Wanted: Zombies without a Past

March 5, 2016

312 words

Offense of the Month, March 2016

Whatever you do, don’t do it. At least if you’re a retailer that, let’s say, sells bathing suits, polo shirts, mittens, and whatnot.

Lands’ End thought to boost sales by touting in its catalog legendary people who would smile on the brand in return for a nod to their causes. Nothing really controversial. Feel good stuff that large numbers of potential customers would appreciate. Sure.

The first such Legend (and now probably the last) was Gloria Steinem, who talked very briefly about working on behalf of women’s equality. Not a word in the published interview about abortion rights. Nevertheless, customers complained that Steinem was an inappropriate designee because of her pro-choice stance over the years. In late February, to quell what she feared was growing outrage, Lands’ End CEO Federica Marchionni apologized, disavowing any intent “to raise a divisive political or religious issue.” But when she erased all digital traces of the interview, the company was flooded with even more angry messages from shoppers who vowed to buy their clothing elsewhere. Said one: “I don’t intend to teach my children that anyone should do business with a company that is ashamed to even talk about feminism.”

Might as well have featured Mother Teresa touting care for the poor (she was a fierce opponent of abortion and birth control), or President Obama urging civility (he was against same-sex marriage until he was for it), or — but what “Legend” doesn’t come with hordes poised to take umbrage?

No politics at the cash register. Isn’t that an old rule? Never underestimate the American penchant for censorious disapproval. Now only more so. What hath social media wrought?

You didn’t really think I was going to name Donald Trump’s self-praise of his penis size offense of the month, did you? What’s outrageous about that?

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