Memorial Ethics: Under Armour’s “Disrespect”

Underarmor

The Horror…

Just in time for Memorial Day comes this depressing example of how timid and wan Americans have become when free speech and expression are under attack. This is how acceptance of the Universal Veto of the Officious Offended will reduce the U.S. to a barren, humorless, imagination-free culture dominated by political correctness bullies and exploitive self-anointed, power-seeking “victims.”

Under Armour advertised a “Band of Ballers” tee-shirt showing a silhouette of men in backwards baseball caps raising a basketball hoop in the iconic pose of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, in which combat weary soldiers are frozen in the act of raising an American flag after the Marine’s bloody victory at Iwo Jima.

There is nothing remotely wrong with this design. It is not disrespectful It is satire. It is a parody. It is using the status of the image to extol basketball; only a fool could read the image as an effort to denigrate veterans or the American flag. Personally, I think it’s clever, just as I like Charles Addams’ cartoon showing butchers wrestling with sausages in the pose of the famous statue of Laocoon and his sons being devoured by serpents…

Addams Cartoon

…or parodies of Washington crossing the Delaware, like this ad for HBO’s “Veep”…

Painting parody

…or spoofs of the “Spirit of ’76″…

Spirit76-03

But some indignant veterans who have nothing better to do than fire off e-mails expressing their dislike of apparel that was neither designed for them, intended for them, or forced upon them, objected vociferously, so Under Armour made the shirt unavailable to those who wanted to buy it, pulling it off the market with a craven series of tweets that said…

 “Under Armour has the utmost respect and admiration for active duty service men and women and veterans who have served our country. We deeply regret and apologize the release of a shirt that is not reflective of our commitment to support & honor our country’s heroes We have taken the necessary steps to remove this shirt, and any related shirts, from all retail and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Ensure that what doesn’t happen again? Historical references? Parodies? Humor? Irreverence? A sports apparel company daring to compare the “combat” of playground hoops to real combat?

We should be grateful for any pop culture reference that reminds our stunningly ignorant younger generations of American history; if schools won’t do the job, somebody has to. Jay Leno once showed the Rosenthal AP photo that served as the model for the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial to a group of clueless Gen Xers in his “Jay Walking” segment. One woman…she was on a college campus…opined that this was a photo of U.S. astronauts raising a flag on the moon.

Moreover, as Clint Eastwood’s film “Flags of Our Fathers” reminded us, the photo itself was a staged PR stunt, recreating an unrecorded event that had just occurred, with different participants.

Under Armour is the sole guilty party here—someone is going to complain about anything and everything now— as is every company, corporation, celebrity, university, sports franchise and school district that caves in to censorship efforts when there has been no legitimate offense. They take the path of least resistance, rather than stand up for expressive freedom, as is their duty as citizens in our society. That is ironic, when you think about it. My favorite fatuous complaint about the tee-shirt was from a tweeter who wrote,

“6,281 men didn’t die at Iwo Jima so you could sell a “Band of Ballers” t-shirt.”

Actually, you moron, they did.

_________________________

Facts: USA Today

41 thoughts on “Memorial Ethics: Under Armour’s “Disrespect”

  1. As a proud veteran, I see nothing wrong with the Under Armour T-shirt image. For goodness sakes, have we completely lost our collective minds? I still remember seeing that Disney image showing his characters mimicking the fife and drummers of the picture supposedly representing of Revolutionary heroes. I guess I expected a more mature veteran response than the one(s) that obviously got you fired up.

  2. While the image itself is not particularly offensive, I don’t really find the accompanying motto, Band of Ballers which reduces the cleverly reframed image into a mere testicle joke, to be in particularly good taste.

    I can only assume that the crude double meaning of “baller” was either intentional or very carelessly overlooked. (Though, calling veterans “baller” would not be an insult, per se…)

  3. The real impact of the image is not that it happened “after” the victory. It didn’t even happen after Suribachi was secured…

    It happened in the middle of combat, one iconic photo shows a Marine pulling security… though the photo was staged, that marine pulling security was not, there was still an intense Japanese presence in and around the mountain.

    A real and powerful part of the story is the raising of the flag was not the end of the battle, but that in the following weeks, many of the flag raisers – original and posed would die in the battle.

  4. Of course, Under Armour, a large benefactor of the military-industrial complex (better termed government-media-corporate-education-legal complex), makes tons of revenue on soldiers and the military.

    They only made the “right” *business* decision…

  5. More symbolism ethics. I disagree with you. The art pieces you compare it to are symbolic (sure – they mean something) but they are not also held as symbols (nobody puts them on a logo). The flag raising over Iwo Jima, however, is. A specific symbol of the battle but also a larger symbol of sacrifice, determination, brotherhood, and costly victory. It has statues all over these United States and is regularly used whenever a group or company wants to make a nod to the solemn values represented by this symbol.

