Of course the day after I wrote about the limited potential profitably of a career based on reality television, Abercrombie and Fitch ups the ante by offering Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino money to stop wearing their clothes. Ta-Nehisi wonders if it’s about class. And that’s potentially true — Abercrombie aspires to be sexier than J. Crew, though less trashy than American Apparel, and it’s done an inconsistent job of policing its brand. Sometimes, A&F;’s sought to push buttons by engaging progressive issues, as it did with its Whitney & Beth Marriage campaign in 2000, which invited catalogue readers to a wedding between two women, though the responses included “No… I’m liberal, but not that liberal” and “Yes… I’d love to see two women get married.” More frequently, it’s in the news for, say, having a store worker with a prosthetic arm work in the stockroom rather than the store floor to avoid offending shoppers who might see having a physical disability as inconsistent with Abercrombie’s desired image of athletic sexuality, or settling class-action lawsuits filed by minority employees and job applicants.
But this case seems more like a ploy for attention and marketing buzz than anything else. Last year, the company was selling “The Fituation” t-shirts. This year, Mike’s kind of a skeeze, making a transparent play for an (at least temporarily taken) Snooki. Abercrombie’s move is a win for both of them: the company gets to position itself as America and treat Mike like he’s a creep, and Mike gets to redeem himself slightly by pointing out how ridiculous they’re being. That doesn’t mean Abercrombie’s commercial interests are any less aligned with being racist, body-conformist creeps. But I’m not sure this is a case where anybody loses out.