In today’s episode of Corporate America Foolishness, H&M, a retail company beloved for its trendy clothing, has come under scrutiny for using a black child to model a sweatshirt sporting the phrase ‘coolest monkey in the jungle.’
In today’s political climate…
My initial reaction was, now they are trolling us.
This is not the first case where a big brand has come under fire for using derogatory or offensive language, image, and/or connotation in their products and advertisements. I remember when I was in school and having to decode racist, sexist, homophobic, and other discriminatory messages in the media. It was there, but it was a lot more subtle.
Recently, such messages in advertisements have become increasingly blatant to the point of ridiculousness. It’s almost as more and more people became aware of the processes of power, privilege, and oppression, thanks to social media and the internet in general, the more and more the status quo have said ‘screw it!’
Of course, it could also because the more we have become aware of the various mechanisms of power the easier it is becoming to identify them.
These products and ads pass through many people, from marketing teams to PR, before they become available to consumers, and we are supposed to believe everybody at H&M was in agreement that putting a little black boy in a hoodie that read ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ would be a good idea?
Give me a break!
If we look at this and think ‘racism,’ then we are missing the bigger picture. This is not entirely about racism. I don’t even think it’s partially about racism anymore.
Instead, I argue, it’s about the attention economy.
The Bigger Picture: The Attention Economy
The attention economy makes it economically beneficial to hijack our attention so that corporates can sell us products tailored specifically to our wants, needs, and desires. 2
We are increasingly being bombarded by a constant, never-ending stream of sensational and scandalous news that keep us glued to our screens, encouraging us to share our thoughts, feelings, and emotions on different online platforms. The Internet and social network sites are the business model of the attention economy. 1 Big companies collect these data from online platforms and use them to fit their goal– increase consumer base and maximize profit.
Corporates have joined in the bandwagon of creating sensational news; by releasing blatantly discriminatory products and ads that generate outrage (read: attention) before quickly removing them and sending their spokesperson to “sincerely apologize for offending people.”
In the word of Jay Z, we don’t believe you, you need more people.
I sincerely believe that H&M purposely released the ad for reasons I outlined above, and they got exactly what they hoped for– attention, outrage, and people further hooked on endless scrolling and sharing information about themselves.
I mean, I have spent the past three hours furiously searching for, and reading about, H&M’s latest scandal and feeling increasingly outraged. I even wrote a whole article about it to share with the world wide web.
I don’t even remember how I got here.
What are your thoughts?