Thursday, March 27, 2014

White Knighting in Detroit

Jon Moy has an article in Four Pins about Shinola's presence in Detroit and its manipulation of the city's image:
Listen, I can stomach hipsters planting flowers written with nice things about Detroit for a dog park one day. I can take $500 quartz watches and a section on their webshop entitled "Curated" that offers American flags that cost more than a brand new car. I can even take ten dollar cold-pressed juices when the city lacks grocery stores. Even those aren't too much of an affront. What I can't take is the white knighting of Shinola's promotional campaigns. The company insists that "Detroit isn’t as bad as it seems"—that there are happy and proud people here too. To demonstrate just how optimistic and amazing Detroiters are, Shinola enlisted Bruce Weber and Carolyn Murphy—both out of towners, both white—to shoot the company’s latest ad campaign. The accompanying video, subtitled "A snapshot of life in the Motor City," features photogenic models pedaling two thousand dollar bikes through the city. Photos of adorable black kids with a beautiful, benevolent white woman seem to be the centerpiece of Weber's campaign for the company. They even have a video of one of the little girls rapping. Bruce Weber is quoted saying, "People were really friendly. They looked you in the eye when they said hello on the street, and they greeted you with a smile." Detroit may be bankrupt, but that doesn't mean its citizens aren't normal, functioning human beings, Bruce. 
This idea that people would be surprised by how human and artistic and talented Detroit's citizens are if they just came and visited is ludicrous and emblematic of a new type of gentrification, one that seems even more insidious than what has occurred in, say, Brooklyn. Shinola and other entrepreneurs market themselves as white knights, swooping in to save the noble savages. They help assuage the guilt associated with gentrification and consumerism by pointing out how strong and proud and culturally important the natives truly are—that simply by choosing to be in Detroit, Shinola is somehow better than other companies selling similar products. Shinola is using my city as its shill, pushing a manufactured, outdated and unrealistic ideal of America. And, in that way, the company’s slogan—"Where American is Made"—is more accurate than its owners could have ever hoped.
In the piece, he outlines the manufacturing history of some of Shinola's products: the bicycles, the watches, and the jeans (Detroit Denim--who knew?). The research is informative and his critique is on-point. (But no grocery stores? Has this guy not heard there's a Whole Foods in Midtown?)

My main curiosity is why there is not more of a marketing campaign around the journals, which are the only Shinola product within my pay grade and, incidentally, not even mentioned in Moy's article. Is graph paper just not sexy enough for these people? There's even a back pocket where you can store essays about gentrification in the city. Mine, sadly, is already full.

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