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Critical Studies in Media Communication
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Nike, social responsibility, and the hidden abode of
production
Carol A. Stabile
a
a
Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
Published online: 18 May 2009.
To cite this article: Carol A. Stabile (2000): Nike, social responsibility, and the hidden abode of production, Critical Studies in
Media Communication, 17:2, 186-204
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Critical Studies in Media Communication
Vol. 17, No. 2, June 2000, pp. 186-204
Nike, Social Responsibility, and the
Hidden Abode of Production
Carol A. Stabile
\^\-Nike Corporation irrefutably has created wealth for its owners and shareholders, but
its rhetoric of social responsibilityits self-presentation of the corporation as a now global
citizenconstitutes a more dubious claim. Nike is not alone in engaging in such marketing
practices, but the corporation has long been in the vanguard of innovations in both
production and marketing and therefore offers an instructive case study of how
multinational corporations produce and manage their public images. This essay looks at
the conditions that have made this particular self-presentation possible for U.S. consumers.
Hunger is hunger, but the hunger gratified
by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork
is a different hunger from that which bolts
down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail
and tooth. Production thus produces not
only the object but also the manner of
consumption, not only objectively but also
subjectively. Production thus creates the
consumer. (Marx, 1973, p. 92)
I
n June 1996, responding to journal-
ist Bob Herbert's scathing critique
of Nike's promotional rhetoric of so-
cial responsibility (1996b, p. A19),
Chairman and CEO Philip Knight reit-
erated Nike's alleged commitment to
humanity. Nike, he avowed, has long
"been concerned with developing safe
and healthy work environments wher-
ever it has worked with contractors in
emerging market societies," it provides
Carol A. Stabile is an Associate Professor in the
Department of Communication at the Univer-
sity of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. She
acknowledges the helpful feedback provided by
Lisa Frank, Allen Larson, Nagesh Rao, Mat-
thew Reichek, and Mark Ungeron earlier drafts
of this essay.
"free meals, housing and health care
and transportation subsidies," and "we
do our best to insure that labor abuses
do not occur." In a concluding flour-
ish, Knight wrote, "add to this the
200,000 people employed by our con-
tractors at the factory level and you
have a company that began in my
basement and today creates wealth
where none existed before" (p. A18).
Nike irrefutably has created wealth
for its owners and shareholders (when
the corporation went public in 1980,
for example, at least six of its sharehold-
ers became multimillionaires), but its
rhetoric of social responsibility-its self-
presentation of the corporation as a
now global citizen-constitutes a more
dubious claim. Of course, Nike is not
alone in engaging in such marketing
discourse, but the corporation has long
been in the vanguard of innovations in
both, production and marketing and
therefore offers an instructive case study
of how multinational corporations pro-
duce and manage their public images.
In terms of communication research,
this essay proceeds from the assump-
Copyright 2000, National Communication Association
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187
STABILE
tion that analyses of Nike's advertising
and public relations campaigns and
the ideologies therein expressed offer
little in the way of critical insight. In-
deed, the success of the rhetoric of
social responsibility depends on the
management of visible contradictions
and controversies, and the mainte-
nance of a number of invisible contra-
dictions and controversies. The follow-
ing analysis moves from the level of
the visible to the invisible in an attempt
to understand how the terms "corpora-
tion" and "social responsibility" have
been knit together within the media.
and to illuminate the issues and con-
flicts thereby rendered invisible.
Sneaker Wars
What too many people who live in other
places don't understand is that there's a
part of America where a Big Mac is a
celebration.... Most of the people in this
store, their lives are shit; their homes in the
projects are shit-and it's not like they don't
know it. There's no drop-in center around
here anymore, and no local place to go
that they can think of as their own. So they
come to my store. They buy these shoes
just like other kinds of Americans buy
fancy cars and new suits. It's all about
trying to find some status in the world-
Steven Roth, Owner, Essex House of Fash-
ion, Newark, NJ. (in Katz, 1994, p. 271)
One of the first high-profile contro-
versies Nike encountered involved an
association that emerged between
sneakers and the media's representa-
tions of inner-city violence. These
"sneaker wars" had their origins-ironi-
cally enough-in competition between
Nike and Reebok over market share.
In 1991, Nike and Reebok went head-
to-head in a television advertising cam-
paign known as "the sneaker wars."
1
Spending at least $130 million each,
their dueling commercials featured
NBA players who implied that their
respective brand of sneakers gave them
a competitive edge. Nike's own edge
over Reebok (by January 1992, Nike
had 40 percent of the market, while
Reebok had only 16 percent) and the
increased visibility of its Air Jordans
eventually provoked a public relations
crisis when the sneaker wars merged
with news coverage of inner-city vio-
lence (Rifkin, 1992, p. 10).
A spate of publicity in 1989 sug-
gested that children were killing each
other over athletic shoes and, in 1990,
Sports Illustrated reported that inner-
city youths were committing homi-
cides specifically for Air Jordans. In
August 1991, economic and racial ten-
sions turned violent in the Crown
Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. In
the months that followed the turmoil, a
significant amount of print media cov-
erage was devoted to the looting of a
store in Crown Heights called Sneaker
King, owned by a Korean family. The
brand name "Nike" featured promi-
nently in the coverage (Barron, 1991,
p. 3; Faison, 1991, p. 25). In March
1992, a fifteen-year old in Philadelphia
reportedly was killed during the theft
of his Air Jordans; in April 1992, South
Central LA erupted, with looting and
brand name sneakers again splashed
across pages and screens; and in July
1992, KP Original Sporting Goods in
Harlem was robbed. According to the
New York Times, in Harlem "10,000
pairs of Nike, Reebok and other high-
priced sneakers" were stolen in a
"frenzy of looting and violence" that
was "explained by two words: 'greed
and sneakers'" (Fritsch, 1992, p. 25).
The suburbs also became implicated in
apparently sneaker-motivated crimi-
nal behavior. Fairfield, Connecticut's
First Selectman, Jacquelyn C. Durrell
described "situations in town where
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188
NIKE JUNE 2000
youngsters not only had their bicycles
stolen but their sneakerstheir Mi-
chael Jordan Air Pumpsright off
them" (Lomuscio, 1991, p. 1).
As the sneakers at issue became asso-
ciated with the Nike brand (as inevita-
bly they would given Nike's promi-
nence in the market and its use of
African-American spokespersons), the
corporation was confronted with both
a problem and the opportunity for
some free, albeit dual-edged, publicity.
