Somewhere in the hallowed hours of last Tuesday night, I checked my Facebook newsfeed before going to bed and saw a video posted by my friend Jennifer. I clicked it because she said it was ironic, and I love me some irony.
As I watched LA-based video producer Greg Karber throw shirts and jeans at people on the sidewalks of Skid Row, and listened to his narrative of Abercrombie & Fitch-bashing and ridiculous quotes from the company's CEO Mike Jeffries, I cracked a smile. I won't lie; I probably laughed out loud. Like I said, I love irony. I also love to see someone "stick it to the man" in a creative way that gets people to pay attention to things that we usually ignore or don't even bother to learn about.
But there was a sour turning in my gut as the video came to a close and Karber encouraged people to scour their closets and neighborhood thrift stores for discarded A&F clothes, and donate them to homeless shelters or other organizations that serve those who are not A&F target clients. And even though something didn't quite feel right, I clicked share and went to bed.
The next day, I started following the wildfire blaze of support and back-lash generated by the video's viral campaign. Apparently a lot of people out there don't much like the Abercrombie & Fitch crowd either. People seem to like spreading the word that Mike Jeffries is as much of a jerk as the kids I used to make fun of with my friends in high school. We sat on the front lawn eating by the flag pole instead of trying to vie for lunchroom seating among the "cool kids" who were often seen sporting the A&F logo, along with their "why-are-you-breathing-my-air" looks of disdain.
But I also came across people who protested Karber's actions and labeled him a "douche bag" of a different breed, but of the same caliber as Jeffries. Karber, they said, instead of trying to exclude the "un-cool" was using them to his own ends, and only including them as token pawns in his personal slur against a corporation that he does not like.
As I read such protests against the #Fitchthehomeless campaign, I recalled that sour taste in my mouth from watching the video and realized I shared those concerns. I didn't like how Karber treated the people on Skid Row, and I did wonder if he had explained his actions before shooting the video. But I also realized that it was not the first time I had experienced that sour, something's-not-right punch in the gut when watching an awareness ad.
That feeling I got last Tuesday night, I've also felt it when opening my mail and finding some charity's flier with a dying baby on the envelope. I've felt it in my gut when a Save the Children commercial interrupted my late-night movie marathon. I've even felt that kick in the gut when I looked at a magazine rack and saw some blood-spattered woman weeping over the limp body of her dead husband or brother or sister or parent, etc.
I realized that this feeling comes up when I encounter someone trying to help the marginalized, disenfranchised and abused people of the world with methods that seem voyeuristic and disrespectful. Then it got me thinking about Jesus.
Jesus often called people from the margins into the spotlight to make others aware of their situation and of his power to change it. From the woman with the blood disorder who only wanted to fade back into the crowd, to the man with the shriveled hand, to the widow and her tiny offering that was pointed out to all the people listening, Jesus used people who were outcasts and socially-discarded to prove his point. But he did it in a way that never compromised the humanity and God-breathed dignity of the person he was helping.
In fact, Jesus' actions and words usually brought people's innate value out more for others to recognize. The woman with the blood disorder was not only made clean, she was declared to have the kind of faith that set people free and healed them. The man with the shriveled hand was healed, but he also became a symbol of Jesus' lordship over the hypocritical power-mongers of his day. The widow's offering of two meager coins was exalted from social shame to the greatest sacrifice made in the temple that day.
Furthermore, even when Jesus was blatantly insulting someone or using irony to point out others' foolishness, he did it in a way that did not detract from anyone's dignity as children of God. Jesus always saw people first, before issues. That's the kind of charity that won't leave a bad taste in someone's mouth... well, except for maybe the ones doing the abusing.
We live in a society where it is easy for many of us to go our entire lives without talking to someone who makes us feel uncomfortable about how we use our resources and energies. In fact, the Abercrombie & Fitch slogan boasts itself to be "Authentic American clothing since 1892." The very fact that they can get away with saying that they are authentically American while making money by excluding people on the basis of skin color, ethnicity, weight, age, and socioeconomic situation speaks volumes to the actual state of our culture.
But, beyond that, what about those of us who are only willing to step outside of our comfort zones if it means a feel-good spring break, or a fabulous Instagram photo op for our troubles? Why do we have to work so hard to find the people who need our "help"?
Jesus just turned around and saw them standing in his neighborhood, found them in the places where he hung out, and met them on the street where they lived. The irony is that we tend to get annoyed with the people who use and, yes, abuse others in order to promote their own causes and campaigns; yet, should we not also be up in arms over the fact that many people need such viral videos in order for them to be motivated into action? By sharing these things and reacting to their presence in our virtual reality, we are spending time and energy perpetuating the spirit of voyeurism without having any real obligation to get out from behind our digitized screens and give someone a real helping hand.
Maybe Mike Jeffries is a douche bag because he doesn't want to sell clothing to people who don't fit his idea of cool and beautiful. Maybe Greg Karber is a douche bag because he tossed unwanted clothes to people on the street whom he judged to be homeless, and made a show of it without telling us their stories, or even their names.
But maybe I'm a douche bag because I laughed at them both, shared a video that made me feel like I was making a statement against cruelty and injustice, but then rolled over and went to sleep in my nice warm bed without even a thought for the person who was spending the night under the bridge less than a mile from my front door.
Deb is currently working on her Master's of Divinity at Lipscomb University in Nashville. According to Facebook she likes The Bill Cosby Show. You can follow her on Twitter @the_deeb, but I wouldn't since she hasn't tweeted for about 2 years.
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