I recently walked into my local Pharamprix here in Montreal to see two rainbow flags proudly hung over the security alarms next to the door. Strange I thought, had someone hung them there? They were pride flags, and even though Pride was a while away, I guess shops put Christmas decorations up early so it makes sense, apart from, Pride isn’t Christmas.
I was annoyed by, them but didn’t really know why. Far from being anti-LGBT, just what business do businesses have making social movements, well, their business.
At first glance it does seem like a positive thing that more and more business are coming out openly in support of social justice issues. The rainbow flag now adorning company logos is as common as the Santa Hat at Christmas. But their is also this enormous amount of cynicism to this, a sort of corporate band-wagon jumping. Where were these companies 20 to 30 years ago when supporting gay rights was a controversial view? Are we to believe that these corporations all of a sudden deeply care about the LGBT community or is it more likely that some recent graduate in the marketing department has had a “great idea that can connect with the millennial audience”.
This merging of the social and the corporate surely makes a lot of us uneasy. Occasionally it goes too far, such as last years Pepsi commercial that saw Kendal or Kylie (does it really matter which is which) Jenner sort out the “Black Lives Matter fiasco” by handing the Riot police a nice cold Pepsi. This caused massive backlash and embarrassment for Pepsi as it had acted as a sort of satire for the very thing it was trying to sneakily do. It was too obvious, a disgusting display of a corporation trying to co-op social issues for profit. Something that happens every day, but you have to be subtle about it, like the Idea of uncanny valley in robotics, go too far an you get the opposite reaction and become grotesque.
This brings us to “That Lady Thing.” which according to their website is:
That Lady Thing is a pop-up installation, born in San Francisco, raised on social media. We like strong voices and stronger cocktails, smart conversation and smart style. We are feminists with a fun streak and creatives with a conscience.
• From the That Lady Thing Website.
Whilst that copy was annoying to read, trust me when I say the “event” it’s self is much, much worse.
In what is becoming increasingly popular it is essentially a “selfie farm” a growing trend that usually takes the form of a “Pop-Up” and houses outlandish displays for photo-ops. Visitors can for a price, take selfies and pictures with various backdrops and scenarios that they can then post on Instagram. Think about those “Old Timey” photo-studios you see on vacation, where you can dress up as victorians and get a fun family photo. But instead of bonnets and top hats it’s a ball pit full of boobs.
That Lady Thing claims it merges “activist messaging and lifestyle appeal,” according to the ad agency organisers. It is “part speakeasy, part speak out—a pop up with purpose, where we serve up selfies with a side of self respect.”
There are various photo-ops that are meant to also “promote women issues” for instance “The Wage Gap Money Grab” (pictured) offers guests a chance to try to catch fake money flying through the air. Instead of that classic confetti-throwing Instagram moment so often seen in these types of art experiences, the women here are “trying to catch their pay,” says one of the organisers.
All proceeds according to the organisers go to the Women’s Law Centre, which should be celebrated. But the exhibition was never meant to make a profit for the organisers in it’s self but to promote the Advertising company that put it on and improve the “Brand Identity” of those companies supporting it.
But in boiling down Feminism to photo-ops, pink accessories and gaudy images, it acts the same way the Pepsi advert does. It’s too obvious and makes you uncomfortable, but don’t think that this is not going on every day, everywhere.
It’s not just cynical but dangerous. It removes ownership from real activists and turns activism into spectacle. Protest becomes lifestyle and sold back to those who need change. In the perverse world of western capitalism, even revolution becomes a commodity. It’s the irony of the Che Guevara t-shirt, made in a sweatshop, adopted as mainstream ideology.