How far will the branding of Occupy Wall Street go?
For anyone born after 1965, the current political climate feels like we’re living the pages of a history book. But now, Flower Power is repackaged into 140 characters or less. An iconic image of young protesters flower-bombing police officers is replaced with a soon-to-be iconic image of an 84-year-old activist bombed with pepper spray. For many of us, supporting or opposing the ideals of Occupy Wall Street places us firmly in roles that feel familiar. We’re the hippies, now. The police. The veterans. The armchair activists. We are the American experience.
Except in the 21st century, there’s one big difference. Now, we’re being branded.
It’s ironic, really. Occupy Wall Street is a movement born from frustration with a perceived capitalist’s greed. People are angry, fed up, tired of seeing the inequities of a supposed democratic society washed and diluted into a sea of bad decisions and wasted money. And yet, simply, we are still a society that revolves around consumer demand.
Accordingly, “occupy” has become a buzz word with businesses using it to market themselves and pop culture infusing it into the vernacular. Just, how did we get here?
It started with a casting call on Craigslist. Unemployment rates for the under 25 crowd is at 18 percent, compared to the national average of 9 percent. Hence, young people are pissed. And MTV, the youth network, wanted in. “If you are over the age of 20 and appear to be between the ages of 20-24,” wrote the October 17th, 2011, posting, please send three recent photos and your bio to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From this call came “True Life: I’m Occupying Wall Street,” where we met Bryan and Caitlin, two middle class youths disenchanted with their present and future prospects.
Then there was Jay Z’s line of Occupy Wall Street t-shirts. Last week, the rapper-mogul came under fire for marketing a line of Occupy Wall Street cotton shirts on his Rocawear clothing line – without planning on sharing the profits with the movement. Called a “scrotum” with the “political sensibility of a hood rat,” Jay Z was accused of cashing in on a movement that is protesting cashing in. Ironic, but not too.
The t-shirts inevitably disappeared from the Rocawear website.
Then “Occupy” started showing up in blog stories unconnected with the movement. Gawker called a New York Times report on the “sell-out” California college kid’s trend to “Occupy McMansions.” Twilight enthusiasts occupied “Twilight Street” ahead of the latest movie premiere in Los Angeles. In fact, “Occupy” is officially part of our vernacular, soon to be validated as a buzz word of 2011.
Hell, even the conscious businesses are getting in on it. A recent email blast went out from Solar Mosaic to “occupy” rooftops with solar energy. As the company’s enthusiastic press release writes, “Called Occupy Rooftops, this new wave in the Occupy movement is being spearheaded by solar finance company Solar Mosaic and 20 other companies and organizations to help people kick start a project on a building in their community such as a school, non-profit or place of worship.” For as little as $100, you too can have solar energy occupying your home.
It seems as if we’re drawing on Occupy Wall Street like a leviathan swirling around a fleet of rogue pirate ships captained by dashing, dread-headed swains. (Copyright, The Walt Disney Company.) It’s enough to leave you wondering, just who is occupying who?
But if it changes the way we think, does it matter? We are all consumers. In the end, remembering this may be one of the best ways to effect real change. We can choose not to buy from giant chain stores. We can choose to support American-made local businesses. We can invest and bank responsibly. We can buy ethical house wares and local, organic food. And yes, we can even consciously source our energy.
We are the 99%. Time to occupy our own choices.