Amid the controversy surrounding Nike’s ad campaign focused on Colin Kaepernick, we’ve been treated to something of a deluge of military veterans and associated patriots who, as Green Beret Tim Kennedy put it, “are livid” about the decision by the company to sponsor a former NFL player who ostensibly disrespects our flag and our troops.
It is worth commenting for a moment on how politics has seeped into every aspect of our lives. Today, there are no safe spaces as every hobby and leisure activity is now an open free-for-all for political activism. Back when I was a kid it was controversial that Dennis Rodman had neon colored hair. Today ESPN has become a non-stop stream of political commentary. As we all know — to a painful degree — outrage sells.
Nike surely knew this from the get-go, their campaign is a deliberate outrage strategy to attract attention to their brand. Corporations and their public relations people identify pre-existing trends in popular culture and hijack them for their advertisements. I was recently walking around the streets of Milan, Italy and chuckled as I saw storefront windows for high end fashion labels displaying banners behind their clothes that advocated for women’s rights.
The banners were designed to look like some Antifa activist had painted them up in their mom’s basement before a protest march, but of course this was the look intended by a corporate strategy. I seriously doubt high end fashion brands or the people who buy them care about these political causes in any substantial way, but it is the image they are going for.
Co-opting social movements works. Remember when every house hold goods company under the sun was trying to sell us “green products”? Come buy this green product to save the world, we were told. Well, exactly what in the hell is a green product in the first place? The notion that buying some corporate product is helping to save the world is completely bizarre, but that is exactly the narrative they are going for.
In our modern tribalized and polarized political environment, companies have offered themselves as lifestyle brands, supporting one political ideology or another. We’re supposed to buy or boycott these brands based on our political values. From Chick-fil-a to Yeti Coolers to Black Rifle Coffee, our lives are an exhausting multiple choice test of partisan politics as product reviews in Consumer Reports are now lacking as they do not inform us of each CEO’s stance on the 2ndamendment.
The Colin Kaepernick ad campaign is controversial because the ideological narrative is that by kneeling during the national anthem, that he is somehow disrespecting the flag and therefore the troops. The troops are sacred in American political discourse, and generally above critique. However, Kaepernick has been clear that his silent protest was about inner city police violence, not a cheap shot at service members. After a conversation with Green Beret Nate Boyer, he opted to take a knee rather than sit during the national anthem as a sort of compromise between the two.
Friend, and occasional contributor to this website, Salil Puri penned a terrific op-ed today about how military veterans are acting as if they are America’s professional flag protectors, as if we have sole discretion over how our flag is represented and treated in public life. He writes:
If we accept the idea that the military and veterans have authority over American symbols, we enforce a very narrow minority view of America and the American experience. Our cultural fabric is as rich as it is because the American myth has been interpreted, reinterpreted, criticized, praised and challenged by Americans of all backgrounds. If the military class were the arbiter of taste and ideology with regard to our iconography, we’d have a lot more of “13 Hours,” the bogus and hagiographical Benghazi movie, and a lot less of “Stripes” or “Catch-22.”
The point that Puri and others make is that as military veterans we are just another group of American citizens, not some privileged pampered class that should be going around rubbing our service in our culture’s face on a daily basis. Military service is rightly put on a pedistal in our society, but let’s be real: we’re just as flawed as anyone else. You know what I’m talking about, don’t make me post a bunch of links to previous articles I’ve written as examples.
As Puri concludes, “Service is a privilege, not a way to purchase greater moral authority.” I seriously doubt that I will ever take a knee during our national anthem but frankly, I have better things to do with my time than protest someone’s protest by going on Facebook live from the front seat of my car and livestream a 45-minute wah-a-thon.