There's nothing that will tear your heart out quicker than seeing one of your immortal heroes decide to sell out. Hearing the "conscious" rapper KRS-ONE declaring "The revolution is basketball" in a Nike ad back in the 90's was a particularly dark day for me. But at least living people havethe free will to decide to sell out. An even more despicable practice is waiting until an icon is dead, then pimping their image out to the highest bidder. Some responsibility falls on whoever licensed their image for commercial use. Some of it falls on us, the consumers, for making these campaigns financially worthwhile. But most of it falls on the damn ad people who co-opt someone's cool without their attendant philosophy. And now that Gonzo extraordinaire Hunter Thompson has popped up in a Converse ad, it's time for some serious boycott action. Some things just aren't right. Right?
Yea yea, it's all part of capitalism. Everything pure eventually gets taken over for monetary gain. We're all familiar with the thriving Che Guevara t-shirt industry. That doesn't make it any less objectionable. [Nike-owned] Converse's new campaign, "Connectivity," shows Dr. Gonzo side by side with a bunch of living and dead "icons," including the Sex Pistols' deceased frontman Sid Vicious, who would no doubt also be pleased to make a contribution to the sneaker industry. See, HT and Sid are "connecting" to basketball player Dwyane Wade and globo-hip-hop singer M.I.A, all for the love of the Converse brand!
So what if Hunter Thompson wore Converse on his dirty feet when he was alive? "Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of 'the rat race' is not yet final," he wrote in 1979. Dude, Converse is so about that too! It kind of makes you want to puke. But mostly it makes you sad.
It's not an across-the-board condemnation. Some celebrities were shiny commercial vehicles during their lives, and keeping them at it after they pass away isn't really sullying anything. Fred Astaire and Lucille Ball have made ghostly ad appearances, but would they really be upset, judging by their level of celebrity while alive? Not quite as clear-cut as Sid Vicious, who, if he stood for anything besides drugs and self destruction, probably stood for "Fuck the system." Which, it turns out, is exactly the image people want in their cheap canvas shoes.
Consider Apple's "Think Different" campaign: Martin Luther King, Einstein, Gandhi. Being used, indirectly, to sell computers. On the scale of disgust, it would have to rank lower than Converse's crime, because at least the "Think Different" spots were promoting some faux-version of peace on earth and goodwill among men. Whereas if one were to emulate Hunter Thompson by, say, sniffing a ton of coke, dropping acid, and running up in the Converse corporate headquarters shooting a shotgun at the company logo, the company would probably lose its enthusiasm for the implications of their endorsements.
Whenever the dead stop messing around in the afterlife and come back to earth in zombie form, they won't be happy about this. Zombie Gonzo will be dining on the bursting brains of the young cool creative minds that dreamed up his ad appearances. And we should all want a bite.
This is exactly why I only wear Adidas.