Shackled: Adidas unchains a not so good idea.
On one hand, I am always a bit taken aback when a major brand puts out a product that’s in colossally questionable taste. On the other hand, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. (For Mencken, the operative word was intelligence.)
The latest is Adidas, which had recently announced a new sneaker that features an ankle shackle, reminiscent of the iron chains worn by slaves, not to mention the cuffs that we see prisoners wearing during perp walks, jail transfers, and court appearances.
The community – largely the outraged African-American community – has spoken, and Adidas has withdrawn this item, but not before initially defending it as a bit of whimsy from an edgy designer.
The Adidas statement reads, in part: "The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery. Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace." (Source: LA Times)
Jeremy Scott may well have an “outrageous and unique take on fashion”, but to claim that the shackles have “nothing to do with slavery….” Hmmmmm. Maybe not in Scott’s mind, but I put this more of less in the same category as someone using a swastika because they like the way it looks. That may well be the case, but there are certain images that it’s just best to avoid. And the use of shackles on a sneaker marketed largely to young African-American males is one of them.
Which is not to say that, if this were presented as art and not as commerce, the imagery wouldn’t be appropriate, and appropriately provocative. How about a conversation about:
The shackles that hoop dreams place on urban kids who want to be LeBron, but don’t get there - or anywhere else.
The glorification of violence and criminality by rappers who hold enormous influence in poor communities.
The rate of incarceration among African-American males, and whether it’s the way it should be or something else.
So, as agitprop art, I love Scott’s sneaker. As a product, I don’t.
By the way, as a product, these kicks would have retailed for $350, and would not doubt have been just the sort of things that kids would have killed and died for. Unfortunately, that’s meant literally.
What on earth does a $350 pair of sneakers mean?
Maybe the world really was a better place when P.F. Flyers cost $8 and came in red, white, and blue, and big boys wore what are now called Chucks: Converse high tops or low cuts, in white or black. Which probably cost $8.50.
Surely, no one ever killed or died for a pair of Keds…
Adidas is a sophisticated company, and I doubt that they put this particular sneaker on the market without checking it out with focused groups made up of their target demographic, which is not, of course, composed of fussy middle aged female bloggers who might pay $350 for a pair of wonderful last-a-lifetime leather boots that could be reheeled and resoled over and over again, but couldn’t imagine paying that for a sneaker, let alone one with a goofy “ankle bracelet” on it.
Adidas is in the business of making money, and if one of the ways to make money is to exploit poor folks and psyche kids into believing that they won’t be cool unless they’re sporting these particular over-priced kicks then, while I may not like it, so be it. I don’t have to buy Adidas products.
And, in truth, I have no problem with Adidas actually bringing this product out. Have at it. My hope would be that, once they’d introduced it, no one would buy it. That people would let them know that they thought the product was in poor taste, and let Adidas be stuck unshackling the plastic chains and turning these into just another pair of sneakers, or shipping the unopened boxes to the Third World where folks could do their own unshackling and likely find a whole bunch of uses for that bit of plastic frippery.
Still, you have to wonder about these companies that don’t seem to have a conscience on staff, someone who might actually say, ‘sure we could do it, but it would be wrong.’
Earlier in the year, I blogged about Nike’s Black and Tans. Not a great idea, but nowhere near as dreadful as the Adidas shackles.