There is something about the genius of American marketing that is worthy of admiration and equally frightful in its shamefaced appropriation of the “other” into a transformed commodity for the mass market.As in all modern marketing the idea is to encourage individuality and the “rebel” attitude as the vehicle to establish status for a good or service. And this often invokes racism within the consumerist ideology…
In this case its a new kind of running shoe based on the native footwear cobbled and stitched together by the Tarahumara tribe of Indians in Mexico who can apparently cover ultra-ultra-ultra marathon distances with these thin sandals. Christopher McDougall has popularized the tribe in his book Born to Run. In marketing lingo, the scuttlebut is equivalent to a music A&R executive finding a band of seasoned blues musicians in the bayou of Louisiana living in a 1940′s time warp.
For years, Palestinian runners have amazed Israelis with their barefoot exploits which is equally common in Africa. The latest effort by the athletic footwear is to co-opt this “roots” movement of which the no-shoes barefoot movement is part of, to come up with products that feed into the vibe. These waters have been plied before; just think of white musicians playing jazz in the 30′s and 40′s. Anything for a buck. The Tarahumara are apparently consumers of a craft beer they concoct, so it would not be surprising to have a major brewery to become the authorized supplier of authentic Tarahumara suds with someone picking up the idea of the official Tarahumara energy drink and so on.
Cultural critics like Bell Hooks have already exposed the naked colonialist and racist underpinnings of these types of distortion and theft regarding African American culture which maintains the distinction of the other in service of his master in a dynamic in which the white buys a piece of the other as a kind of vicarious experience of the most erzatz variety.
However, argues hooks, most cultural critics do not make their criticism part of a coherent political project, and engage with popular culture “simply as a masturbatory mental exercise that condones the movement of the insurgent intellectual mind across new frontiers… [or as a] justification for movements from the center into the margin that merely mimic in a new way old patterns of cultural imperialism and colonialism.”(p.5) Boundary crossing is a luxury for those with epistemic privilege, since, writes hooks, she is “constantly amazed at how difficult it is to cross boundaries in this white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal society.”Read More:http://www.stumptuous.com/comps/hooks.htmla
Bell Hooks:Cultural appropriation of the Other assuages feelings of deprivation and lack that assault the psyches of radical white youth who choose to be disloyal to western civilization. Concurrently, marginalized groups, deemed Other, who have been ignored, rendered invisible, can be seduced by the emphasis on Otherness, by its commodiﬁcation, because it offers the promise of recognition and reconciliation.When the dominant culture demands that the Other be offered as sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be inclusive of difference, it invites a resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism.The acknowledged Other must assume recognizable forms. Hence, it is not African American culture formed in resistance to contemporary situations that surfaces, but nostalgic evocation of a “glorious” past. And even though the focus is often on the ways that this past was “superior” to the present, this cultural narrative relies on stereotypes of the “primitive,” even as it eschews the term, to evoke a world where black people were in harmony with nature and with one another. This narrative is linked to white western conceptions of the dark Other, not to a radical questioning of those representations. Read More:http://www.scribd.com/doc/49882907/14/Eating-the-Other-Desire-and-Resistance
There is some irony here in that these shoes, inspired as they are by native Mexicans, may actually be made by them or other tribes on a slave labor basis:
Marketers at the brand refer to the line as “a high-tech approach to low tech,” and Mike Howard, a creative director at Arnold, said the tagline, “Like barefoot only better,” reinforces that.
“Instead of saying take all your technology away and be super hard-core, this is saying that there’s a measured approach,” Mr. Howard said.
New Balance spent $24.2 million on advertising in 2010, up from $14.8 million in 2009, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.
Of course, if running barefoot were a panacea, it would most likely not be a shoe company that would trumpet that fact….Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/business/media/appealing-to-runners-even-the-shoeless.html