as a form of marketing. In 2018, Forbes published "Let's Get Emotional: The Future of Online Marketing," detailing how "emotions can boost an ad's virality online." While this scans true insofar as consumers' feelings toward a company inform their brand loyalty, strong negative reactions toward a brand or a product are just as powerful.
The day Gucci recalled its blackface sweater, the brand became a trending Twitter topic. After Burberry apologized for its noose hoodie, the hashtags #Burberry and #BurberryNoose accrued hundreds of Tweets per hour. As Alex Nichols wrote in The Outline's article, Please Buy Our Product That Makes You So Mad, "This proposition is undoubtedly highly attractive to advertisers, who normally have to fork over $200,000 to get something trending on Twitter. Here's my theory: corporate marketing departments are setting out to hijack this process, thus accomplishing the same thing—but for free."
The key is to incur outrage. With the global advertising industry worth over a trillion dollars in 2017 (over $190 billion in online marketing alone), of course brands are aware of the public's most temperamental topics. In the U.S., the largest advertising market in the world, any imagery stirring racial tensions or bipartisan conflict is a shortcut to free publicity, because the Internet exists as a vent for outrage.
Nichols notes, "When it comes to viral marketing, listicles and promoted tweets are far less cost-effective than press releases that prod our sore spots. If any mildly politically provocative corporate announcement can dominate that day's news cycle through takes, counter-takes, meta-takes and aggregated clapbacks for a total cost of $0, what use is advertising? The onus is on us to stop falling for it."
But with social media bringing sociopolitical issues to the fore of our daily lives, aren't we a part of the problem if we don't speak out? Doesn't silence make us complicit? It seems half of America's social media users believe so. According to Pew Research Center's survey in 2018, about half of all Americans had been "civically active on social media." Specifically, 34% of respondents said they had "taken part in a group that shares an interest in an issue/cause, while 32% "encouraged others to take action on issues important to them."
Of course, long-term damage to a brand's reputation is a high risk to take for shocked Twitter mentions. So it's possible these companies are as genuinely tone deaf as they are blinded by greed for publicity. Liz Kennedy made it clear that she wasn't attacking Burberry as a brand, but its disregard for the gravity of the social issues it was so willing to tap into, posting, "I am ashamed to have been apart[sic] of the show. I did not post this to disrespect the designer or the brand but to simply express an issue I feel very passionate about."
Meanwhile, Harlem designer Daniel R. Ray took it upon himself to follow up with Gucci this week. He posted to his Instagram that he'd met with Gucci's CEO, as well as "some of the best minds from the corporate world," including "90% people of color." He wrote, "They made great demands. It's time for Gucci to answer. That is supposed to happen today...Once we have received an answer, I will be announcing a townhall meeting in Harlem for us to talk about how we feel about what they have proposed." While it's unclear if the Italy-based fashion brand will conduct an apology tour to make up for its blackface sweater, Ray maintains, "There is no excuse nor apology that can erase this kind of insult. There cannot be inclusivity without accountability."
From other fashion brands like Prada and Dolce and Gabbana to common retailers like H&M, we can't confirm what brands are thinking when they approve blatantly offensive products. One marketing expert at Metaforce, Allen Adamson, merely offers, "There is such pressure on speed that there is no time for consideration. When you are moving this fast, there is no time for perspective." So in regards to consumers, your outrage could be exactly what these brands want; but, it also works to sharpen our cultural perspective to find blackface and suicide definitively off trend.
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Breaking down the bias of comfort films.
With the constant onslaught of complicated news that 2020 has brought, sometimes you just want to be able to shut off your brain, relax, and feel happy.
Enter comfort films. These are the feel-good movies that feel like a warm hug when you finish them, the ones that allow you to escape for a short while. We often turn to these types of films in times of trouble or extreme stress, and when we're not sure what films of this nature we should watch, we turn to the Internet for options.
Rivera's "Glee" character was not just important, she was groundbreaking.
As a young queer girl growing up in the south, I was lucky that my parents weren't homophobes.
My parents believed that people were sometimes born gay, and while they wouldn't "wish that harder life" on their children, they certainly made me and my sister believe that gay people were just as worthy of love as anyone else. I was lucky.
