All of my heroes buy Nike

Radical Images are sanitized, Kaepernick gives us a case study in modern public politics.

Andy Stec, Senior Collumnist

“It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” Mark Fisher lamented in Capitalist Realism. He was speaking of the modern motif of equating a dominant economic system with ‘Reality’ itself. To this end, he and Slavoj Žižek pointed towards the recuperation of revolutionary messages via their commodification. Ideas, images, lifestyles, musics, concepts – anything containing a politically radical message becomes incorporated within the system it is seeking to critique.

Televised sport runs parallel with Hollywood as the greatest production house for cultural capitalism’s ideology. Whereas Hollywood can help us sate our need for rebellion by giving us safe, establishment-filtered modes of revolt to consume – WALL-E and other such anti-capitalist, capitalist entertainment – professional televised sport belongs to the alternative avenue: a complete separation of the self from social reality. Kaepernick exploded this border with his protest of racial inequality, and the ideology spit back.

Hamline students, for the most part, have either largely forgotten who Kaepernick was or are unimpressed or ambivalent with his recent action, that being a recent ad campaign with Nike; his profile is paired with the Nike logo and tagline, “Just do it.” or, alternatively, “Believe in something.” The larger cultural sphere, again, was either angered by the campaign – Nike destruction videos rose in popularity – or expressed a smug contentedness. The racists of the world were stupidly destroying their own property, and we, the enlightened liberals, could laugh and be glad that Kaepernick was receiving new publicity.

“I feel good about it,” one Hamline student said, “I think it’s good of Nike and good of him, ‘cause Nike has a partnership with the NFL anyways, so this can be a way back in.”

Another, perhaps more cynical, student was also in favor of Nike’s ads.,

“I don’t understand why it’s a negative that Nike is doing it,” the other student said. “If Nike will have him as an ambassador, that’s great – but he didn’t stand for the flag for a reason, and Nike needs to support that.”

A conservative student had different observations about Nike. “The whole thing is just silly. A company that uses foreign child labor to make their products are pandering to the liberals.”

Nike’s Kaepernick is the modern face of the culture wars anthropomorphized. Corporations like Apple or Dominos take stands on social-cultural issues, and we rally behind their brands in like-minded support. In this stage, we are given safe methods of consuming capitalist critique and amelioration.

It is only natural, then, that the Culture Industry absorbed the latest act of rebellion within itself: to the degree that consumption can be correlated with rebellion. I can buy Nike now, because I know it supports racial justice. To a large extent, Hamline students seem conscious of this level of recuperation, but campus rhetoric still lingers within the realm of corporate activism. How can we consume ethically? How can our brands be more green? How can our brands support the third world? Environmentalism – the greatest existential threat to global capitalism – has been successfully assimilated as Target phases in reusable bags and Starbucks ditches plastic straws.

Kaepernick serves as a reified image. Nike didn’t publish images of the Castile killing or protests that followed. Kaepernick’s profile alone allows the company to avoid such disruptive images, a way to avoid the issue. Public interaction with the ad – a celebrity image reified to create a commodified representation of social ill – has allowed Nike to shield itself, and the system indirectly, behind an image of a celebrity which itself is deified and reinterpreted into a cultural icon. The result is that public debate ultimately becomes interaction with the reified image itself – not the social reality it stands in place of.

“They know yet they do as if they didn’t,” Žižek remarked of this effect. Discussion centers upon if kneeling players are ‘patriotic,’ ‘standing up for what is right’ becomes not about a stand for racial equality, but about the ethics of the stand itself. How much of the debate discussed the constitutionality of kneeling? How Kaepernick and others actually were patriots? All the while active wage slavery and colonial subjugation exists in the open: common knowledge, yet ignored and cast aside for arguments over celebrity and patriotism. How can one be political? What issue could resist recuperation, and what hasn’t already been precorporated?