Urban Corruption: The Hypocrisies of Casual Consumerism

By Julia Kligman

It’s no secret that Forever 21’s patent yellow bags have “John 3:16,” an excerpt from the New Testament, printed on the bottom. Whether we notice this fine print or not, we’re purchasing from a company that proclaims religious ideals on its very packaging. But the allure of economically-priced bootleg designer clothing tends to counterbalance Forever 21’s values, with which many a Tam student disagree.

It’s no secret that the majority of Tam students are left-leaning liberals and secular enough not to preach (pun intended) psalms via plastic bag. But that is not the issue. Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, both immensely popular at Tam, market directly to our age group, economic status, and, most importantly, set of ideals. But the ideals of the companies are polar opposites with many of their intended buyers (us). And frankly, Richard Hayne, CEO/founder of Urban Outfitters and Free People, doesn’t really care if you stop purchasing from his monopoly solely based upon the knowledge that he donated around $13,000 to Rick Santorum’s campaign (and his pro-life and anti-gay marriage message).

These clothes are still trendy and just as eligible for mega-profits as ever. But the irony is the values proclaimed through the merchandise: ethos appealing to the democratic demographic. Amongst the ever-fashionable urban subculture attire have been graphic tees proclaiming “Who the f*ck is Mitt Romney?” and Obama pop art paraphernalia. I, as a liberal, connect with the beliefs frequently represented in the merchandise I buy. But they oftentimes don’t match with those of the several-brand consortium.

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Graphic by: Cassie Jeong

Not buying anything from Urban Outfitters won’t stop Santorum from becoming president. Your dollar is not going directly to such campaigns. Rather, it’s the manipulation of marketing that contradicts beliefs that is so corrupt. Even what we put into our bodies seems to have dual significance. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, denies global warming and finds it unfortunate that “hysteria of global warming” may lead to an “increase in taxes.” And, though Mackey is an animal rights activist whose work in that specific medium I support fully, his libertarian views and denial of fact don’t really match up with the “vibe” of organic Whole Foods.

Less figure-friendly (but just as prevalent a food source in the Tam community) In-n-Out preaches its own faith by printing “John 3:16” on soda cups and “Proverbs 3:5” on milkshake cups. But I won’t be giving up my protein-style Double Doubles to protest values that, though I disagree with, others have the right to express. Even if I did, it wouldn’t be as effective as I’d wish. Refusing to give your dollar to these companies is a personal choice. Having a personal aversion to a company’s morals does not drive the market because just as many people share differing ideals. The market is driven by popularity. Veering away from gas-guzzling cars, for example, drives (pun, again, intended) the market quite a bit more effectively in the long run than simply not buying those BDG high-waisted jeans. It’s a more direct outcome to boycott inefficient cars rather than hoping your indirect vote may get the CEO to change his faith.

The point is to realize when you are being manipulated…not necessarily by the enticement of perfectly prepared burgers and animal fries, but by the fallacies we’re sold on. Obamacare, pro-choice advocacy, or the end of a war may be what I support, but it is not what the company I’m paying supports. The clear manipulation is corrupt, yes, but that’s consumerism and is what we are paying to endorse. They give me something that is appealing to me, as a liberal, and use my money how they want. Maybe that’s only fair.