I’m sorry, but I'm about to ruin your day. I’m probably the most cynical of your Break editors. When a baby or a cute pet makes the homepage, it is rarely because I was the one who wanted it. I’m also the first one to think some video is a viral ad instead of some amazing feat that just happened to get captured on film. The thing online that I have the least amount of patience for is Internet slacktivism, which brings me to the "Fitch The Homeless" video that is big on Break right now.
This is a great video, huh? USC student Greg Karber, feeling an upwelling of outrage at a seven-year-old statement made by a CEO of a company that has long traded on imagery of ripped, white guys, made a video “rebranding” Abercrombie & Fitch by taking A&F clothes to homeless people. You see the A&F CEO made the mistake of saying what all of the company’s actions had long since made clear: Fat people, ugly people, uncool people are not a part of the Abercrombie & Fitch image. Never mind that almost every clothing store in every mall tacitly endorses this very same message in their everyday practices from not stocking plus-size clothes to sticking twig chicks in every single advertisement for their store.
Karber’s video spread like wildfire. Of course it would. You know why? Because it’s the kind of video that makes you feel like there is good in the world even though those Abercrombie shirts he gave out aren’t going to help any of those homeless people get a job or the meds they probably need since they’re homeless and there is a high correlation between homelessness and mental disease.
It’s the kind of video that makes you feel like you’re making a difference by sharing that video on your Facebook and Twitter account. By “liking” the video, you’re endorsing the message behind the video. That’s called “raising awareness.” You know what you aren’t doing by liking the video? Donating Abercrombie & Fitch clothes to the homeless. The video gives that as its call to action, but really a #fitchthehomeless hashtag is all that’s going to come of it.
We love these kind of campaigns because once we stamp of Likes of approval on them, we’re done. Other people are going to see these videos, these blog posts, and these pictures, and they’re going to do something to rectify whatever is wrong with the world. It’s called slacktivism as a slight to my generation (slackers) and because it requires little effort. I think it’s also useful to think of it as requiring someone else to take up the slack in order to make anything happen. I’m not sure what Greg even wants to happen as a result of all of this.
Let’s take one more look at the Fitch The Homeless video. First off, what is the real problem being addressed in the video? Homelessness or bigotry in retail fashion? The more serious problem is the former, but the issue being addressed is really the latter. The homeless are just props in this campaign. What’s the end game? It doesn’t appear to be to deprive A&F of customers or sales, which would really hurt the company. In fact, the end game appears only to be to make Abercrombie & Fitch more visible by having it on every street corner in America. That’s how the “rebranding” is to occur. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Abercrombie & Fitch got so embarrassed by this campaign that they began hiring plain people and stocking larger sizes, is it ok, then, to stop giving your Abercrombie clothes to the homeless?
Call me a cynic, but this whole campaign seems like a muddled mess, which makes it the perfect slacktivist campaign for Facebook. It raises awareness, accomplishes nothing, and is something to talk about online for the next 24-48 hours. Am I wrong? Convince me in the comments.
- Earnest (Follow me on twitter @earnestp)