There was a fun but short-lived period in America where anything that we didn’t like got the same simple treatment: There’d be an image of the offending item, with a red circle and a line slicing its diameter laid over it. Righteous teens had posters showing an array of drugs and fresh rock music from Satan, vetoed from their lifestyle by the banning circle of contempt. Hippie vans brandished a sticker with the word “Disco” and the red imprint. I think at one point my high school locker featured a photo of Lawrence Welk circled and sliced. I apologize; the man was a Champagne Music Maker.
Yes, those were golden times for disdain. That red stamp made self-expression easy and more time-sensitive. What happened to those simple, argumentative stickers? Now they only show up occasionally at souvenir stands or gun shows.
I’ve envisioned a few stickers lately as I’ve read and listened to the voices calling for a boycott of the Olympics in China. Last week the Mirror ran a syndicated cartoon representing the five Olympic rings as constructed of barbed wire. Set against a black background, that design might yield a few extra dollars for the artist as a bumper sticker. But it wouldn’t be addressing anything except some unfocused anger and a very narrow take on foreign relations.
Much as I’m with all of you on Tibet, is this a good time for Americans to be preaching to other nations about human rights? We may have a better human rights record than other nations if viewed over the last 100 years, but tell that to the father in Afghanistan whose daughter’s wedding was bombed by US war planes in 2002 or any number of detainees at Guantanamo.
Then there’s this notion that the Olympics is obligated to be responsive to current political injustices. The Olympics may be a lot of things, including a corrupt cabal that accepts bribes in determining host cities and countries. But in theory anyway, the Olympics is an alternative to standard political wrangling and war. And it’s widely accepted that boycotts only hurt the careers of hard-working athletes attempting, among other things, to bring pride to their homelands.
There should be no dialogue about sending a message to China that ignores our $200 billlion-plus trade deficit with them. A boycott of Wal-Mart for one week would have far greater impact than any boycott of the Olympics, and those participating would show a deeper understanding of US-China relations. But I suspect that calls for an Olympic boycott aren’t being made with a concern for net effectiveness or sustainable logic.
They’re just strategically timed cries of disdain. And we’re becoming more reliant on that kind of temporary and largely useless feel-good expression rather than focusing on smarter and longer-lasting goals. Part of me suspects this is because we now wait for our disdain to morph into easily adapted consumer behaviors. Change is now dissent waiting for popularity and an array of accessory goods. Breast cancer awareness t-shirts now in stock at Target; Roe v. Wade anniversary t-shirts… not so much. Have Target’s buyers approached their Chinese suppliers about the “Free Tibet” t-shirts they’d like to stock if this drumbeat against the Olympics continues?
We’ve had the message on global warming since the 1970s. Here’s what we didn’t have back then: Attractive hybrid automobiles, cloth bags reading “This is not a plastic bag,” consumer goods with recycled elements, computer-generated cartoon critters that somehow tap our compassion more effectively than their real-life counterparts, and fairs and festivals celebrating our green-ness. In short, easily adapted consumer expressions of our disdain for global warming.
Why Obama right now and not Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988? Is it because Obama is a more pleasing, desirable product for consumers shopping for change? The Iraq war and the deceptions that pushed us into it were clear in 2004; our disdain for Bush was heated to the proper temperature. But I guess intelligent war hero John Kerry wasn’t dreamy, smooth, and user-friendly enough for an undeniable majority to make their purchase decision. Why is all this “change” so compelling now when we knew in 2004 that we desperately needed a new product?
Acknowledging humanity’s tendency to do too little too late in many scenarios, I’m still wondering if there’s an emerging 21st century aesthetic of “change” requiring that situations reach an inviting level of approval reinforced by attractive related products that can be advantageously flaunted. Obama’s handlers might properly respond, “Duh!” Others might say better this than no response at all. English theologian Richard Hooker observed: “Change is not made without inconvenience.” But that was in the 16th century… before you could screen “Boycott Bubonic Plague” on a t-shirt.