Fitching and Itching and Names

Trigger warning for abusive ableist and sexist language

Mike Jeffries, the Ambercrombie & Fitch CEO, needs to be taken down eighteen pegs and find himself in unemployment. He represents everything wrong with consumptive culture, body-shaming, and class warfare against poor and homeless.

His entire branding philosophy is junior high at its worst – it’s vehemently disgusting, disturbingly shallow, and entirely alienating for those who don’t “fit in”. His honesty with his brand is not refreshingly so as it further alienates any who do not line up to a certain ideal of beauty. It’s bad enough that fashion normalizes thin and symmetrical bone structure as the standard of beauty, making most of us feel inadequate – but then there’s public shaming.

Jeffries says he only wants slim, attractive, cool people wearing his wares despite the fact that he himself doesn’t fit such criteria is a sign of obliviousness and mental gymnastics so thick it gives Frozen Yogurt a run for its money – a closed loop of a mind that reels back on itself a Bizarro-world warped version of Stuart Smalley, but without his warmth or generous imagery.

He's good enough, he's smart enough, and goshdarnit, he doesn't participate in demeaning

He’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and goshdarnit, he doesn’t participate in demeaning

Yet efforts to tear him a well-deserved new one have often revolved around his own looks – not just in contrast to the image that he means to advertise, but also just as a signifier of something bad in itself. In doing so, though, his opponents further stigmatize those who don’t measure up. Why, in fact, do we measure up anyway, beyond third grade? Isn’t there a Piagetian stage we cross where we no longer have a need to understand our own worth without tearing down others simply for the way they look or dress?

If we don’t attack his personal image for not measuring up to his ridiculous statements, we accept the tearing down of his brand by linking it to the homeless. But it seems to show a lot about how we as a society think about homeless people. They become stunts, and the fact that those people would wear that clothing is supposed to be a turn-off for that clothing by association. Not that homeless people are participants in this take-down – rather objects to accept the terms of this new re-branding. And that may be the most troubling part of this effort.

As Kirsten at Process points out:

From square one, this movement was never about clothing people who are in need. It’s about thrusting what Karber himself refers to as “douchebag” clothing into the hands of scores of the nameless, faceless homeless.

Clips of Karber handing out the clothing show him placing pieces of A&F clothing onto the personal belongings or into the hands of the people of Skid Row and briskly moving along to the next token “homeless person”, leaving them with an new t-shirt or pants (nevermind if the clothing actually fits them) and a puzzled look.

Sure, Karber’s readjusting the brand name, but at the expense of the further dehumanization the people of Skid Row. We never hear from a recipient. We never learn their names. We never see more than a brief pan over their befuddled, care-worn faces.

The denigration-by-association doesn’t stop there, of course.

Earlier this week, a couple of my friends and I happened upon a thread in a Christian music Facebook group (this thread was started by a Christian musician) about how garbage-y Christian music performers are. Except he didn’t say “garbage-y.” Gay. He called these Contemporary Christian Music groups “gay.” Not because they are attracted to those of the same sex. No, but because he wanted to put down those groups he associated them with a marginalized (certainly in Christian circles) people group.

When we belittle the character of a person or company by comparing it to marginalized people, we belittle the marginalized people. We demonstrate that we do not have humanizing friendships with those who are homeless, homosexual, bisexual, trans*, or have learning disabilities or mental disorders. Rather, we know them only by their labels – by their branding.

But not only that, the responses to this thread were fairly silent on the use of the word. Gay is still an accepted term of derision. When some finally protested, they (we) were silenced and mocked by several others.

“Take it easy.” “Why are you so humorless? Can’t you take a joke?” “Political correctness will be the death of our freedom of speech.” “Gay is sin!!”

Lovely. Just lovely.

They’d hate to be called homophobic, but the idea of shaming one based on connections to another is to say that the second group – whether it be people with learning, physical, and/or cognizant disabilities; or people who experience sex or gender differently; or people of another color, culture, religion – are worthy themselves of being shamed – are so low that any association automatically lowers those being associated.

This kind of demeaning doesn’t start or end with one particular group. It’s not just those conservatives who do it. I’m guilty of this. Chances are, so are most of us. We live and breathe a type of way of looking at people that measures each one of us and labels us defective in one way or another – unwhole, unclean, less-than, not-good-enough, rubbish. And so we make comparisons that harm both the target but also ones we compare them to, rather than dealing with the problem in itself.

The politician makes a racist statement and she is “a bitch.

The radio host makes classist arguments and he is “crazy.”

Someone is wrong on the internet and they are “retarded.”

When we make these comparisons, we are not just talking mean about a person and a position we do not like, we are not just ignoring the problem itself in order to make ad hominen attacks, we are demeaning women or people with disabilities, dragging their names through the mud as if there is something wrong with being a female or having a learning or mental disability.

This says a lot about our society and how we prioritize fellow humans.

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