When I was seven years old, I desperately wanted a pair of Zips shoes because I was always one of the smaller, younger kids in my grade, and not especially fleet of foot. I remember one of my classmates scornfully proclaiming that “Zips don’t really make you run fast!” But trusting as I was, I still wanted to believe in the promise held out by those commercials, so I finally got a pair. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that my wise-beyond-his-years Doubting Thomas friend (or, rather, Doubting Hank, since that was his name) was correct; I still came in second in an important relay race on Field Day at the end of that school year. Well, I may have had to settle for a red ribbon instead of a blue one on that sad day in May, but the lesson of armoring oneself with jaded skepticism toward people who want to sell you something has stuck with me all along.
So I dunno; I thought it was common knowledge (Adbusters has been going on about this kind of thing for as long as I remember) that advertising is all postmodern/ironic/de-signified/ultrameta nowadays. We all like to fancy ourselves savvy consumers, too worldly to be taken in by simple appeals to insecurities and impulses. Advertising had to morph in such a way as to let the consumer in behind the curtain. No, of course our product won’t make you sexier or more popular or fill in that gaping hole in your psyche, but we’re admitting that to you up front, so you know we’re good guys. It’s just another product among many, but we’ve got a sense of humor. We’re all postracial, postsexual, whatever. We’re just messing with these old cultural stereotypes from a detached distance, which we know you’ll appreciate, because you have that same kind of rarefied, discerning awareness that we do. It’s all just a big put-on, all of it. You know it, we know it. You want some cool stuff which is by no means the sum total of your unique personality, we want your money. Aboveboard, straightforward, no hard feelings. A’ight. Dap.
But, yuh know, go ahead and buy our stuff.
Also, this. I have a feeling that it’s not so much any strong sort of moral conviction that ignites the outrage here, just the artless, transparently inauthentic way that Patagonia went about trying to appear above such base motivations. For the sort of New York hipsters who write for Gawker, the cardinal virtue is taking frivolous amusement in sneering at other people’s dickishness while never appearing to be a dick yourself. We fake it so real we are beyond fake.