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the sale of rebellion is tantamount to heresy

Posted on by tyler

i recently saw a lecture in which a large design studio showcased a huge range of research and design solutions for converse and "all stars" in particular. it is probably just my personal background and beliefs clouding my judgement, but the more i watched this presentation, the more i because nauseous about the careful scrutiny and subsequent commodification of alternative/youth/creative/rebellious culture. being in the punk/hardcore scene for many years showed me clearly the difference between authentic expressions of an alternative view of society/culture and inauthentic/prepackaged ones. this typically happens in the form that this design studio engaged in -- understand the audience, design some campaign featuring your "solution" that embodies the correct brand attributes which mirror the audience's attitudes, attach it to your product, and sell those attributes/product back to the audience. not cool at all.

now as i said before, it may just be my own sensitivity to this issue and others don't find fault with it. in an attempt at objectivity, i asked my wife -- a long-time chuck taylor wearer -- why she repeatedly chose to purchase those shoes.she mentioned first the associations with her youth, which involved punk rock, skateboarding, etc. next she mentioned (correctly) that the shoes have an association with counterculture and she identifies with that, so she continues to signify her cultural associations by wearing those shoes.

that's all fine and dandy and i don't have a problem with any of those reasons. i guess it's when the company decides to actively push that angle in trying to sell more shoes that it becomes problematic. the imagery and video i saw in the presentation included a canvas bag with "revolution" stencilled in red on it, guys skateboarding, people playing music shows, raw rock 'n' roll soundtracks, etc, etc.

what i think is amusing about the studio's "understanding" of the audience, as thorough as it is, is that anyone that is serious about nearly any of the subjects they tried to associate themselves with, would have a huge problem with the product. any serious skater, except maybe an old school dude, would never skate in chucks these days. anyone serious about social/political activism or revolution would be unlikely to wear chucks because nike owns them, they are not sustainably made, they don't pay their workers a living wage, etc. but maybe that superficial understanding of "rebellion" is exactly what appeals to converse's target market -- those who think they are being rebellious by wearing a particular brand of anything.

so what do you think? why do you wear chucks? why not? what do you think of their association with counterculture, whether propagated by culture itself or by designers, marketers and the corporation? is the sale of rebellion tatamount to heresy?