What do we think about this display? Apparently if you buy this bag from Ralph Lauren’s Rugby shop, for $35, 50 meals will be provided to Haitian schoolchildren through the UN World Food Program. This display should make me happy, yes? Feeding schoolchildren is good; Haitian relief effort, also good; targeting affluent college kids (this store is on University Place, just from the NYU campus), that’s gotta be good.
Somehow, though, despite all good intentions of the part of the store, this display irked me. Perhaps it’s the wild disparity between what it costs to feed a Haitian kid (50 meals for 35 bucks? that’s not very much food), and what the outfits on the mannequin cost: the “Ashlin X Rugby” is 89.50; the fleece shorts are 59.50; the “pointelle cotton ruffle dress” is $178; god only knows what you’d pay for those leg-warmers that look like they cut the arms of an old-fashioned tennis sweater (and we won’t ask why you’d wear leg-warmers and shorts. If you’re cold, put on pants). Those outfits, cashed in, would buy a lot of lunches for little kids.
If you dig around on the Rugby Ralph Lauren website, you find that the store is also selling a Haiti Relief t-shirt designed by CFDA for $25, with the entire proceeds going to Haitian relief through the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (Bubba and Dubya doing good works togetha). And that’s a good thing too, that money from these t-shirt sales will continue to fund relief efforts, long after all the movie stars have stopped answering phones at the telethon.
What is it, then, that bugs me, aside from a case of late February misanthrope-itis? Maybe it’s my populist streak coming out again, along with those gray roots I keep forgetting to get touched up? Couldn’t Ralph Lauren just give, outright, a big huge freaking check to the World Food Program, or the Bubba Dubya foundation, or Doctors Without Borders, or whichever organization suits his sensibility? Does he (and others like him) really need to shill a canvas bag–use the bag, in fact, as bait to lure shoppers into the shore? Come in to buy a bag, walk out with weird tennis sweaters for your legs?
I gave money to Haiti, I will continue to give money to Haiti, I hope we all continue to help re-build that country. But the Feed Haiti bag reminds me that all too often, “good works” are accompanied by a sense of self-aggrandizement: look at me! I’m helping!
That self-aggrandizement shouldn’t matter, right? What should matter–what does matter–is that money keeps funneling to those who are on the ground in Haiti. That’s the big picture. So if Rugby Ralph needs to flog a bag and a t-shirt on his website so that everyone knows what a mensch he is, fine, I guess. But there’s no way I’m buying those leg warmers.
The fashionizing–or, I guess, accessorizing–of sharing/giving is what irks me. I’m concerned that the implications and ramifications go beyond self-aggrandizement, deep into the territory of reducing social movements to flippant fashion fads or robbing causes of serious reflection. But then, I’m about as old as Virginia Woolf’s Old Mrs. Grey as far as my students are concerned, so maybe I’m just being an old fuddy.