As Katz notes, "Magic had accrued to
the most carefully made shoes, and this
perception was clearly the result of a
hundred intricate cultural signals-
many of which had indeed been manu-
factured as a way to manipulate the
shape of popular desire" (1994, p. 269).
The problem Nike subsequently con-
fronted had two main aspects. On one
hand, the sneaker wars threatened to
become a critique of the very consum-
erist desires Nike had so successfully
manipulated. Had Nike been too suc-
cessful in manipulating "popular de-
sire"; so successful, in fact, that those
without the wherewithal to purchase
the shoes were willing to resort to vio-
lence to acquire a pair? From the per-
spective of an advertising-supported
media industry, this line of questioning
is especially dangerous since it threat-
ens to cast doubt on the very practices
that generate vast profits. Teen-agers,
for example, currently spend $57 bil-
lion of their own money and $36 bil-
lion of their families' money each year
(Conover, 1998, p. 13). Over the past
forty years, communication research
has invested enormous resources in
analyzing the effects of media violence
on viewers, while scant critical atten-
tion has been devoted to the effects of
advertising's ability to stimulate de-
sires for products and lifestyles outside
viewers' economic grasp and related
increases not in violence per se but in
crimes like burglary and theft.
2
Since
the articulation of sneakers and greed
followed on the heels of the highly
visible "sneaker wars" advertising cam-
paign, the possibility that Nike's aggres-
sive marketing campaign could have
spurred such greed wasn't much of a
stretch. Given the pervasiveness of me-
dia effects theory in popular culture, if
children were killing one another over
sneakers, blaming the media and Nike's
advertising practices might not be far
behind.
3
On the other hand, since Nike's ads
rely in large part on the positivism of
the contrast between the disciplined
African-American bodies it uses to sell
products and the criminalized African-
American bodies that abound in the
media, when die contrast threatened to
dissolve, the issue had to be carefully
managed. If Nike sneakers became
linked to gangs and inner-city vio-
lence-if the magic that had accrued to
them became tainted-consumption
might be affected, particularly if subur-
banites feared that their Nike-shod chil-
dren were at risk.
4
Understanding the problem as a po-
tential moral panic, Nike launched a
crisis management campaign.
5
In 1992,
Nike ran a number of antiracist ads by
Spike Lee, and in November of tiiat
year, Nike and Michael Jordan jointly
donated $200,000 to Chicago Public
Schools. By 1993, Nike was a key sup-
porter of "midnight basketball pro-
grams," and in 1994, during the inten-
sified coverage of crime that heralded
Clinton's Crime Bill, Nike formally
launched PLAY (Participate in the
lives of America's Youth). With pro-
motional moves that cost them very
little in the end (one need only com-
pare the $130 million dollars Nike
spent on advertising during the sneaker
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189
STABILE
wars with the corporation's paltry dona-
tion of $100,000 to Chicago schools),
Nike managed not only to publicize a
commitment to social responsibility,
but to suggest that the corporation was
part of the solution rather than part of
the problem.
PLAY in particular enabled Nike to
restore its veneer of social responsibil-
ity by implying that the solution to
inner city deterioration was through
the discipline of sport and its promise
of upward mobility. In so doing, the
program relied on a logic of inferential
racism:
There's a crisis in America right now. Kids'
sports and fitness programs are being axed
from schools and the country's playgrounds
aren't safe anymore. Access to play should
be a kid's inalienable right. Nike wants to
lead the charge to guarantee that these
rights to America's children are preserved.
(In Cole, 1996, pp. 7-8)
Framed in this way, the crisis locates
the problem as reductions in spending
to athletic programs thus implying that
the central problem in inner-city
schools is that poor children do not
have access to the formal discipline of
athletics. Despite the references to
"America" and "America's children,"
the crisis clearly emanates from the
inner-city, where crime runs rampant
and "playgrounds aren't safe any-
more." Without sports programs, inner-
city youths have no hope for the fu-
ture. As one PLAY ad puts it, "If you
couldn't dream of touchdowns, what
would you dream?" The undermining
of educational curricula in inner-city
schools through federal and state reduc-
tions does not generate the same kind
of marketing opportunities or moral
outragea fact that underscores the self-
interested nature of the campaign, as
well as its inferential racism. This is a
racist common sense that prioritizes (at
least rhetorically) athletic programs for
African-American children while sys-
tematically and simultaneously attack-
ing and eroding economic and educa-
tional programs. Moreover, behind the
humanitarian guise of PLAY, Nike's
perniciously exploitative recruitment
practices among inner-city youth re-
main concealed.
6
The emphasis on "play" further re-
lies on the deeply sedimented racist
belief that African-Americans are
"naturally" inclined to an excess of
energy and that they require appropri-
ate, socially-sanctioned outlets for such
"natural" behavior. Historically, a simi-
lar paternalism has been extended to
various poor and working-class ethnic
and racial groups (the Irish, Italians,
Chinese), whose participation in either
unofficial or illegal economies was said
to illustrate their biological proclivity
toward criminal or excessive behav-
iors.
7
However, where "gang" activity
in the case of these immigrant groups
occasionally led to upward mobility
and assimilation, racism in illegal (as
well as legal) economies has prevented
such mobility for African-Americans.
8
In essence, PLAY's "Revolutionary
Manifesto" depends upon a very tradi-
tional belief that sport and athletic pro-
grams provide the disciplinary struc-
ture that poor children are said to lack.
Since the family is seldom understood,
much less represented, as the eco-
nomic unit that it is, sport as surrogate
family is detached from economics. In
place of the economic stability that
might effect actual change in their lives,
children have an "inalienable right" to
"positive, energetic actions charged
with fun and free motion." Appar-
ently, poor children do not need food,
health care, shelter, clothing, or access
to a decent public educationthey need
an "active life, sport and the pursuit of
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190
NIKE
fun."
9
Indeed, these children are said
to have "choices" insofar as inner-city
youths can "choose" the immediate
gratification of the drug tradean occu-
pation that (despite the risk of being
arrested or shot) yields a great deal of
cashor they can "choose" the more
arduous and culturally heroic path to
riches provided by athletics.
