“Fitch” the Homeless? No Thanks

This video is going viral:

A lot of people I like and respect are sharing it and saying “right on.” When I first watched, I thought it seemed like a fun bit of payback for the despicable behavior of clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch. On a second viewing, however, it began to leave a bad taste.

Prior to last month, I only knew A&F for their soft-porn catalogs and ads, and then CEO Mike Jeffries dropped this turd in the punchbowl:

[W]e hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.

In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.

Okay, so we have a shallow, materialist jerk catering to other shallow, materialist jerks. I cannot tell you how little this actually affects me, but it does move A&F from my “indifferent” column to my “jackasses” column.

Therefore, it might seem like a fair turnaround to make sure Mike Jeffries’ clothes are worn by a many non-cool-kids as possible.

But where do the homeless figure into the equation? This stunt is based on the exact same premise offered by Jeffries: that some people are “unworthy” to wear A&F clothes. The hipster doofus handing out A&F clothing to people on the street is doing it because he accepts the notion that they’re somehow lesser than “the rest of us.” His stunt has no bite without this assumption.

And the guy in the video is just passing out clothes to random people, without any sense of whether or not the clothes are wanted or even fit. He gives something to a decidedly plus-sized woman when we already know A&F doesn’t make plus sized clothing. These people are just being used as props.

In short, their humanity and dignity is denied so a callow twit can burnish his reputation as a Right Thinker. And to what end? The sort of people shallow enough to care what company makes a shirt aren’t likely to get any message. The brand isn’t diminished.

In the end, the whole thing reminded me of Kramer and Newman using the homeless to pull rickshaws: “they’re always walking around the city: why not just strap something to them!” It’s just using people, instead of seeing them as people.


UPDATE: Some comments here and on social media seem to think I missed that he was doing this because A&F allegedly destroys damaged or unsold clothing rather than donating them in order to keep them out of thrift stores and clothing banks. I watched the video 3 times, so … no, I didn’t miss that point. I just don’t see how it changes a thing. We still get someone who thinks he can score points on A&F by distributing their clothes to the poor, and the only reason those points can be scored is because he accepts the premise that these are unworthy people.

I really do see the appeal of the video. I didn’t think twice about it after seeing it once. But after watching it a second time, I focused on the details and began wondering what point was being made, at whose expense, and to what end? What is the purpose? What are the assumptions? What is the goal?

If you think it’s just an amusing stunt, then I get that.

But if you think it’s making some point about the self-image of a self-selecting elite, and you want to subvert that image and the corporation promoting it, think closely about how you’re going about it. Is someone being exploited in the process? Are you accepting the very assumptions you’re criticizing? And do the people you’re using know if, how, why, and for what purpose they’re being used?

What A&F does with their used clothing is irrelevant. How we as individuals view and treat those in need, however, matters a great deal. The video guy’s real mission was right in front of him, on the street, in the form of humans in need of love and hope, but he barely gave them a second glance because he wasn’t working for them: he was working for the camera and audience. I have to assume his intentions are good: I’m just not sure what those intentions are.

UPDATE 2: Turns out I’m not the only one made uncomfortable by this.

A follow-up post is here.