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December 25, 2004

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Harry

Curing a malady by cultivating it assiduously only works in fiction, as far as I know. Is it better to take the money, despise the blatant greenwashing and continue to press Nike to clean up its act? I've come to think of small pragmatism as the reverse incrementalism of progressives. I've made it hackneyed, but. . . what is the point of bailing with teaspoons when it directly assists the boats' saboteurs?

I like the Yellow Collar. It would be appropriate to call it a dginity enhancment. Perhaps spiked versions would catch on in schools and give the campaign some heavy edge.

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Phil

I guess one issue to me is the site of resistance. You always surrender, make peace with the conqueror, and negotiate minimal terms. That comes later. For now, it would be nice to think that the resistannce to brand culture would come from what you might call civil society, or the nonprofit sector, or the third sector, or through the pooling of voluntary efforts. The main reason not to endorse greenwashing, it seems to me, is that it demoralizes those who would hold to a higher standard. Cake Walk at the Big House. Better than no cake at all?

et alia

I suppose (and I can only suppose because I am not privy to these discussions) that the yellow bracelet and other items like it are defended on the grounds that the proceeds from their sales are used for good ends—and therefore, why shouldn't the (effective) donor reap the benefits of an enhanced brand identity?

If someone is guilty of a specific crime—rape or assault or what have you—that person's good works are irrelevant to his guilt. I suppose they may be relevant at sentencing time; at that time it wouldn't be out of place to argue that the guilty party's capacity for charity or volunteer work shows they are not irredeemable and so should be spared the harshest punishment for such offenses as he is guilty of. But if it can be shown that the good works performed were done with the primary or sole intention of mitigating the punishment for his crime, their worth drops accordingly.

But what if the mitigating factor is itself a crime? "Your honor, my client admits guilt in the matter, but we ask for leniancy in sentencing because of the good my client has done the community by distributing heroin and works to inner-city children who would not otherwise be able to afford it." Where the alleged mitigating factor is as blatantly harmful as that, there would be no disagreement that the guilty party is guilty of another, and possibly worse crime. It is not so clear with something like Yellow Bracelet Marketing. The harm posed by giving away heroin is obvious; the "dehumanizing" nature of Yellow Bracelet Marketing is not. Just what is so bad about enhancing brand identity? some might ask, and not wait for an answer. The answer is that enhancing brand identity is nothing less than adding to a shield of lies and irrelevancies, because that's all a brand is to begin with—lies and irrelevancies.

Suppose Firm X makes clothing and personal accessories. The bland fact that they produce these items is their real identity. But Firm X, thanks to its marketing department, basks in an brand aura of exclusivity and chic, which glamour extends to its founder and chairman. Firm X's actual name, which is the nom du commerce of its parvenu founder, is now accepted as synecdoche for a certain type of elevated lifestyle—one which likely never actually existed, and whose current realization is in fact *prevented* by the continuing expansion of Firm X into new product lines. This is a minor distortion of our ability to view our world accurately, but it is a real one nonetheless.

Yellow Bracelet Marketing carries this (il)logic a step further. Giving to allievate an ill is an immediate personal sacrifice for a future social gain. It is an act of enlightened self-interest; the person who, with such a clear eyed understanding of the act, donates money for such causes would shun any immediate gratification as a waste and diversion from the goal sought. Likewise, the rational donor would look askance at efforts at self-aggrandizement on the part of beneficary for the same reason; having received the gift, their charge is to fix the problem and, depending on the nature of the problem, then either go out of business or redirect their efforts to related problems. Yellow Bracelet Marketing is deleterious to the sense of enlightened self-interest on the part of the donor because it obscures the actual dynamics and desired end results of such gifts with a *trinket* that allows the donor to immediately advertise their virtue. If Tartuffe were to be updated, his first line would not be "Hang up my hair shirt," but "Dig my yellow bracelets, man." This danger to the proper sense of giving is matched by distorted role played by the recipient; their presence, not their results, serves to certify the goodness of the undertaking; in the specific case of the Yellow Bracelets, "getting money for cancer" is only an intermediate step in developing more effective and less dangerous treatments for the disease, but everyone is too dazzled by the *marketing ingenuity* displayed to mention what should be the real point of the enterprise. Finally if a firm's marketing people are good enough, that firm could well establish a monopoly relationship with certain social projects, with predictably disasterous results. A dubious "waste management" firm (that they're called this to begin with is proof of the malign capabilities of branding) could hijack environmental reforms, for example. I understand that initiatives like this are already in place; my imagination probably lags behind the actual practice.

In sum, Yellow Bracelet Giving seems to be destructive of the individual's sense of giving and enlightened self-interest (i.e., the acknowledgement that one's well-being depends directly on the well-being of one's peers), and of a clear view of the desired ends of giving in general; these hazards follow directly from the nature of branding. None of this should be at all surprising, since branding itself is but a means to a particular end—that of increasing returns to commercial concerns. To expect that it could be applied to fundamentally different ends without those ends suffering seems naive—or willfully ignorant. Either way, its boosters are already wearing the collar. But one wonders: being so caught up in their brand fantasies, so mastered by the force of the vulgar economy, do the partisans of branding for every social end fancy they are putting on the knowledge and power of their masters when they wear the collars that are necessary for their advancement in a world ruled by commerce? And how do they shut out the brute fact that, once wearing the collar, should their masters decide to let them fall, their necks will snap in its embrace?

Phil

Et., if Gifthub were a going concern, you would be hired to ghostwrite all the posts. "Tartuffe," indeed. Dr Pangloss as Brand Manager.

et alia

...um...thanks...I think...

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