In establishing life "choices" in a
way abstracted from material contexts,
PLAY takes advantage of existing me-
dia discourses and policy debates about
youths, poverty, and crime. Typically,
such discourses seek to minimize, or
even ignore, reference to the economic
circumstances in which poor children
and their families struggle to get by. As
William Adler observes in his land-
mark study of the Chambers family
and their crack cocaine empire in De-
troit,
Slam-bang stories and statistics outrage
people, but for the wrong reasons. Crack is
a scourge; its carnage, its devastation of
family and neighborhood life have been
documented thoroughly. But just as most
stories about homelessness fail to mention
that the federal government slashed hous-
ing subsidies, the raft of drug stories com-
pletely ignores why crack distribution is
for so many a rational career choice. There
often is no content to the stories; it is as if
crack fell from the sky. (1995, p. 5)
For example, in one New York Times
article, despite its informant's insis-
tence that he began dealing drugs be-
cause his mother' s welfare check could
not support him and his three younger
sisters, a day in his life is structured
around the following priorities:
On a spring morning four years ago in a
deadend neighborhood in Chicago, it was
Jovan Rogers's turn to sell a little bag of
crack that, added to the bags that he fig-
ured were sure to follow, could buy him
gym shoes and girlfriends and maybe keep
JUNE 2000
the electric company from turning off the
lights at his mother's apartment again.
(Wilkerson, 1994, p. Al, emphasis added)
Jovan' s life is structured around an in-
fantilized urge for commoditieswith
his responsibility to his mother added
only as an afterthought and contin-
gent, it is implied, on whether his ill-
gotten funds hold out. Despite the
voices that threaten to disrupt such
representations of inner-city life"he
says he would be happy to find a job
paying $6 or $7 an hour. But so far, he
said, no one but the drug dealers seem
willing to hire hi m" (Wilkerson, 1994,
p. A13);" ' There are no j o b s . . . What' s
Milton going to do to survive?' "
(Purdy, p. A10); " ' I prefer having a
job to being out in the streets', he said,
'getting harassed by cops, getting shot
at by [the Latin] Ki ngs' " (Nieves, p.
Al 1). The realities of economic immis-
eration are pushed by the narrative
structure into the background, where
they recede and fade from view.
10
In addition to its elision of economic
issues, PLAY's emphasis on "play" fur-
ther exploits a deep vein of media
racism. Media coverage of poor, Afri-
can-American neighborhoods gener-
ally represents inhabitants as having
too much leisure or too much unstruc-
tured time on their hands, while the
rhetoric of drug lords and welfare
queens denotes a feudal economy in
which actual class relations are thor-
oughly inverted. The camera obscura
of such representational practices sug-
gests that the majority of welfare recipi-
ents are black and that they do nothing
all day but consume crack, alcohol,
and junk food, all the while hanging
out on the streets and neglecting their
children. In an interesting contrast-
and one that reflects the class interests
of the media-capitalists like Nike's
Philip Knight are represented as up-
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191
STABILE
standing citizens and workaholics, who
can barely fit a television interview
into their hectic schedules. Of this con-
trast, Adler perceptively points out,
Just as Wall Street's inside traders cannot
be written off as greedy aberrants, neither
can the Chambers brothers be dismissed
as aberrant ghetto capitalistseach took
their cue from the wider society. They did
not reject mainstream values; rather they
embraced them in the only way they could.
In yearning and looking and groping for a
way out, the Chamberses did what most
Americans would have said was the right
thing to do had they not sold drugs: they
strove for financial success. Indeed, their
story should frighten not because it shows
what made them different, but rather what
made them so common, (p. 7)
Similarly, if we scratch the surface of
Nike's veneer a bit, we can see how the
codes of conduct so valued by corpo-
rate culture are displaced onto groups
of people who haven't the economic
means to pursue them legally but are
nevertheless held responsible for the
genesis of such codes and desires.
11
"There is no Finish Line":
Nike's Pitch to the
Consumerist Caste
Of course, corporations are not par-
ticularly concerned about the casual-
ties of consumerist ideologies since their
attention is focused on a more lucra-
tive group of consumers. For media
industries, audiences are commodities
that are sold or delivered to advertis-
ers. Because the content of television
programming and print media articles
is produced, distributed, and exhibited
for the audience as a commodity, a
sitcom, soap opera, or news broadcast
must attract the appropriate demo-
graphic, those consumers to whom the
content of advertising is oriented, in
order to succeed. Advertisements that
run during particular television pro-
grams or in the specialized domain of
magazines, reveal much about the in-
come level and consumption habits of
the target audience for whom that pro-
gram is intended, as does advertising
in the more obviously specialized
magazine industry. One need only con-
trast the products advertised in Ebony,
for example, with those advertised in
Newsweek, or commercials broadcast
during ER with those broadcast during
daytime soap operas, to understand
this point.
As a commodity, the audience is a
quantity, but it is a quantity with par-
ticular qualitative features. As Ben Bag-
dikian puts it, the "iron rule of advertis-
ing-supported media" is that "It is less
important that people buy your publi-
cation (or listen to your program) than
that they be 'the right kind' of people"
(1992, p. 109). A case in point of this
iron rule is the contemporary predica-
ment of the conservative magazine
Reader's Digest. Although the magazine
boasts a circulation of 28 million world-
wide and publishes 48 editions in 19
languages, it recently posted a loss of
$114 million for the fiscal third quarter
of 1996. The problem now confronting
the publishers involves the median age
of its readers (forty-seven) and the eco-
nomic imperative to attract a more
"valuable" demographic, "like fami-
lies with parents under the age of 50
who have children at home and house-
holds with incomes of $75,000 or
more" (Pogrebin, 1996, p. C8).
12
The homogeneity of media content
produced for such a "consumerist
caste" (Meehan, 1993, p. 210) has sig-
nificance for how we understand the
content of both programming and ad-
vertising. The pleasures and experien-
tial frameworks of those outside of, or
marginal within, the consumerist caste,
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192
NIKE JUNE 2000
are, as Eileen Meehan puts it, "eco-
nomically irrelevant" (p. 210) and al-
though the form of advertising's ad-
dress is a seemingly universal "you," in
reality, the ideology of that address is
both economically and racially spe-
cific, although it may serve to make
those outside the consumerist caste de-
sire commodities beyond their eco-
nomic reach.
The "success" of Nike's ads and
products has depended on the corpora-
tion's ability to reach a target audience
of middle-class consumers through ap-
peals to the values and belief systems
of that audience. This does not mean
that audiences who do not fit this demo-
graphic profile are untouched by Nike's
advertising campaigns in particular or
the commodity fetishism it promotes
in general. It does mean, however, that
Nike pitches its ads not to some fictive
mass audience, but to those consumers
most likely to be able to buy their
products.