    And that’s where you’re wrong. Parodying or satirizing an art piece? Sure: ethical all day. Parodying or satirizing a deeply held cultural symbol? With few exceptions: tasteless, needlessly offensive, and unethical.

    • 1. How deeply held is it half the population doesn’t recognize it?
      2. Why is the sacrifice and bravery of Washington and his troops less of a sacrifice than the Marines made? I don’t see it. It’s older, that all.
      3. The Spirit of 76 isn’t a symbol? Who says? It’s a famous and iconic symbol of American courage and liberty, and also includes the flag. Is it “Mickey Mouse” to you?
      4.”Parodying or satirizing a deeply held cultural symbol” is 100% American anbd absolutely legitimate. Were you offended by the shot of the Statue of Liberty in the original “Raise your hand if you’re sure!”deodorant commercial? If so—WOW. If not, then you are inconsistent and being emotional rather than analytical.

      • 1. How deeply held is it half the population doesn’t recognize it? —
        Deeply held enough for there to be wide public outcry. Deeply held enough for that outcry to counter and reverse corporate inertia.

        2.Why is the sacrifice and bravery of Washington and his troops less of a sacrifice than the Marines made? I don’t see it. It’s older, that all. —
        It isn’t less and I didn’t say it was. Only that it’s not one of the de facto symbols that modern culture associates with sacrifice and bravery in war. The flag over Iwo Jima is.

        3. The Spirit of 76 isn’t a symbol? Who says? It’s a famous and iconic symbol of American courage and liberty, and also includes the flag. Is it “Mickey Mouse” to you? —
        Your confusing symbolism (having a symbolic nature) with symbol (actually being a symbol) again. The Spirit of 76 is symbolic but is not also commonly recognized as a symbol in and of itself. The flag over Iwo Jima is. Much of my response to 2 applies here as well.

        4. ”Parodying or satirizing a deeply held cultural symbol” is 100% American anbd absolutely legitimate. Were you offended by the shot of the Statue of Liberty in the original “Raise your hand if you’re sure!”deodorant commercial? If so—WOW. If not, then you are inconsistent and being emotional rather than analytical. —
        I never said it wasnt American or illegitimate only that treating the symbols that other people hold dear (in this case veterans and patriotic leaning Americans) in a way that they would find offensive is generally unethical. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of New York for New Yorkers but it doesn’t also have nearly the same wide scale connection and emotional gravitas as Iwo Jima. This is a watered down version of the same ethics issue surrounding depictions of Mohamed and dunking the crucifix into urine.

        Most of your counter points were already covered in the original post. Now that I’ve given them specific treatment here I’d like to hear why you don’t think the same ethical principles as piss christ and mohamed cartoons don’t apply. Unless it’s a very good argument I’d say that youre being inconsistent and while probably not emotional certainly less analytical.

        • “I’d like to hear why you don’t think the same ethical principles as piss christ and mohamed cartoons don’t apply.”

          Cuz it wouldnt be Ethics Alarms without typos messing with your closer.

        • I don’t even see the similarity in any way. The intent of drawing cartoons of Muhammad are to offend. The intent of the Under Armour parody is to glorify basketball, and offend nobody. You’re mixing up the first and second Niggardly Principles. This is #1, and only #1. #2, would dictate that once the objections are registered, there would be no good reason for the company to double down with more Iwo Jima paridies. It does not say that the original, non-offensive offense should be apologized for or eliminated.

          As for the rest, RP< you are just stating eccentric opinions. The Statue of Liberty is an NYC symbol and not a national one? I'd venture that most citizens don't believe that…I sure don't.

          • Mohammed/christ was intended to offend and they did offend. This wasnt intended to offend but it did. The difference in intent makes the ethical breach less severe – it doesnt nullify it entirely.

            The position is hardly eccentric – are you seriously arguing that the Statue of Liberty as a symbol is held with same respect and reverence as the flag over Iwo Jima? How many people died for the statue of liberty? How many movies have been about it? How many copy cat installations are scattered across the US? How many times has the statue been parodied without public outcry?

            No sir. As symbols the two don’t compare. The Staue of Liberty is a national symbol (sure) but the only place it comes close to the same level of cultural emotional investment is in New York. And even then I argue that the statue is held to a lower standard of respect and dignity than Iwo Jima.

            The symbol is being treated without the solemnity and grace its customarily afforded and more than that, the cultural values it represents are anathema to the “baller” culture it’s being twisted to serve – all in the name of poorly considered profit. Seems like pretty legit push back to me.

            • Baloney. The point is that it’s offensive to those with excessive sensitivity, and the company is under no obligation to deal with an eccentric, contrived offense. The Islam-offending cartoons are objectively offensive, because that it their intent. Subjective offensiveness is not the responsibility of the contrived offender. Don’t buy the tee-shirt. You don’t get a veto.

