Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“Four dead in Ohio,” and all I got was this lousy sweatshirt

It must be tough trying to keep up with a market where such primacy is given to edginess.

I mean, you just have to keep out-edginessing yourself.

Which for a hipster brand like Urban Outfitters is some challenging task, given that in the past they’ve brought out products that seem to be glorifying depression and anorexia.

So not only do they have to top those, but they have to put up with the backlash from the boring old prudes out there who are so unedgy that they squawk at anything the least bit edgy. Sure, the no-fun brigade is fine with the hipster fedora, but the minute your fashion statement seems just the tad bit objectionable… They just so go into outrage. (Cue eye-rolling. Cue ‘whatever.’)

Which is what they had to put up with last week after they “introduced” a one of a kind $129 (!) “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt. Because, like, there is just something incredibly hip and “ironic” (in the current usage of the word, which means a combination of eye-roll and ‘whatever’) about a situation in which four kids – all aged 19 or 20 - Kent State on a college campus were shot and killed by the National Guard for protesting the Cambodian incursion (or for being present when the Cambodian incursion was being protested).

Once the hue and outcry began, Urban Outfitters came out with what has to be the phoniest mea culpa ever conceived by a marketing department:

“Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.” (Source:

Ah, yes, nothing says vintage charm like blood and bullet holes.

ROFLMAO, as they say. Or used to say. If I’m still using it, this one has had its day.

Meanwhile, if my read is correct, there was only one of these items for sale.

So, from a marketing standpoint, what Urban Outfitters has done is just brilliant.

They’ve managed to consolidate their reputation among those who think that being insensitive, tasteless, and offensive is just the thing, especially if it riles up the oldsters. They’ve gotten a ton of free publicity. And they aren’t stuck with a warehouse full of the heinous item. There may not even be the one. Maybe it’s all photo-shopped.

As someone who well remembers when those kids were killed – which was, by the way, right about the same time that four African-American students at two colleges in the South were gunned down; the Jackson State kids were protesting the Vietnam War, the South Carolina State kids were protesting segregation at a bowling alley – I can only say that I’m appalled by Urban Outfitters. Of course, the old geezers being appalled is exactly what they want.

Maybe next time they pull something like this – and you can pretty much guarantee that their edgy, cynical, soulless marketing folks have already scheduled their next ‘think outside the box’ session – maybe we should just ignore them.


A tip of the decidedly non-hipster, virtual Pink Slip fedora to my sister Trish for spotting this item.

1 comment:

Kathleen Rogers said...

what's next? genuine vintage stripey death camp pj's? genuine vintage slave collars?

those who are ignorant of history are doomed to be "irony"-mongers for crap purveyors

i hope their eyes get stuck in the rolled up position one of these days