Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Why can’t the invisible hand claim sets?

Posted by digglahhh on 8 September 2007

This is old news. I intended to address it last week, but did not get around to it.

From the AP:

NEW YORK — A lineup of team logo baseball caps denounced as tailor-made for gang members was ordered removed from store shelves by its manufacturer Friday after complaints from baseball officials.
“It has been brought to our attention that some combinations of icons and colors on a select number of our caps could be too closely perceived to be in association with gangs,” said Christopher H. Koch, CEO of New Era Cap. “In response, we, along with Major League Baseball, have pulled those caps.”
…Both MLB and the Yankees insisted they were unaware of the symbolism in the cap designs, with the New York team noting they were never given a chance to review the new hats until they were already for sale.
…New Era said it would increase its efforts to ensure it had a better working knowledge of gang symbols, names and locations.

The black and gold hat with the crown perched atop the NY is the real nail in the coffin here. The bandana print of the other two is relatively common, and if New Era produced that design in additional colors, beyond red and blue, they may have had a chance at pleading ignorance. But we are supposed to believe that by sheer chance the company selected a color combination that happens to be the colors of one of the most famous gangs in the world, and randomly decided to adorn an appropriate symbol that has no relation to baseball? Oh yeah, and they chose the team that plays in the city where the gang is most prominent. That’s an extraordinary set of coincidences that could only be possible if their Marketing Director was Larry David.

By consumer choice, New Era has a virtual monopoly on the fitted hat industry. Personally, I’m a hat junkie, owning probably upwards of forty New Eras (working for Major League Baseball was a blessing and curse there). For them to plead ignorance here is simply an insult to our intelligence. Are we to believe that they don’t do extensive market research targeting the urban teens and young adults? Really? So, New Era has done hat collaborations with, Wu Tang Clan, and Dip Set, they have put out hats inspired by a relatively obscure (but awesome) Jay-Z song, but they know nothing at all about gang colors or symbolism? Well, if Larry David is their Marketing Director, Dick Cheney must handle their public relations… By the way, the first hit when you search on “black gold gang colors” is to a sociology-style page describing the Latin Kings.

Scope: Primarily metropolitan areas throughout Connecticut, Chicago and New York

Gang Colors: Black and gold. Black represents death, gold represents life.

But here’s the thing, our consumer culture is hardly characterized by socially responsible marketing, so who cares if they did put out these products – even if they did so with the intent of cashing in on the glamourization of the gang lifestyle? We market radar detectors to speeders. Myriad companies use graffiti motifs to appeal to urban demographics. Our cosmetic, diet, fashion, and alcohol industries play on our insecurities to cash in at the detriment of our physical and emotional health. Let’s get real here, is selling gang-inspired fashion a uniquely irresponsible or distasteful offense? If so, why haven’t we gone after the freaking bandana manufacturers?… If the Yankees disapprove of their logo being used that way, so be it. But, let’s not pretend that a network that calls itself “Arts and Entertainment” didn’t air a reality show called “Growing up Gotti!” The Gotti boys were pretty fond of wearing Yankee hats, by the way.

I don’t necessarily endorse the products, but this is free market capitalism, no? Wouldn’t this be a pet case for the conservative libertarians who rage about political correctness neutering our country? Some people may be offended at the invisible hand throwing gang signs, but is that really a legitimate reason to stop the voluntary flow of consumer goods? When did we start giving a fuck about what our consumer actions say about our culture? Disapproving of this product is certainly rational, but it seems unfair to single New Era out for this.

4 Responses to “Why can’t the invisible hand claim sets?”

  1. alice said

    Personally, I think that ship has sailed. I may be an old fuddy-duddy, but I think that part of the “brand” for team merchandise is the design and color scheme. I’ve seen Yankee caps in all colors, not just dark blue. Once you’ve allowed yourself to market a teal or pink cap with the “interlocking N Y”, making a hybrid Yankee-FDNY cap or adding an extraneous logo is the logical next step.

  2. digglahhh said

    I too am a purist, in my personal preferences at least. I appreciate baseball as a sport on a level well-beyond supporting my favorite team, so I have no problem representing any team with my hat. However, I don’t wear color variants, only hats worn by the teams, on the field. They can be Major League, Minor League, Negro League, International, current, or “throwback,” but they have to have actually been worn on the field of play at some point.

    There’s no denying, however, that altering a team’s colors and logo for fashion/marketing purposes is a cash cow. The irony is how a Yankee fan who wants a green hat might actually think he/she is more of a purist for buying a green Yankee hat, as opposed to buying, say, an authentic Oakland A’s hat…

  3. You’re certainly right about the selective outrage, but in this case it apparently was MLB and the Yankees – who have a proprietary interest in the baseball logos – complaining to the manufacturer, and the manufacturer responding to the complaints of its most important customers. That’s different from a bunch of excitable parents picking out one aspect of pop/black culture that they don’t understand and condemning it uniquely.

  4. digglahhh said


    Perhaps I didn’t make it clear, but here are my opinions about each of the parties involved.

    I don’t mind MLB or the Yankees asking to recall the product.

    I don’t mind New Era obliging, I also wouldn’t really mind if they didn’t. I do think their pleas of ignorance were disingenuous.

    The selective outrage charge is at the public who bashed the company, in man-on-the street interviews, blog posts, etc. for manufacturing and marketing such a distasteful and offensive product as if such acts were anomalous to our culture.

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