Highsnobiety produced a guide to safe protesting today. A news corp, focused mainly on fashion and hip-hop music, made an easy-to-digest set of informative illustrations telling would-be opponents of the status quo to keep themselves nice and hydrated while fighting the power. It’s the very innocuousness of it all that set me off.
Earlier today I was scrolling through twitter and found pictures and videos of ASAP Rocky’s debut at the protest catwalk in New York. He certainly dressed the part, as Rocky usually does, but his appearance seemed entirely performative. He showed up, posed for pictures in front of some fresh graffiti, adjusted his fit, then moved on to the next photo op further down the street. That isn’t to say he’s cynically exploiting tragedy and social upheaval in the way that most corporations have and do, but it certainly paints the picture of a generation bent on keeping up aesthetics and upholding the illusion of rebellion rather than actively focusing on problem-solving or even wholeheartedly engaging in rebellion.
Then a few scrolls down I happened upon a video of Lil Yachty’s childish speech as he “walked with the people”. He basically stood in the middle of a decent-sized crowd with a megaphone and stammered his way through a few zingers and aphorisms. It was still the same deal – here’s a celebrity who is really about it. A normal guy in pain. Oh, and it’s plain coincidence that he just put an album out a few days ago, right?
Then it was DaBaby, who spent multiple tweets encouraging his fans to check his rap sheet and see how he’s always been an enemy of the police and how his image is as real as they come. With passing mention of black lives mattering, of course. One mustn’t come off as too self-centered.
In between all of this, I found a slew of multinational corporations and conglomerates coming out in support of the protests and pledging to “do better”. It doesn’t get much better than Adidas reposting a tweet from Nike, right? That’s absolutely gotta mean something! Just like how every single year companies switch their profile pictures to a version of their logo bearing the colors of the LGBTQ+ flag.
The upsetting part of all this is that we’ve come to accept these half-assed declarations of alliance and thinly veiled attempts at self-promotion through real-world action. When Target’s CEO released a statement saying the looted stores in Minneapolis would be rebuilt because the Target team was in pain and wanted to help the community, everyone welcomed it as if it were some monumental feat of social justice. In reality it’s one of the biggest companies in America weighing its options and playing its cards right. Hiring rooftop Koreans to protect Target stores would diminish what goodwill the company has and make the road to normality more difficult. Now everyone knows Target is a stickler for civil rights.
And then there’s Grindr with its hilarious response to the ongoing protests, saying the company will remove its ethnicity filter in an effort to stem racial discrimination. How is it that such superfluous and inconsequential victories became the norm? Is this what anyone is fighting for? It feels like spitting in the face of someone who’s already down bad. Like tossing a couple quarters at someone laying on the ground with their teeth knocked out. To fight this complacency is to divorce oneself from the aesthetics-obsessed world of social media and its instant gratification and engage in true political organizing, curated by real human emotion and interaction rather than ridiculous algorithms and simplistic up- and down- vote mechanics that govern what reaches your attention and what remains hidden. Popularity and status have no place in any fight for justice that seeks to be deemed legitimate, unless we all wish for a future where rioting and political clashes become akin to football matches, commodified to the point of wearing specific jerseys bearing the names of sponsors, and round-the-clock coverage of every aspect of the battle. Actually, that does sound sort of familiar, doesn’t it?