  6. Jack, I really think Armour did the right thing by apologizing for this offensive tee shirt and removed it from their stock. I am not a Marine myself (there are no ex-Marines!) but did serve in the US Army Reserve during the Vietnam era. The Marines suffered 26,000 casualties taking Iwo Jima and I wouldn’t blame a Marine at all if he saw some stupid millennial wearing this shirt and had a confrontation with the jerk.

    • Not being willing or able to distinguish the photo, which is as deep as this cartoon gets, with the actual battle is strange. Nobody buying the T-shirt is likely to know a thing about the battle. It’s a commentary on the image, and only the image. Taking offense at that which is neither intended as an offense or that has to be taken as one is gratuitously censorious. The Redskins come to mind. Since the name has nothing to do with racial denigration or white-Native American relations, it’s unfair to intentionally take the name as an insult. Same here.

      • Not only am I a veteran, but I was born prior to the flag raising, and my Old Man was a Marine. I am NOT offended, and I thought the T-shirt was rather cute.

  7. I’d give a lot to know who, specifically, obje3cted to the image. I guarantee none of either the original or re-staged participants did (they’ve all passed, sadly), so it MUST have been someone with no connection to the actual event. Had I been in Under Armour’s shoes, my response would have been as American as it gets…”If it offends you, don’t buy it. Now Get Lost.”

  8. I was thinking about that Flags of Our Fathers thing as I read the post, and then you mentioned it. Go see it and its companion movie, Letters from Iwo Jima. As an adopted American this is how I catch up on history. 😊

    And while on the subject of military movies, The Thin Red Line is good one too, but now I’m digressing.

    • My only problem with Thin Red Line is Sean Penn. At least it has the saving grace that he gets hiss ass blown off (literally) because of his own stupidity.

  9. Having been on active duty in the early ’60’s, I served with a number of fellow Marines who had fought on Iwo Jim and to a man they would have beaten down the folks who found fault with this T-shirt. It was amusing and entirely right. After all we swore allegiance to the Constitution (not the Government or a President) and everything the Constitution Represents. So, get a life – but I wonder if these were real “Veterans” or just busybodies.

    However this is just not a true statement, and a cursory investigation would have proven that to you: “Moreover, as Clint Eastwood’s film “Flags of Our Fathers” reminded us, the photo itself was a staged PR stunt, recreating an unrecorded event that had just occurred, with different participants.”

    This was not staged, nor intended as an “event”. The original flag was too small to be seen over the island and was replaced by the larger flag – which resulted in this photograph. There is a movie of this flag raising, taken by a Marine Combat Correspondent with 8mm movie camera, which gives lie to the “staged” comment. That Correspondent is still on Iwo Jima, lost in a cave where he died recording the battle, but his film lives on. Both flag raisings were filmed and photographed and all the participants identified.

  10. You’re right. We’re living in the Age of Apology. The faux-offended wimps launch their paper missiles, and the weenie offenders rush to apologize. Both camps need to be bitch-slapped and smacked down for good.

  11. I am tired so this may be a bit of a ramble. I do find it somewhat offensive, I am not a baller but a Marine, I don’t care for the image or language used on the shirt. Marines are brought up to have pride and reverence in our history and traditions, the flag raising is one of most our significant symbols. Regardless if the offence was unintended any Marine or Sailor who takes issue with has that right.

    With that said I feel the company is free to do what it likes but one of their largest segments spoke and they chose to listen. Others may feel much of the outrage it is an overreaction and it likely is but your not hearing calls from the military for government intervention or legislative action as we believe in the 1st amendment. Under Armour has great access to and a long relationship with the military and this has the taint of a co-op of one of its symbols for financial gain in separate segment. I think Under Armour truly respects the military beyond a market share and their caving in to the outrage was likely made out of actual respect and not fear of of the bottom line which will actually increase brand loyalty.

  12. Oh boy.

    When I saw the image, I thought, “Well, which way is Jack gonna go on this one? Piss Christ: Good? Geller Mohamed: Bad? Disrespectful of Dad? Dad would love it! Potato? Patahto? Tomato? Tamahto? Well, whichever way he’s gonna go, he’s going to come down with the absolute authority of a guillotine, or Bernie Sanders.”

    Query: Aren’t there limits to the utility of these sorts of discussion? I mean, in a few instances it’s nice to frame the issues, but don’t emotions and other factors well outside ethics often heavily and legitimately come into play? Are these other factors not sometimes dispositive? Do we ignore them at our peril?

    Regards.

    • I didn’t see the Piss Christ analogy, and still don’t. The closest is the Redskins. I hate everything about Dan Snyder other than the fact that he’s refused to cave on his team’s name.

      • That’s funny. He is awful and doing a great job of meticulously and relentlessly demolishing a football team. Makes Jerry Jones look astute. Hail to the Redskins… Root for old D.C. Why are Redskins fans so blindly rabid? Worse than Bears and Cubs fans. And rapidly approaching them in futility.

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