Still, in my relatively sheltered world of Northern Virginia (a rich suburb near Washington D.C.), homophobia wasn't as blatant as hate crimes or shouted slurs, but it was generally accepted that being straight was, simply, better.
In high school, it wasn't uncommon to use "gay" as an insult or for girls to tease each other about being "lez." While many of us, if asked, would have said we were in support of gay marriage and loved The Ellen Show, being gay remained an undesirable affliction.
Even more insidious, I was instilled with the belief—by my church and my peers—that if gay and lesbian people could be straight, they would. But since they were simply incapable of attraction to the opposite sex or fitting into traditional gender roles, we should accept them as they are as an act of mercy. At the time, this kind of pity seemed progressive and noble. Those in my close circle of family and friends weren't openly dismissive or condemning of gay people, but we saw homosexuality as a clear predisposition with no gray areas.
Specifically: Gay men talked with a lilt, giggled femininely, and were interested in things that weren't traditionally "masculine." Meanwhile, gay women dressed like men, had no interest in makeup or other traditionally female interests, and probably had masculine bodies and features. In my mind, before someone came out as gay, they did everything in their power to "try to be straight" but were eventually forced to confront the difficult reality that they felt no attraction at all to the opposite sex. I viewed homosexuality not as a spectrum, but as a black and white biological predisposition that meant you were thoroughly, completely, and pitiably gay.
As a child, when I began to experience stirrings of attraction for other girls, I would reassure myself that not only had I definitely felt attraction for men in the past, but I also liked being pretty. I was a tomboy as a child, sure, but as I got older I recognized that my value was increased in the eyes of society if I tried to be a pretty girl. As it turned out, I even liked putting on clothes that made me feel good, I liked applying makeup, and I liked some traditionally "feminine" things. In my mind, this meant that I couldn't be gay, because gay women didn't like "girl" stuff.
As a teenager, I began to learn more about the difference between gender and sexuality, and the fluidity of both. I began to let myself feel some of the long-suppressed feelings of queer desire I still harbored.
Still, in the back of my mind, the instilled certainty of sexuality as an extremely rigid thing sometimes kept me up at night. What if I was gay? Would I have to change the way I looked? Would I have to give up some of the things I liked? In my mind, being gay meant your sexuality was your whole identity, and everything else about you disappeared beneath the weight of it.
But then, Santana came out as gay on Glee.
GLEE - The Santana 'Coming Out Scene' www.youtube.com
If you didn't watch Glee, than you might not know the importance of Naya Rivera's character to so many queer young women like myself. Santana was beautiful, she was popular, she had dated boys, she was feminine, she was sexy, and she was gay. There's even evidence that Santana had previously enjoyed relationships with men.
But the character came out anyways, not because she had to or because it was obvious to everyone around her that she was gay, but because her attraction to women was an aspect of her identity she was proud of. It wasn't an unfortunate reality she simply had to make the best of; it was an exciting, beautiful, aspect of her identity worth celebrating.
Before Santana, it had never really come home for me that being gay wasn't an entire identity—that it wasn't an affliction or disorder, but just another part of a person. She also didn't suddenly start wearing flannels or cutting her hair after coming out. She was the same feminine person she had always been. I had never realized that being a gay woman didn't have to look a certain way. Santana and Brittany's gay storyline showed two femme-presenting women in love, and for me, that was a revolution.
If it wasn't for Naya Rivera, we may never have had that important story line.
"It's up to writers, but I would love to represent [the LGBTQ community] because we know that there are tons of people who experience something like that and it's not comical for them in their lives," Rivera told E! News in 2011. "So I hope that maybe we can shed some light on that."
While Rivera herself wasn't gay (the importance of casting gay actors in gay roles is a separate conversation), she understood how important her character was to the queer community. "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them," Rivera told Latina magazine in 2013. "I love supporting this cause, but it's a big responsibility, and sometimes it's a lot of pressure on me."
Rivera wasn't just a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community on screen. In 2017, she wrote a "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community" for Billboard's Pride Month. In it, she wrote, "We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life."
Now, as we mourn the loss of Naya Rivera, at least we can take comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on—that the light her Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays gave us won't go out any time soon.
Excuse me, I have to go weep-sing-along to Rivera's cover of landslide now.
Glee - Landslide (Full Performance + Scene) 2x15 youtu.be
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