Friday, January 15, 2010

Corporate Use of the Peace Sign: Diluting Its Meaning or Infiltrating the Young Mind?

The less short of the short people has officially entered the "tween" stage. She and TheWife went through her clothes, purging that which was too babyish. She also let us know that she has a favorite clothing store, a place whose offerings fit what she envisions as "her style." It is a typical corporate mall-based store, but has the interesting name "Justice." It isn't fair-trade clothes as one would hope, but when entering, it was filled with pseudo-tie-dye and other shirts sporting facsimile protest slogans designed for pre-teens -- "Save the Earth: It's the only planet with candy" and "Peace, love, and hope."

The clothing has lots of bright colors and lots of glitter, but I also noticed lots of peace signs. I couldn't help but notice an incredible ambivalence as I tried to tune out the sappy boy band music. On the one hand, it is corporate appropriation. This is an attempt to capitalize on the shallowest idea of peace within the usual consumeristic American way of being, not trying to induce people into a sustainable, thoughtful, caring lifestyle. In that sense it seemed a betrayal to use our symbol against us. On the other hand, the overt attempt to include sentiments at least on our side made it seem like a painless first step that could coax young girls just worried about clothes to begin to think about these issues. A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. And success is, in some sense, going mainstream. It is making basic notions of peace entirely unoffensive to the middle of America where they can do the most good. Cohousing communities in Oregon are one thing, malls in conservative central Maryland are another. If it can help make it part of the psyche, maybe it is a good thing.

I don't know which instinct to follow here. Is the corporate appropriation of the peace sign a good thing or a bad thing?