The specificity of Nike's address to
this consumerist caste (not to mention
the specificity of its product line) is
evident in its television ads from the
late 1970s when the corporation was
gaining ascendancy. Capitalizing on the
running fad among the demographic
known as baby boomers, the early ads
incorporated certain watered-down ide-
als from the 1960s with the countercul-
ture now firmly articulated to a par-
ticular consumer life style. These
advertisements repeatedly featured
white men, loping through sylvan land-
scapes-sneaker-clad versions of Tho-
reau's rugged woodsman-while the
voice-over equated the individualism
of the runner with the individualized
craftsmanship and technology of the
nascent Nike corporation. Another ad
established Nike's now familiar rheto-
ric of revolution. Set to the strains of
the 7572 Overture, Nike proclaimed a
"revolution" in running-shoe technol-
ogy, with the corporation positioned in
the "vanguard" of such revolutionary
change. The corporation's later use of
the Beatle's "Revolution" in 1987 and
Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution Will
Not be Televised" in 1995 testify to the
continued success of this countercul-
tural theme. As Katz observes, "some-
how Just Do It' managed to evoke
countless previously impeded visions
of personal responsibility. The phrase
entered popular discourse like some
consumer-age variation on the old revo-
lutionary interrogative, 'What is to be
done?' " (1994, p. 146). These early
advertisements contain a reasonably
straightforward address. Representing
itself as a small entrepreneurial ven-
ture long after it had become a multi-
million dollar enterprise, Nike initially
appealed to white male consumers on
the basis of its craftsmanship, commit-
ment to excellence, and social respon-
sibilityall attractive characteristics to
its audience. Its outdoor, naturally lit
scenes and narrative focus on individu-
als spoke to the experiential frame-
work of white, middle-class consumers
for whom fitness was an increasingly
important leisure activity.
Such a niche market of runners had
its economic limitations, however, and
in 1977, Nike executives discerned a
shift in their consumers from "running
geeks" to "yuppies"an "emerging
consumer [who] was shallow and had
little sense of history" (Strasser & Beck-
lund, 1991, p. 268). Nike had been
diversifying its product line for some
time: tennis shoes were introduced in
1972, the move into basketball shoes
began in late 1974, the "Senorita
Cortez" women's running shoe was
introduced in 1976, and a clothing line
in 1979. When the corporation went
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193
STABILE
public in 1980, Nike began its aggres-
sive advertising campaign. In 1982,
Nike hired Chiat/Day, die firm that
went on to produce Nike's city cam-
paigns as well as many of its successful
television commercials.
As Amy Hribar and Cheryl Cole
point out, Nike achieved its most wide-
spread publicity through basketball
(1995, p. 349) and its marketing of
African-American celebrities like Mi-
chael Jordan and Spike Lee. This strat-
egy has allowed Nike to capitalize on
cutting-edge fashions that originate in
inner-cities and among urban minori-
ties. Advertising industry experts claim
that this emphasis on "inner-city chic"
permits advertisers to "jazz up their
sales pitches" (Tyson, 1996, p. 8) or, as
in the case of ad agency DDB
Needham's hiring of Spike Lee in 1996,
to revitalize a company's "stodgy, lily
white image" (Hirschfield, 1997, p. 36).
Experts also assert that advertisers'
growing emphasis on city fashion re-
flects the importance of the "urban
market," which Ken Smikle, publisher
of Target Market News, says "has be-
come one of those phrases that can be
used comfortably by those who don't
want to say black or African-Ameri-
can" (Tyson, p. 8). Advertisers also
admit that they use the term "urban
market" so as not to alienate white
consumers by openly casting a trend
or product as African-American or His-
panic.
Nike's move into basketball also co-
incided with a boom in the marketing
of multicultural texts across the media,
especially in the area of book publish-
ing. The boom in multicultural images
had specific ideological effects insofar
as it helped to maintain the illusion
that consumption reflected or was iden-
tical to political practice. First, multicul-
tural images appeared to provide an
antidote to the media's reliance on
overtly racist stereotypes as well as an
alternative to the criminalized images
of African-Americans that proliferate
on the nightly news. By providing
"positive" images, or role models, cor-
porations (including the media) could
represent themselves as being socially
responsible to people of color and link
this to the products being sold. The
consumerist caste could participate in
a feeling of social responsibility by con-
suming multicultural images that pro-
vided a simulacrum of racial integra-
tion. The representation of a very few
successful African-Americans further
reinforced Nike's trademark of indi-
vidual and individualized excellence,
thereby denying the obstacles that insti-
tutionalized racism places in the paths
of African-Americans (indeed, to ac-
knowledge the existence of this would
be to contradict its very slogan'Just
Do It").
As Hazel Carby (1992) points out in
regard to the consumption of multicul-
tural texts in university classrooms, rep-
resentations of African-Americans have
come to stand in for the actual pres-
ence (and advancement) of people of
color thus giving white Americans the
comforting illusion of inhabiting a
color-blind society. Certainly, this was
a convenient fiction for white Ameri-
cans to consume along with their Nikes,
since it denied the material realities of
racist oppression and material segrega-
tion in the United States. Recent adver-
tisements featuring golfer Tiger Woods,
in which individuals state "I am Tiger
Woods," as a procession of people of
varying races, ages, and genders flash
across the screen, offer a vivid illustra-
tion of Nike's assertions about the mo-
bility of identity. Nike's use of aproto-
feminist pitch offers an instructive
contrast to this multiculturalism. As
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194
NIKE
JUNE 2000
image of girl after girl moves across the
screen, their voices intone: "If you let
me play sports, I will have more self-
confidence. If you let me play sports, I
will be more likely to leave a man who
beats me. If you let me play sports, I
will be less likely to get pregnant be-
fore I want to." Here, it is revealing
that while Nike can refer to domestic
violence and other gender issues to sell
its sneakers, it does not refer to statis-
tics on racist oppression. After all, Nike
was selling sneakers to female mem-
bers of the consumerist casteto detail
the effects of racism threatened to dis-
rupt the ideological framework of the
entire consumerist caste.
Framed within the poles of "posi-
tive" and "negative" role models,
Nike's use of African-American men in
its ad campaigns relied upon what Stu-
art Hall has described as a logic of
inferential racism, a logic with a lengthy
history and one that is all too fre-
quently invisible to white consumers
(1990, p. 13). Where sport for white
athletes is equated with leisure (how-
ever competitive), sport has more grav-
ity when connected to African-Ameri-
cans. After all, in a white supremacist
culture, professional sport provides one
of the few entry-points into the Horatio
Alger myth for African-Americans,
with the traditional entertainment in-
dustry being another. And basketball,
more than any other sport, has been
inextricably articulated to urban spaces
and African-American athletes. Thus
basketball, in a white imaginary, con-
firms that the American Dream is
within the grasp of African-Americans,
if only they would pull themselves up
by their Nike laces and "Just Do It."
