By Chris Maza
There’s a lot about social media I like.
Mostly, it has opened up an avenue for me to more easily stay connected with family and friends in other parts of the world. It’s also allowed me to easily access news and information. And, admittedly, I love a good humorous meme and I’ll get a little teary-eyed watching a video of soldiers coming home and being greeted by their kids and/or pets (keep those coming all day, every day).
But social media has a lot of shortcomings as well. Cyberbullying, the spread of false information, stolen or sold personal information are all pitfalls. But one of the biggest ones I see that has pervaded our society is the outrage culture that such a medium encourages. Thoughtful conversation doesn’t happen often on social media, mostly because of the way it is designed. While “social” in nature, it is targeted at the individual. It’s primarily a soapbox platform for making statements, not create dialogue. As time has gone on, people have become conditioned to become more emboldened in what they post. With that, more extreme viewpoints have come to the surface and with it increased pressure to pick a side and the insistence that if you’re not as mad about it as people want to appear to be on social media that you don’t care.
For a moderate like me, it’s maddening.
Which is why I have spent the past week or so rolling my eyes over the constant deluge of posts on my social media streams about Nike’s recent decision to pull a specialty sneaker. For those of you who haven’t heard, here’s a brief rundown. Nike had plans to release a shoe around the Fourth of July that featured the original American flag with its 13 stars, being referred to as the “Betsy Ross Flag.” Former NFL quarterback turned activist and Nike spokesman Colin Kaepernick (if you don’t know who he is at this point, I’m sorry, but I don’t have room in this column for THAT topic) went to Nike with complaints, stating he and others found the flag offensive because it harkens back to an era of slavery. Nike opted not to release the shoes. The Wall Street Journal got wind of this and published a story.
Well, you can just imagine how this went over in the outrage fueling world of social media. You would have thought Nike was sacrificing newborns to Kaepernick. Or that Nike is a beacon of all that is right and decent in society. It all depends on what side of the expansive gulf between the left and the right the poster aligned with.
For my part, I mostly try to stay out of these kinds of things because truthfully, this isn’t something anyone would be getting worked up about if not for the social media platforms that encourage this. People are basically shouting to no one in particular about … a shoe. Imagine if social media didn’t exist. How many of us would be hollering (and I mean actually hollering) about a sneaker design?
First off, I think the complaint about the level of offensiveness of the flag is misplaced. Look, America is a country that was built on the backs of slaves. It was a major part of our commerce in our country’s infancy and its impacts have had a ripple effect throughout our history. There is no denying that. It’s part of our very imperfect past and we need to acknowledge it and own it. The flag, from the “Betsy Ross Flag” to today’s Stars and Stripes, represents our nation and that means everything, the good and the bad. It represents some of the deplorable things that have happened, but it also represents all of the good we have done, the progress we have made, and our hope for a better future for our children. One can look upon the flag with respect while still recognizing this country’s past and present imperfections. We do it with other things every day. Heck, take my wife for example: For all of my flaws (and there are many), she still loves me!
It’s also been suggested that the “Betsy Ross Flag” has become a symbol of white supremacy. While some may have tried to subvert the flag’s meaning in this way, to forsake it because that gives them more power over one of the most important of American symbols.
Then there’s the other side. People are peeved about the discontinuation of a shoe they most likely wouldn’t have even known existed if not for the media coverage. It’s a descent into the ridiculous.
The biggest mistake is the assumption that Nike actually has any interest in shaping political or social change and for that reason, they listened to Kaepernick. They didn’t. They listened to Kaepernick because he is part of and represents the largest demographic that the company sells shoes to. Recent studies show that Nike’s shoe customers tend to be younger minorities living in urban communities that hold similar liberal ideologies to those that have been shared by Kaepernick in the past. Nike wants to make money, plain and simple. Playing to their audience and heeding the advice of someone that group responds to is the best avenue toward that end. And stocks at least early on illustrate they made the right business decision. Yes, I know, many people will respond that a company should be willing to take a stand for things, etc., etc., but that’s not the reality of most business.
Sometimes we just need to take a step back from the phone or the keyboard, take a deep breath and calm down. We’re talking about a shoe that caused people to lose their minds to the point I felt compelled to write 1,000 words about it.
Is it really worth getting that worked up about?
Boy, I can’t wait to see the social media posts about this column!