I was at out with a couple of friends the other day (as I often am, because I am very popular) when one of them complimented me on my skirt (as people often do, because I have an excellent butt).
When I said something like, "Thanks, it's American Apparel," they all dropped their special, oversized brunch forks. This created a loud clatter and everybody at the restaurant stopped to look. (Again, though, they could have just been in awe of butt.)
"How can you shop at American Apparel?" one of my friends asked. "They've institutionalized the exploitation of women, they have a history of unchecked sexual harassment, and the whole operation is run by a creepy old pervert."
"Well, the same could be said of Supreme Court," I replied, "but I don't see all of you being like, 'Oh, no thanks, no Constitutional rights for me."
RIMSHOT, right? American Appare-ntly NOT. As I pressed a hand to the cheek where they had taken turns slapping me before flipping over the table and leaving, I had a long think.
OK, maybe comparing the first amendment to a pair of piped boy short panties wasn't entirely apt, in this situation I made up strictly to illustrate a point.
But I do shop there, and I do feel guilty about it. The fact is, I find it very difficult to boycott everything I know I ought to.
It's not just American Apparel -- but they're a company whose legal troubles and (admittedly awful) advertising campaigns have made them a highly visible target for boycotting. But Corporate America (yeah, I capitalized it!) is basically "Dynasty" -- I'd venture to say that every establishment at your local mall or shopping plaza has some kind of dark, affront-to-humanity secret. All of it! I see you, Food Court.
It's easy when it's an entity that you don't like or could easily live without. "Domino's is owned by a crazy Catholic who opposes same sex marriage and abortion rights! Let's get Papa John's!" Well, yes. But also: Domino's is gross, and Papa John's has those hot peppers I like.
The question is where you draw the line. It's difficult because pretty much every company you actually like also sucks in some way. Seriously. Every single one!
In-N-Out burger is so delicious but I hate that I can't enjoy my dumb sandwich without a side of Bible verse. Never mind that fellow psalm pusher Forever 21 rips off designers and is the subject of massive labor disputes. I'd like to be able to buy a shoddily constructed top that doesn't come in a bag with a hidden religious tract on it. I mean, is every company run by a pack of fundies? It's like, "Thanks for shopping here! Oh, but don't forget, God will make you go blind for masturbating. Also, no returns, just exchanges."
If it's not religion, it's something else. Sure, you guys are all, "Jason Wu, blah blah, midnight shopping blitz," but remember like five minutes ago when Target was contributing to anti-gay gubernatorial campaigns? Remember when every Facebook friend you had posted about the abysmal conditions in Chinese iPhone factories? Remember when you guys wanted me to give up BASEBALL and SPIDER-MAN because the MLB and Marvel supported SOPA? Is Google really sponsoring CPAC? WHAT / HELP / NOT GOOGLE / THEY'RE HOW I KNOW TO HYPHENATE SPIDER-MAN.
Well, fair enough. Really! No, I'm saying, these are all legitimate points and legitmate reasons for me not to buy waffle fries from those kooks at Chik-Fil-A. Let's all talk about this stuff! I am one-hundred percent behind your decision to Not Shop where you want to not shop, and to make me feel bad about wearing Chanel nail polish because Coco was a Nazi.
I like to shop at American Apparel because I don't like things with patterns on them, and for years I found myself saying some variation of, "I wish I could just find a black T-shirt with NOTHING ON IT. Just a plain black cotton T-shirt/cotton sundress/miniskirt/tank/socks/panties." That's basically the service that they provide me. I don't bother with their lamé pants or scrunchies or what have you. I did, however, buy that dumb scarf they claim can be worn 12 different ways (It cannot. A one shouldered dress? Are you kidding me?).
There are about as many reasons why a person might not want to shop at American Apparel as there are "alleged" ways to wear that dumb scarf. Maybe you're grossed out by Dov Charney or their weird, pervy ads. Perhaps you find their hiring policies distasteful or the fact that every third person to work there has sued for sexual harrassment concerning. Or, I don't know, maybe your father was a serif font. You be you.
But eventually, being responsible will make you insane. The paychecks of everybody who works at Newscorp (this includes one Zooey Deschanel) are signed by a man who harks so closely to our idea of incarnate evil that he actually inspired a Bond villain. I mean, the man is bad news. TERRIBLE NEWS. But Newscorp is SO HUGE. It's as huge as Rupert Murdoch is evil (very! VERY EVIL!) Does this mean you have to stop watching "Archer?" I hope not. That's such a good show!
I'm not justifying my behavior in any way, because honestly, I think justifying your blind consumption as willfully blind is gross and ignorant. But I do think we need to discuss whether or not there are more or less efficient ways to manage our consumption than by not buying things. There has to be a more realistic way to effect change or voice dissatisfaction than picking a couple of companies higgledy piggledy. I don't want to sound like a college socialist or anything but Corporations are all run by monsters! All of them! I'm going to go live in a shed and grow my own beets! AGUGHHHHHGHH oh my God.
Is this oversimplification? You bet! But I'm bringing it up because I find it difficult to keep track of and compartmentalize where I can shop, and when doing so actively contributes to causes I oppose. I also find it difficult to keep track of my boycotts. I'm just frustrated by my own personal inefficacy, and sometimes I respond to that by being a little nihilistic. And buying monochromatic miniskirts in a variety of bold colors.
Is Dov Charney a sexual harrasser? If he is, hey, American Apparel employees, sue the shit out of him. Take him for all the tube socks he's worth. One of the positive things I took away from the once-incessant lawsuits against AA and public outcry over their exploitative ads is that there WERE lawsuits, and people who were upset about things were being vocal about them. If something is happening that is illegal or offensive or abusive, it's a good sign that when they're on Facebook or Gawker. I am pro free speech and people caring about things.
If you see advertising that you think is harmful to women, speak up about it. That's important to do. I'm used to seeing emaciated giantesses in panties contorted into strange positions on billboards, so those AA ads were a reminder to be fundamentaly weirded out by underwear modeling. It was like, Hey, those girls look pretty young and of average height and are they trapped in somebody's weird condo?
So yeah -- totally. Go for it. Get mad. It is important to get mad when companies do bad things.
But I'm still stuck on the money part. It reminds me a lot of the Woody Allen/Roman Polanski/Chris Brown/etc thing. Is not seeing "Carnage" an effective way to voice the fact that you're anti- "grown men who have sex with children" ? Is paying to see it tantamount to eating Domino's or giving money to the Komen Foundation? Is there some kind of happy medium between total capital asceticism and "Fuck seals, these pelts are warm" ?
I will do my best not to give my money to somebody who might use it in a way I disagree with. Specifically, to promote hatred or cruelty or to strip people of rights over their own bodies or put shampoo on bunnies that burns their tiny eyes. It doesn't matter whether I'm buying a Hustler or sunglasses or Taco Bell, banking at Chase, or filling up my gas tank. I should know what I'm buying and who I'm buying from.
But it feels like it's next to impossible to be completely responsible all the time as a consumer. So I avoid it when I can, but I feel hypocritical when I pick and choose. It's additionally difficult because I tend to like to be friends with nice, smart, well-informed types who have no problem with smacking a Dorito out of my hand because Frito-Lay, sponsors of Arizona's Fiesta Bowl, refused to make a statement condemning the state's anti immigration policies. NO DORITOS? EVER?
You realize I'm mostly joking here just as much as I realize how much I sound like one of those old, conservative men who belittle activism because it makes them all uncomfortable about being assholes. That said: I'm genuinely curious as to how you guys feel about boycotts and their efficacy. And if any of you have ever gone out in public wearing a scarf as a figure-8 top, because, come on.