The implication of such narratives
is that African-American possess bod-
ily capital rather than the entrepreneur-
ial cunning of an Andrew Carnegie
or Ted Turner. Their impulsiveness,
or excess energy, must find an appro-
priate physical outlet-it must be dis-
ciplined-or else it runs the risk of
turning into senseless, undisciplined
violence. Even "successful" African-
Americans are represented as being
dogged by this problem as the media
attention to Michael Jordan's gam-
bling illustrates.
13
Although Nike has long cultivated
"bad boy" endorsers for their prod-
ucts, the "bad boy" image functions
quite differently for white athletes like
Ilie Nastase and John McEnroe. In the
case of African-American spokesper-
sons, crime implicitly and explicitly
haunts Nike's commodification of Afri-
can-American athletes. Again, these ads
take their meaning from and must be
situated within a constant flow of televi-
sion images that largely serve to crimi-
nalize African-Americans and demon-
ize inner-city communities. Nike's
grainy black-and-white images of bas-
ketball courts stand in stark relief
against nightly local and network cov-
erage of urban carnage; the disciplined
choreography of the court and athletic
culture posed as the alternative to the
ruthless anarchy of the streets, while
organized sports offer an antidote to
die criminal behavior of gangs. Given
the levels of segregation diat exist in
the United States, many white Ameri-
cans (and certainly a large percentage
of the consumerist caste) have their per-
ception of people of color structured
around such mass-mediated poles.
Consumption and Its Casualties
The racial specificity of the consum-
erist caste is also evident in die case of
a largely invisible consumer boycott of
Nike products, staged by those mar-
ginal to or within the consumerist caste.
Publicly, Nike has found it useful to
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195
STABILE
allow their commodification of African-
American athletes to imply a commit-
ment to African-American consumers.
In keeping with this, Strasser and Beck-
lund offer the following description of
Nike's move into basketball:
Basketball was a city sport, partly because
courts were available and free. Canvas
converse shoes were almost a required
uniform for inner-city kids. The day Knight
put basketball shoes into the new Nike
line, he crossed over into his first market
that had a black target consumer. Oregon
was as white as states came, and distance
running had always been a white sport
except for the small but growing number
of world-class African runners. Blue Rib-
bon [soon to be renamed Nike] didn't have
many, if any, black employees, and knew
little about the black consumer, (p. 224)
But far from signaling a shift in product
marketing, or a desire to "target" Afri-
can-American consumers, the use of
images of African-Americans to sell
commodities was an advertising strat-
egy that was structurally intertwined
with the successful television market-
ing of the NBA. As it turned out, "black
consumers," who constitute only a
slight percentage of the consumerist
caste, were less than important to Nike.
The question of race and target audi-
ence for television programming, how-
ever, should be approached with some
caution since the main issue is class
and not race. In addition, the indus-
try's understanding of a target audi-
ence is based not on objective realities,
but on executives' and researchers' per-
ceptions about the values and belief
systems of the audience they most want
to reach. As the president of 20th Cen-
tury Fox Television, which produces
television shows, candidly put it, "I
don't think that anyone's crying out for
integrated shows.... By pursuing ad-
vertisers and demographics rather than
a mass audience, the networks have
declared they don't need blacks in their
audience" (Sterngold, 1998, p. A12).
In this respect, the cable industry is
often contrasted positively with net-
work television, although it is seldom
acknowledged that cable's niche mar-
keting is underwritten by the fact that
its viewers must pay a fee for service
and are therefore considered more de-
mographically attractive.
Evidence abounds that illustrates
Nike's overall lack of interest in Afri-
can-American consumers, although
one example will suffice here. In Au-
gust 1990, Operation PUSH (People
United to Serve Humanity), a Chicago
Civil Rights organization founded by
Jesse Jackson in 1971, launched a boy-
cott of Nike products. Organized by
PUSH'S new director, Reverend Ty-
rone Crider, the boycott responded to
what PUSH described as Nike's "zero"
policy. Although purchases by African-
Americans, according to Crider, ac-
counted for 30 percent of Nike's $2.23
billion annual sales, "zero African-
Americans hold executive-level posi-
tions; zero African-American-owned
newspapers, magazines, radio and tele-
vision stations carry Nike advertise-
ments, and zero African-American pro-
fessional service providers have
contracts or do business with Nike"
(Woodard, 1990, p. 17). The gist of
PUSH'S critique was clear: Nike was
pleased to use a few successful African-
Americans to sell its products, but when
it came to materially supporting
middle-class African-Americans by giv-
ing them a piece of their business, the
picture was quite different.
On August 17, 1990, Nike president
Richard Donahue, and Chairman and
CEO Philip Knight made a two-
pronged response to PUSH. Nike im-
mediately undermined PUSH's cred-
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196
NIKE JUNE 2000
ibility by suggesting that the boycott
had been instigated by its major com-
petitor, Reebok. In a profoundly con-
tradictory move, they then observed
that African-Americans constituted a
mere ten percent of their consumers
(thereby implying that in the larger
scheme of things, they were an unim-
portant minority), but in the same
breath cited the company's "aggres-
sive minority recruiting effort" and its
"exemplary" record on the use of "mi-
nority spokespeople" such as San An-
tonio Spurs' David Robinson, Michael
Jordan, Spike Lee, and Bo Jackson.
Donahue and Knight refused to an-
swer questions from the press about
Nike's statistics on African-American
employment instead speaking only in
terms of "minorities" (Strasser & Beck-
lund, p. 658). In response, Crider con-
ceded that Nike did promote "positive
Black role models," but argued that the
boycott was "not about four or five
African-Americans. It's about 30 mil-
lion African-Americans" (PUSH Holds
First Meeting with Nike, 1990, p. 27).
Prior to the Nike boycott, PUSH
had staged successful boycotts against
the Adolph Coors Company and
Burger King, forcing both companies
to make minor concessions to middle-
class African-Americans (Coors in-
vested some of their profits in African-
American communities, while Burger
King added African-American franchi-
sees). But despite the support of Jesse
Jackson, Maxine Waters, the National
Council of Negro Women, and sup-
port at the grassroots level, the Nike
boycott not only failed, but almost de-
stroyed PUSH itself. In January 1991,
six months after announcing the Nike
boycott, PUSH reported a deficit of
several hundred thousand dollars, laid
off its entire staff, and in March, Rever-
end Crider resigned (Wilkerson, 1991,
p. 12).
