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Volume 11, Issue 2: Childer

The Nike Swoosh

Douglas Wilson

At some point, somebody with advertising authority decided that a lot of valuable advertising space was being neglected-there were simply acres of empty space just sitting there on tee-shirts, shoes, ball caps, warm-up jackets, and so forth. And so then another somebody decided that they could get a warm-hearted general public to fill up these extra spaces with various corporate insignia. But unlike billboard advertising, where the advertiser pays money to hawk his wares, our new form of most cool wear requires the one giving the advertising space to pay money to the company for the privilege of walking around decorated by them.

This is a widespread cultural nuisance, of course, and perfectly idiotic, but how is it a problem for parents?
The problem involved in this relates to the broader problem of what constitutes "cool." Fashion and peer pressure have no doubt been a problem for as long as more than three teenagers have been alive at the same time. Fads and fashion are nothing new in the world. But the problem of consumerist cool really does introduce a new tangle in this old, old story.
For example, in the fifties, when something became hot, something on the order of hula hoops, everybody had to have one. And they had to have one because they had to be like "all the other kids."
But snookered by our new consumerist culture, we now see that everybody has to have the latest hot thing in order to be different. In other words, in the old days you had to be like everyone else in order to be like everyone else. But this new generation coming up is media-savvy and street-smart-hip; they have to be like everybody else so that they can be different from everybody else. The old conformists at least knew what they were doing. The new conformists haven't a clue. They have been massaged into thinking they are striking a blow for individual liberty and freedom of choice whenever they ask for money to buy just what all the other non-conformists are buying.
In the old order, parents at least had a chance to shame their children whenever they were clamoring for the latest thing. "Why do you want to be just like everybody else?" But parents today have been outflanked. The child wants to conform because he wants to be his own person, and needs to assert his own individuality. He cannot be asked, "Why do you want to be just like everybody else?" That is exactly the reason why he needs to buy Lone Cool Cola, and not that other kind.
This propaganda angle is taken by advertisers everywhere. We are instructed to be our own dog, and the way to do this is to buy a beer that millions of others are buying. We are told by Burger King that "Sometimes You Gotta Break the Rules." If they really wanted to break the rules, they would put the meat on top of the two buns. And then add the lettuce. From the cradle on, young people have heard little else from advertisers. Do this, along with millions of others, and you will find your individual self...
Any child who thinks that Nike sneakers cost over a hundred bucks because the technology of sneaker making is so advanced these days probably ought not to be allowed by his parents to get his driver's licence. He'd be dangerous on the road. Well over half of that price is simply for the privilege of being cool-as measured and declared by the ubiquitous swoosh. Who wants to trot around with whatever ridiculous logo Pony is using nowadays? The forehead reddens to think of it, until next week.
The difficulty here is a very practical one, and involves teaching your children to think like Christians. Because this seductive whisper is everywhere, it is easy to pretend that it is really nowhere. But the very real pressure comes to bear-frequently-whenever a pragmatic mother tries to make a shopping choice that would save a goodly amount of money, but would leave the kids without the necessary designer label. The poor children can't be cool without Tommy Whosit emblazoned on their hindquarters. And-until next week-going to school in Adidas is simply unthinkable-gotta preserve that precious individuality through consuming cravenness!
How silly we are being is hard for us to see. We have to use a thought experiment to get outside the boundaries of our thoroughly commercialized times. Just try to imagine Jonathan Edwards in a Hard Rock Cafe/Boston polo shirt. Or Patrick Henry sporting a Garth Brooks commemorative concert tour shirt? And the evangelical catch-up artists, manufacturing their copy-cat Christian designer goods, have transcended all this secular silliness and clambered up into a veritable nirvana of pious imbecility. Pagans are bad; we are worse.
Of course biblical parents must refuse to be tyrannized by the demands and dictates of cool. But they must be prepared to do more than simply make contrary shopping choices. The Bible requires that parents instruct their children in the art of biblical thinking. This is an important topic for dinner table discussion. After all, do you really want them to have to say, at the end of their lives, that they lived and died at the turn of the millennium, and all they got was this lousy tee-shirt?

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