On the surface, it seems like the perfect activist social media stunt. After seven-year-old comments by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, in which he claimed the brand was only suitable for “cool, good-looking” (and thin) people, resurfaced online to great protest, filmmaker Greg Karber decided to mess with the brand.
His big idea? Attack A&F’s elitism by clothing homeless Los Angelenos in the brand:
The upside of this is that people got free clothes. There are, however, some big problems with the approach.
I realize that the internet has a very short memory, but think back a few months. Does the term “Hobojacket” ring a bell?
Well, here’s some serious bullshit in the form of college kid “shenanigans.” Hobojacket, a website where you can donate jackets from rival schools to homeless people, was started by MIT students Jin Pan and Cathie Yun one night as a joke. You see, Pan loves to josh with his friends about one day getting rich and donating jackets from MIT rival school Caltech to the “unfortunate” because “it’ll show the true value of a Caltech degree.” This hilarious baby joke grew up to become an actual website where the public can now give them money to buy (and distribute?*) jackets. You know, because college kids at other top tier schools are unfortunate in the same way homeless people are. So funny to see homeless people — those sad sacks who don’t even have homes — in a Harvard sweatshirt. Am I right, bro?
After the site went viral for its sheer douchiness, creators Jin Pan and Cathie Yun took it down and issued this apology:
I thought I had a clever idea for leveraging existing college rivalries to raise money to provide warm clothing for the homeless.
But I did not actually understand that my gimmick was dependent on objectifying the homeless.
The site’s so-called edgy manner was designed to spread quickly, but I realize now that it also allowed my insensitivity to go viral.
I wish I could rewind time to Sunday and reverse the decision to take the site live.
But time is irreversible and I’ve learned a hard lesson.
I’m sorry that I offended so many, and I’m disappointed in my own lack of judgment.
I’ve matured a lot over the last 3 days in listening to the flood of more mature voices out there.
I especially apologize for using those who can’t as easily speak up for themselves.
Is #FitchTheHomeless really any different than Hobojackets? Both stunts aimed to denigrate a disliked brand by associating it with homeless people, which is in effect denigrating the homeless. The humn beings who, for one reason or another, live on the streets, are being used as props to mock a high-end brand.
Yes, they get free clothing. Yes, the stunt democratizes an elitist brand. But those are individual human beings out there, not just “the homeless”. They each have unique personalities and histories and relationships with other people. And they deserve better than to be used as a way to embarrass a nasty old rich guy.
Seems to me the only individual who matters here, in the wrong way, is Greg Karber, the film director who is also used A&F’s ancient comments to his own advantage. He denigrates a brand he denigrates the homeless under the guise of activism and oh hey look, he gets a lot of PR for his filmmaking in the process. I didn’t think douchiness could be so meta. I stand corrected.
Posted by kidsleepy | 16-05-2013 02:22
As yoou can see in Karber’s video, no one is asked for the permission to put him or her via video on the internet. Or even told what this is for, so they would have been able to decide if they want to be part of an anti-brand-campaign. Playing the role of the underdog.
Thanks for the Hobojacket-story! Good to see, that they had a hindsight and excused. There were other blokes, who thought that one can play with homeless people like with puppies or kittens and shoot them: the US advertising agency Super Top Secret asked in 2011 to give Ed Hardy t-shirts to the homeless, take a picture and load it up to a website - just to banish the “ugly” Ed Hardy clothes from the “normal people” image area. The reward was a cool merchandising-shirt from the ad-agency.
My Super Top Secret-blogpost:
Posted by Stefanie | 16-05-2013 08:02
#FitchTheHomeless is cruel for a simple reason, it tries to tarnish a brand by associating it with an “undesirable” population, ie the homeless. The guise of “helping street people” is ridiculous, as it’s clearly a joke for the gent in the video. The minute we saw this shared on Facebook I saw friends commenting about how dehumanizing and nasty it was—- My faith in humanity renewed ... Even if this anti-douchebag crusader is bent on using “charity” to prove how douchey he is.
Posted by Claire | 16-05-2013 16:07
@Claire: I would love to agree, but the YT-reviews show 96% thumbs up and only 4% thumbs down :-(
Posted by Stefanie | 16-05-2013 16:18
Thank goodness quality is not determined by YouTube likes! I think we may see a KONY-esque rise and fall with this one. Everybody likes it ... and then everybody dislikes it ...
Posted by Claire | 16-05-2013 17:09
Small point of contention but the filmmaker situates skid row in East LA which is a historically working class Latino area. Skid row is downtown in the heart of the city.
Posted by Toro | 16-05-2013 18:00
Here’s an idea:
In recognition that the filmmaker is using this population as part of the media debacle, and to continue to enact positive change to counteract the unfortunate values of the A&F CEO, let’s use this as a call to action to donate gently used clothing (A&F or not) and toiletries to local organizations who can give them to the people who need them most. http://eyeswideopen.org/?p=1527
Posted by Positive Change | 16-05-2013 18:23
I wonder how could anyone possibly confuse two things as different as the Hobojacket and FitchtheHomeless. Yeah, both campaings are using the homeless, but while the former did it because they unconsioussly saw the homeless as denigrating, FTH is doing it because A&F has said they don’t want homeless people weaing their clothes (all the “burn ‘em before lose ‘em” thing). So yeah, there is a great difference between both campaings.
That he’s milking this? Of course he is. But he’s also doing SOMETHING besides snickering at the brad, wich is more than a lot of us can say.
Posted by Launian | 16-05-2013 23:38
Launian, I don’t think there is any confusion here. Homeless people are being used to damage the CEO’s elitist vision for the brand. In the video, Greg hands the stuff out very anonymously. He doesn’t care who those people are, he just enjoys the idea of “the homeless” wearing A&F to embarrass the brand. They are not people to him, they are a concept.
I’m sure he thinks what he is doing is noble, but he is being very elitist as well. Just like those MIT students. Hopefully, he will realize this just as they did. I suspect he’s not a bad guy.
Posted by Tom Megginson | 16-05-2013 23:45
#Fitchthehomeless is a viral movement to spite A&F and make them the no. 1 brand of the homeless. Many believe that the whole idea is degrading because the homeless people are being used to contrast the idea of cool by positioning them as “unworthy,” or lesser human beings. And it’s not clear whether, from the homeless perspective, this stunt is actually helping anything.
In response, P1124 has started a “Wear One, Share One” campaign to clothe the same homeless people on Skid Row. But unlike the #fitchthehomeless movement, whose goal is to shame Abercrombie without regard to the wellbeing of the homeless, P1124’s sole goal is to uplift and bless the homeless. The “Wear One, Share One” Campaign is simple; buy one shirt, get two, one to wear, one to share. Lets #uplifthehomeless, and show them that they are worthy of receiving the same new clothes that we purchase for ourselves. Make P1124 the title of no. 1 brand of the homeless.
Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9T-6sLb8qWg
Learn more about the movement: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/p1124-the-number-one-brand-of-the-homeless/x/3113340
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