The boycott received no coverage in
the mainstream media, although it was
covered by African-American media
that received no advertising dollars
from Nike.
14
The New York Times, for
instance, never mentioned the boy-
cott while it was active but covered
PUSH's demise in detail. Claiming
that the "public relations failure" of
the Nike boycott hurt PUSH enor-
mously because the "protest never ap-
peared to catch on" (Wilkerson, 1991,,
p. 12), it added that "Several promi-
nent blacks opposed the boycott, which
was widely perceived as a failure when
Nike officials refused to negotiate with
PUSH" (A Troubled Operation PUSH
Struggles to Focus its Mission, 1991,
P-14).
There are a number of interesting
contradictions between mainstream
media coverage and coverage in Afri-
can-American print media. Jet, which
devoted a substantial amount of cover-
age to the Nike boycott, as well as
PUSH's other activities, never men-
tioned dissent among African-Ameri-
cans over the boycott. Jet also reported
that Nike officials had met at least twice
with PUSH representatives, which con-
tradicts the New York Timers assertion
that Nike had refused to negotiate. In
addition, Black Enterprise claimed that
Nike in fact had made concessions to
PUSH: they agreed to name a minority
to Nike's board of directors within one
year and one minority vice president
within two.
In contrast to the public relations
maneuvers that followed the sneaker
wars, the PUSH boycott was quietly
and easily managed, a point that rein-
forces the comparative powerlessness
of even middle-class African-Ameri-
can consumers within the consumerist
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197
STABILE
caste. The boycott subjected PUSH to
a great deal of public scrutiny at the
hands of a powerful, multinational cor-
poration during a period in which the
organization was experiencing a series
of transitions in both leadership and
orientation and when contributions
from its middle-class base had dropped
significantly. In the end, the boycott
was unsuccessfulnot, as the main-
stream media would have it-because
African-Americans did not agree with
it (in fact, Michael Jordan himself told
Jet that he understood and supported
PUSH concerns), but because die boy-
cott did not jeopardize Nike's sales or
public image (indeed, to affect either
the boycott would have needed wide-
spread publicity and support from the
consumerist caste). Although Nike ad-
vertises extensively in women's maga-
zines, to this day, it does not run ads in
African-American magazines ]ike Jet or
Ebony, nor does it run ads during televi-
sion programming that attracts a largely
African-American audience.
15
"Dirty, Dangerous, and
Difficult:" Nike and the
Mode of Production
16
As problematic as it is to make claims
about the universality of Nike's adver-
tising appeal and its "mass" audience,
an analysis (not to mention political
practice) that remains at the level of
advertising and consumption serves to
obscure yet another, even more invis-
ible, contradiction.
17
For nowhere is
the distinction between the consumer-
ist caste and those outside it as visible
as it is from the standpoint of produc-
tion, a standpoint that is, understand-
ably enough, invisible from the per-
spective of consumption promoted by
the media.
In terms of production, Nike's corpo-
rate origins can be traced back to 1963,
when founder Philip Knight struck a
deal with a Japanese firm, Onitsuka
Company, Ltd., to be the West Coast
distributor for Tiger track shoes, a
knock-off of the German-made Adidas
brand that then dominated the market.
Blue Ribbon Sports, as the company
was originally named, was among the
first to take advantage of Asian-pro-
duced, inexpensive imitations of brand-
name footwear. Knight's capitalist acu-
men cannot be overestimated: in 1960,
only four percent of shoes sold in the
U.S. were imported; by 1969, 32 per-
cent were imports (Strasser & Beck-
lund, p. 185)an increase that was to
have disastrous consequences for the
small New England towns that were
then the centers of domestic shoe pro-
duction. By 1984, imports had risen to
11 percent of the U.S. shoe market (p.
559).
Concerned about relying solely on
Japanese manufacturing and in search
of ever cheaper labor, Blue Ribbon
opened its first factory in Korea in
1976.
19
In 1979, during the first year of
China's "economic adjustment" (at a
time when monthly wages there were
$30), Nike, whose name had officially
changed in 1978, opened its first fac-
tory in mainland China. At the Yue
Yuen factory, ninety-percent of work-
ers are women who "must obey a long
list of rules concerning fraternization
with men and curfews" (Katz, 1994,
pp. 179-80). By 1980, 90 percent of
Nike's production took place in Korea
and Taiwan. Presently, more than a
third of Nike products are produced in
Indonesia, but with an increase in mini-
mum wage to $2.20 a day in that coun-
try (after almost four years of labor
struggles), Nike moved into Vietnam,
where the daily wage is a meager $1.50
(Herbert, 1996a, p. A19).
In the United States, Nike operated
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198
NIKE JUNE 2000
a factory in Saco, Maine, from 1978 to
1984 and in Exeter, New Hampshire,
from 1972 to 1984. At the time, these
United States-based factories (which ac-
counted for only a tiny percentage of
total production) were a safeguard for
the corporation. On one hand, they
gave the company a place to develop
designs with relative security and estab-
lish a new model in the marketplace
before mass-producing it abroad. On
the other hand, given serious concerns
about protectionist legislation in the
shoe manufacturing industry, United
States-based factories were a form of
insurance. If protectionist legislation
became a reality, Nike's U.S. factories
maintained a domestic manufacturing
base. Nike had already experienced
such a problem: In 1974, U.S. Cus-
toms had levied additional import du-
ties on Blue Ribbon Sports shoes un-
der the American Selling Price statute
(ASP). The resulting litigation was not
settled until 1980, when the proposed
back payment was reduced from $16
to $9 million, and the ASP method of
computing duty was rejected.
20
Currently, Nike operates a high-tech
distribution center in Memphis, Ten-
nessee, where between 60 and 225 tem-
porary workers with no job security
and no health benefits are employed
on ajust-in-time basis. Nike has contin-
ued to refuse to release its African-
American employment figures, refer-
ring instead to "minority" employees,
200 of whom are employed in the
Memphis facility and a number of
whom are Vietnamese manual labor-
ers in Beaverton, Oregon, engaged in
the production of Nike's Air-Soles
(Strasser & Becklund, p. 658).
Readers of business newspapers and
journals, as well as corporate literature,
will be familiar with this brief history:
like the majority of successful corpora-
tions, Nike has pursued cheap labor
sources in countries like Indonesia
where "friendly" governments are will-
ing to guarantee cheap labor using
whatever means necessary. In Indone-
sia, for example, daily wages were set
below the official minimum wage (an
official wage the government had set
below the poverty line in order to at-
tract and maintain "footloose" corpora-
tions like Nike) and workers who struck
for higher wages were fired.
