Pop quiz, Ethics Alarmers: if you worked for Nike, and learned that it was about to launch a new campaign promoting the brand’s Trail Running collection with this—“The Lost Cause…Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting”—what would you do? I assume that most of you would immediately recognize that the Lost Cause, in American historical context, refers to the sentimental, romantic and troubling interpretation of the Confederacy’s defeat, in which slavery is recalled as a benevolent institution and the Civil War as a noble effort by the South to protect a civilization now “gone with the wind”—the title of the film which, coincidentally, I am watching as I type this.
“Shoes for the Confederacy?” tweeted historian Jacqueline Antonovich. “@NikeTrail, hire more people with a humanities background to avoid this embarrassment.”
Oh, no you don’t. This is a mass U.S. education system failure, not just a matter of Nike not hiring enough scholars and history majors. All citizens in this country should know about the Civil War, Jim Crow, and the cultural forces that both created them and emanate from them to this day. To be fair, the now-dinged call out to die-hard rebels wasn’t too much more facile and lazy that the “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” campaign that cynically turned that kneeling boob Colin Kaepernick into some kind of martyr. It was, however, spectacularly depressing, for it once again showed how dangerously clueless and unread even educated Americans are regarding their nation’s history.
I wonder how many of the Confederate statue topplers could have flagged what was wrong with Nike’s “Lost Cause” evocation. My guess? Almost none of them. Just one more reason I refuse to be lectured about how to represent our history by people whose knowledge and understanding of American history is about where mine was by the third grade.
Ok, be honest now…