Home Internet Outrage Is Urban Outfitters’ De Facto Business Model

Internet Outrage Is Urban Outfitters’ De Facto Business Model

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” goes the oft-quoted aphorism from 19th century philosopher George Santayana‘s “The Life of Reason.”

So it was on Monday morning, with Urban Outfitter’s latest piece of offensive apparel, a single-edition “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt,” artificially faded, detailed with a blood spatter-like pattern below the right shoulder and priced at $129. There was only one available, and it sold out immediately. The now-removed item bore this description: 

Washed soft and perfectly broken in, this vintage Kent State sweatshirt is cut in a loose, slouchy fit. Excellent vintage condition. We only have one, so get it or regret it!

The Internet instantly took umbrage. Almost as quickly, Urban Outfitters offered its “sincere” apologies to anyone offended by its faux-naïve reference to the May 4, 1970 massacre of four unarmed Kent State students by the Ohio National Guard. 

Why, it’s almost as if the American multinational clothing corporation hadn’t been offending the general populace almost annually since 2003—which, by the way, it has. Arguably, the “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” doesn’t move the needle much when compared to Urban Outfitters’ history of offensive retail offensives.

Enabled By The Internet

Urban Outfitters is the Westboro Baptist Church of overpriced apparel. Like PETA’s over-the-top anti-meat marketing, Urban Outfitters regularly trolls you—and you regularly lose the game. Who at UO signed off on the “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt?” Odds are, everyone. And on purpose.

Some of the company’s greatest hits include Monopoly parody “Ghettopoly,” a Palestinian kid holding an AK-47 on a t-shirt that read “Victimized” and gun-shaped Christmas ornaments. Two years before Zara briefly got in the business of designing kid pajamas for Holocaust-themed sleepovers, Urban Outfitters offered a t-shirt with a six-pointed stars that understandably outraged the Anti-Defamation League. 

See also: Trolling For God: 5 Things You Can Learn From Westboro’s Social-Media Playbook

The Human Rights Foundation, Irish-Americans, the Navajo Nation, the U.S. military, the mentally ill, people with eating disorders and the LGBT community have all been offended by Urban Outfitter offerings. The company’s Wikipedia entry currently lists 17 outrages dating back to 2003, including the Kent State sweatshirt.

Multiple studies find that anger is the easiest emotion to spread across social media. You don’t think, that after 10 years of this garbage, marketers haven’t figured this out? Think about it. Only one “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” was available. But it only took one to get Urban Outfitters trending on Twitter. 

 In its Monday mea culpa to the media, Urban Outfitters claimed:

There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray.

Yeah, whatever. 

Just Say No

It’s hard to look at the outrage over Urban Outfitters’ latest piece of manufactured outrage without getting exhausted. There are so many other non-manufactured controversies to be angry about. Military drones, for example. Institutionalized racism. True Blood, season 7. On the bright side, incurious millennials got a history lesson. Other than that, UO’s stunts are hardly worth our freakouts, since as history shows, Urban Outfitters is just going to do it again anyway. 

Save your energy and let this statement from Kent State University be the final word on this cynical, soulless marketing:

May 4, 1970, was a watershed moment for the country and especially the Kent State family. We lost four students that day while nine others were wounded and countless others were changed forever.

We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit. This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.

We invite the leaders of this company as well as anyone who invested in this item to tour our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened two years ago, to gain perspective on what happened 44 years ago and apply its meaning to the future. 

If you actually want to buy Urban Outfitter’s exclusive “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt,” bad news. It was available on eBay with a “buy now” option of $2,500, but it’s gone now. Just like our attention span for being mad about stuff on the Internet.

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