21
Coun-
tries like the Philippines and Thailand,
either unwilling or unable to guarantee
such conditions, were deemed "cultur-
ally challenging" and received little or
no business from Nike (Katz, p. 172).
With increasing frequency, Nike's
production practices have erupted into
the mainstream media causing a flurry
of public relations activity. The first
major eruption occurred on July 2nd,
1993, when CBS's Street Stories ran a
segment that explored the contradic-
tion between "a one-hundred dollar
pair of sneakers and a worker making
those sneakers being paid a dollar-fifty
a day" (In Katz, p. 187), a contradic-
tion that again emerged in late May of
1996, when, according to the media,
consumers were dismayed to learn that
their $130.00 Air Jordans (produced
for $30.00 in Indonesia) had been made
by poorly paid Indonesian workers, as
well as sweatshop workers in New York
City. Nike's response to such exposes
exemplifies the central contradiction
therein revealed. On one hand, Nike
has defended its labor practices, claim-
ing that the $1.50 paid to Indonesian
workers was not really $1.50, but 3,000
rupiah and that, in any case, it was
substantially more than the wages made
by local farmers (Katz, p. 190).
22
When
confronted with the fact that the mini-
mum wage in Indonesia had been set
below the poverty line, Nike retreated,
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199
STABILE
asserting that it was not their job to
dictate just wages. As Katz puts it,
"Only when foreign labor issues come
up can a Nike manager be heard to
say, 'We're not good enough to change
that system'" (pp. 191-2).
In the end, Nike's images merit far
less attention than the realities those
images are designed to conceal. Nike,
like corporations in general, will use
any image to sell its products, provid-
ing that such images can be stitched
into a seamless narrative that poses few
contradictions for its consumers-a nar-
rative designed to guarantee the very
invisibilities outlined above. Certainly,
the marketing of social responsibility
works mainly for those more distant
from economic necessitythose more
likely to buy into the ideology of the
corporation as global citizen. For those
who recognize that "positive" role
models do not pay the bills and that
economic and political justice will not
proceed from revarnished corporate
images, Nike's veneer of social respon-
sibility is less than persuasive.
Nike's commercial image, like many
such corporate images, absolutely de-
pends on maintaining the invisibility
of real contradictions for the consumer-
ist caste. For example, female consum-
ers of Nike products can only find
Nike's ads progressive insofar as its
largely female labor force (not to men-
tion its masculinist corporate culture)
remains out of sight.
2
$ For instance,
one can believe that Nike's "If you let
me play sports" ad signifies a commit-
ment to women's liberation and em-
powerment, as long as the Vietnamese
women who make Nike shoes, work-
ing 12-hour days for a wage of between
$2.10 and $2.40 a day, are kept off the
screen. Similarly, middle-class consum-
ers may very well believe that Nike's
use of African-American spokesper-
sons indicates its commitment to people
of color as long as nothing in the field
of the media contradicts such a belief,
or perhaps as long as journalists avoid
mentioning that Michael Jordan's sal-
ary may well be greater than the com-
bined annual payroll of the six Indone-
sian factories that make Nike shoes
(Lipsyte, 1996, p. 2). For the consumer-
ist caste, the PLAY campaign can ap-
pear as a signifier for Nike's commit-
ment to "social responsibility" because
the contradiction between corporate
production and employment practices
and chronic unemployment in African-
American communities remains out-
side the screen or printed page.
24
To an extent, recent controversies
involving Kathie Lee Gifford, Wal-
Mart, and Nike have made visible some
of these real contradictions. The target-
ing of Gifford, Wal-Mart, Nike, J.C.
Penney, and the Disney Store by labor
activists like the National Labor Com-
mittee, journalists like Bob Herbert,
and activists like the Pittsburgh Labor
Action Network for the Americas
(PLANTA) is a strategic move that
works to make visible some of the very
contradictions discussed. Their pur-
pose is not to boycott Air Jordans or
Disney's popular Pocahontas doll
(made by Haitian workers for eleven
cents an hourhalf of Haiti's already
pitiful minimum wage) because such a
boycott would only encourage consum-
ers to buy other products likely to have
been made under similarly exploit-
ative conditions. Rather, their purpose
has been to bring such relations of
production into consumers' range of
vision by singling out those corpora-
tions who sell their products on the
basis of social responsibility, decent
family values, and other nonsense,
while at the same time engaging in
labor practices that give the lie to their
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NIKE
public propaganda. In a similar spirit,
campus activists throughout the coun-
try have been protesting their schools'
contracts with Nike. Some schools have
now adopted anti-sweatshop codes as a
result of this activism.
Yet another blow to Nike's public
image occurred in Michael Moore's
1998 documentary, The Big One, in
which Knight agreed to be interviewed
on camera. In the interview, Moore
gets Knight to agree to consider build-
ing a shoe factory in his hometown of
Flint, Michigan, if Moore can get local
workers to agree to work there. When
Moore returns to Nike headquarters
with poignant footage of eager Flint
workers, Knight-at this point, visibly
uncomfortablecontinues to justify
Nike's overseas practices by arguing
that Americans "just don't want to
make shoes."
Just over a month after The Big One
was released, Knight engaged in some
damage control in an address to the
National Press Club (Cushman, 1998,
p. Cl). During his speech, he commit-
ted Nike to raising the minimum age
for hiring new workers and to meeting
U.S. health and safety standards in all
overseas factories. Nike did not, how-
ever, pledge to raise wages. The sec-
ond provision, on health and safety
standards, could be significant if (and
the significance of this if cannot be
overemphasized) truly independent ob-
servers are admitted into the plants.
Moreover, since health and safety stan-
dards are only haphazardly enforced
in the U.S. these days, it seems less
JUNE 2000
than probable that such regulations will
be enforced with any commitment
overseas. Furthermore, Knight's refer-
ence to child labor was a public rela-
tions coup, as Bob Herbert was swift to
point out (Herbert, 1998, p. A27). Child
labor was not a central problem at
Nike's overseas plants: below subsis-
tence-level wages (in China and Viet-
nam, less than $2 a day; in Indonesia,
less than $1 a day) and exploitative,
unsafe working conditionsin which
77 percent of employees suffer from
respiratory problemsare (Greenhouse,
1997, p. Al).
