In today’s episode of Corporate America Foolishness, H&M, a retail company known for its trendy and affordable 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’re trolling us.
This is not the first time a big brand has come under fire for using derogatory or offensive language, images, and/or connotation in their products and advertisements.
I remember in school 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 mockery. It’s as if the more people have become 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 be because of the more we have become aware of the various mechanisms of power, the easier it has become 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 that everyone at H&M was in agreement of putting a little black boy in a hoodie that read ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ and that it would be a good idea?
If we look at this and think ‘racism’ then, I believe, we are missing the bigger picture. This is not entirely about racism.
I would even argue that it’s not even partially about racism anymore.
Instead, it’s about the attention economy.
The Bigger Picture: The Attention Economy
We are increasingly being bombarded by a constant, never-ending stream of sensational and scandalous news that keeps us glued to our screens, encouraging us to share our thoughts, feelings, and emotions on different online platforms.
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, and the internet and social network sites are the business model of the attention economy [1, 2].
Big companies collect these data from online platforms and use them to fit their interest— increase consumer base and maximize profit.
Corporates have joined the bandwagon of creating sensational news by releasing blatantly discriminatory products and ads that generate outrage (read:attention). Then, they send their spokesperson to sincerely apologize for offending people.
In the words of Jay Z, we don’t believe you, you need more people.
I sincerely believe that H&M purposely released this 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?
 “In the future, our attention will be sold.” mark manson, 4 Dec. 2014.
 “The attention economy – How they addict us.” Will Schoder, 28 Oct. 2016.