Yes, Colin Kaepernick, the underinformed footballer with a martyr complex who’s special brand of stupid has managed to ensnare the hearts and minds of the most shallow “activists” on both sides of the political horseshoe. I’ve already talked about him. I don’t want to again. I’m really just using him as the most recent (and most perfect, cut-and-dry example) of a social media and marketing trend that has been picking up steam as of late.
It’s something I like to refer to as Rebel Culture Prostitution. It’s not a new thing, which I’ll get into, but it’s become a very culturally salient thing as the United State’s progresses and becomes evermore politically stratified by ever more arbitrary acts of symbolism. Colin Kaepernick kneeling was a useless symbolic gesture, just like standing up for it with your hand over your heart is also a useless symbolic gesture. And when people got mad that Kaepernick did his own useless symbolic gesture instead of the useless symbolic gesture they liked, they turned him into a symbol of everything they were angry at, which led to the NFL booting him out in an act of symbolic retribution, which liberals then treated as a symbol of everything they were angry at. It was just a war of everyone desperately flailing around in a mad dash to see who could be the most righteous whilst simultaneously getting the least done.
And that is fertile, fertile ground for Rebel Culture Prostitution, my friends. Rebel Culture Prostitution utterly depends upon people giving more care and attention to symbolic gestures about symbolically generalized problems than they do towards real-world action against specific problems. If people cared about real, specific problems, there would have been at least a single goddamn conversation about NFL contracts and how they financially and socially exploit people, and how they’re unethical and arguably unconstitutional in the levels of control they insist on having over their players’ lives through threat of financial ruination. There would have been at least a single conversation about how the contract Kaepernick signed when he was young and stupid made it perfectly legal for the NFL to impose limits on his freedom of expression that would be lawsuit-worthy if another, smaller company included it in its contracts.
But no. That’s a real problem, and it’s a specific problem that something could actually be done about. So that conversation was never had even a single time. No, instead it was all about how vaguely mean the NFL was or about how Kaepernick should “just play ball like he’s told.” Nothing was done about the actual problem, as per use, just like nothing was done about the police violence problem that Kaepernick is supposedly a martyr for. You could have fooled me. The only cause he seems to be a martyr for is himself and his own popularity.
The symbolism of the event, though–the symbolism was grand. And marketers took notice.
I’m going to steer the conversation away from Kaepernick for a moment and talk about two fictional examples of Rebel Culture Prostitution in order to give you more of an idea of what I’m talking about. Fifteen Million Merits is a Black Mirror episode about a futuristic dystopian society fueled by shallow, dehumanizing capitalism that destroys anything of actual worth and turns it into cheap clickbait and merch peddling. At the end of the episode–spoilers–the main character goes on TV and gives an impassioned rant about how fucked and evil society is, opening everybody’s eyes to how apathetic they’ve been . . . and the next time we see him, he’s sitting on a pile of money, doing watered-down versions of his famous rant for TV-viewing audiences who love to buy his merch, absolutely nothing about his society having changed at all. Sorry to Bother You is a great, surreal indie film about telemarketing and unions (less spoilers). At one point, the main character, who continues to work for his obviously evil company even after his friends/lower level employees all go on strike, gets pegged in the head with a soda can by one of the angry strikers. That girl is next seen rich and famous a totally transformed, now a music star and spokesperson for the brand of soda she threw (owned by the same company she was protesting).
They were Rebel Culture Prostitutes who took money from the people they supposedly hated in order to sell cheap, water-downed, inoffensive rebellion to the masses who shallowly idolized them as a mainstream-media approved countercultural icon.
There are plenty of real world examples of corporations and governments and The Man(TM) prostituting countercultural icons and aesthetics to make more money off of people who like the idea of rebellion. The entirety of the 1990s was nothing but a bunch of old fogies trying to figure out how to appeal to all the disenfranchised, anti-establishment irony-loving Gen-X kids. Coke made OK Cola. Burger King had a bunch of racially diverse spokeskids with backwards hats who loved to skateboard even when there was a ‘No Skateboarding’ sign in the background. Fuck Da Police got co-opted as a joke. Kurt Kobain’s record company used his death as an excuse to sell more records.
In the 2010s, we have Starbucks virtue signalling to hell and back every other month for the purpose of selling more over-expensive coffee to woke hipsters. We have Dove, a company that profits on fueling women’s insecurities about their appearance, making advertisements about how woke they are about body positivity. We have Chic-Fil-A. We have Keurigs. We have Neflix and Disney. And now we have Nike–a company so woke that it lets little brown girls in Bangladesh run steam presses for pennies a week.
Colin gladly took their probably million-dollar endorsement. Yeah, he cares about poor, oppressed brown people and everything, but not enough to turn down a PR gig with one of the largest drivers of overseas child labor. He cares about poor oppressed brown people, but not enough to turn down a PR gig with a company that overtly encourages and exploits fiscal irresponsibility in the same communities he supposedly wants to uplift. He believed in something, even if it meant sacrificing everything, guys. Trust us. Buy our child labor shoes, and don’t be distracted by the fact that the guy who “sacrificed everything” is a millionaire with legions of fans who, unlike the majority of his football colleagues, actually has a prospective career outside of sports.
And the people who fucking hated Nike for how exploitative and immoral its business practices are two seconds ago fucking love it now. They’re changing their Facebook profile pics to the Nike swish. They’re buying new running shoes. To send a symbolic message, of course. The people who should respect Nike’s business decision to operate how it wants and associate with who it chooses are burning things they already bought in a mind-blowingly stupid act of symbolic protest. Colin just can’t help being the center of attention. He’s just such a rebel, you know?
Wasn’t this about people being abused by the police? . . . Whatever, how much is that totes adorbz Colin Kaepernick bobblehead? I’m gonna put it right next to the Che Guevara poster I got on sale at Wal-Mart.