In spite of Nike's ongoing damage
control and because of the efforts of
such organizations and individual activ-
ists, corporations like Nike, Disney,
Wal-Mart, and others have been less
successful in managing public relations
crises. Academics would be well ad-
vised to take their cue from these ef-
forts. Those who study the media and
popular culture often spend a great
deal of time analyzing what multina-
tional corporations make visible in the
form of advertising and corporate
propaganda. In so doing, we only di-
rect attention to what these corpora-
tions want us to see. Unless our goal
as critics is to contribute to their mar-
ket research and to add further so-
phistication to their advertising tech-
niques, it might be more useful and
politically effective for us to concen-
trate on making visible those practices
and realities that are routinely kept out
of sight
NOTES
1
Actually, the "war" had begun earlier, in 1985, with Nike's "Guns of August" campaign, which
was a marketing push to win back retail floor space from Reebok. "Guns of August," however was
unsuccessful: in 1986, Reebok had a 30 percent market share, while Nike had only 21 percent
(Strasser & Becklund, 1991, p. 591).
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CSMC STABILE
2
For a suggestive analysis of television's impact on "instrumental crime," or "that aimed at
acquiring money or property," see Hennigan, et al. (1982).
3
It is worth noting that media effects theories that focus on amorphous categories of violence are
among the few critiques that media institutions are willing to make of themselves, although
generally in the shape of criticizing entertainment programming rather than news or, especially,
advertising (the single exception to this last being very mild critiques of children's programming
and advertisements). In contrast to critiques of monopoly ownership of the media, media effects
theory provides a simple explanation for social problems (i.e. "Kojak made me do it"), a quick and
convenient fix (self-regulation), and an opportunity for some corporate promotion.
4
That the fear so central to the ideology of the suburbs is based on class interests rather than race
was made clear in a Washington Post article on the African-American suburb of Perrywood in Prince
George's County (a suburb where homes sell for between $180,000 and $300,000). The Perrywood
Community Association decided to hire policemen to make sure that those using the basketball
court could "prove that they 'belong in the area'." As one resident candidly put it, "People have a
tendency to stick together because they want to maintain their property values, their homes-class
issues. . . . We're just strong working people who want something nice. Race never entered the
picture" (Saulny, 1996, A7).
5
Donald Katz is clear on the fact that Nike understood the sneaker wars as a "moral panic" in the
sociological sense.
6
For a narrative that details the effects of Nike's recruitment policies within disadvantaged
communities, see Darcy Frey's The Last Shot.
7
Charles Loring Brace's Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years' Work Among Them and
Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York offer stunning
illustrations of this.
8
See Cyril D. Robinson's "The Production of Black Violence in Chicago" (1993), James R.
Grossman's Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (1989), and Michael
Katz, ed., (1993) The "Underclass" Debate: Views from History for historical accounts of this point.
9
It is worth mentioning that PLAY's emphasis on "free motion" and "fun" marks a departure
from earlier athletic programs' emphasis on discipline, structure, and abstinence reflecting a shift
from the religious inflection of past programs to the more contemporary logic of leisure and
consumption.
11
For an excellent analysis of such inversions and their effects, see David Simon and Edward
Burns's The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.
12
Ben Bagdikian offers another illustration of this point in The Media Monopoly. In 1967, The New
Yorker's circulation remained the same as it was the previous year (when the magazine reported a
record number of ad pages), but the number of ad pages dropped by forty percent. The loss in ad
pages was not because advertisers objected to the magazine's position on the Vietnam War, but
because, largely as a result of this anti-war content, The New Yorker had begun to attract younger,
less affluent readers.
13
Cheryl Cole's "PLAY, Nike, and Michael Jordan" (1996) provides a detailed reading of this
and related aspects.
14
See Todd Putnam's "The GE Boycott: A Story NBC Wouldn't Buy" (1995) for a discussion of
the media's management of consumer boycotts.
15
Nike's female niche market also exercises an influence over the content of Nike's ads that
African-Americans do not In contrast to PUSH's boycott (which had no effect on advertising or
corporate practices), when female consumers objected to a Nike commercial featuring triathlete
Joanne Ernst, which ended with Ernst saying to the camera, "While you're at it, why don't you stop
eating like a pig?" the ad was pulled within two weeks.
16
T. H. Lee, a Nike employee who has worked in Portland, the Philippines, and South Korea,
described shoe manufacturing as "dirty, dangerous, and difficult Making shoes on a production
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NIKE JUNE 2000
line is something people do only because they see it as an important and lucrative job. Nobody
who could do something else for the same wage would be here" (In Katz, p. 161).
17
One limitation of this analysis is its focus on U.S. consumption. Further research could usefully
examine Nike's adoption of "global localization" from Japanese consultant Kenichi Ohmae's The
Borderless World. In this, Ohmae argues that "at a per capita income level of $26,000, consumers
went global and became, in effect, world consumers" (In Katz, p. 204). Asian MTV and Star TV
(whose audience quadrupled between 1992 and 1993 alone) are marketing Nike products to this
emerging global consumer caste.
18
In no way should this suggest that domestic manufacturing was the sole casualty of this shift
For an analysis of the effects of this shift, both domestic and international, see Alex Callinicos'
"Marxism and Imperialism Today" (1994).
19
In contrast, Reebok did not open its first factory in Korea until eight years after Nike in 1984.
20
Nike also successfully used advertising to push its corporate agenda. In 1979, during the ASP
litigation, the company produced a video called "Yankee Freedom" that utilized a now familiar
anti-government appeal to suggest that government regulations were driving Nike out of business.
21
Very few of the mainstream articles on Indonesian labor, including those written by Bob
Herbert, are critical of the Indonesian government's overall murderous policies, including its
genocidal treatment of the East Timorese.
22
This line of reasoning is typical of the capitalist press, where the exploitation of workers
overseas is reduced to a problem in perception. As the New York Times' Larry Rohter recently
observed, "What residents of a rich country like the United States see as exploitation can seem a
rare opportunity to residents of a poor country like Honduras" (1996, p. 1).
23
For an example of a feminist argument about Nike's "progressive" ad campaigns, see Linda
Scott's "Fresh LipstickRethinking Images of Women in Advertising." For some unintentionally
hilarious descriptions of Nike-style capitalists as puking frat boys, see Strasser and Becklund's
numerous anecdotes in Swoosh.
24
In the city where I live, for example, unemployment among young black men is 37 percent as
opposed to 13 percent for white men. Only corporate apologists and certain consumers can afford
to believe that any amount of midnight basketball or PLAY can remedy this situation.
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