Earlier this month, a guest contributor to the blog Racialicious accused Victoria’s Secret of “fetishizing” Asian women because it packaged a mesh teddy with a matching fan, hair chopsticks, and faux geisha obi belt (pictured on an Anglo model). The predictable social coverage swarm ensued, and now the product has disappeared from the company’s site.

I can’t decide if I’m inspired or depressed by the news.

The fact that people can find one another and collaborate online is utterly thrilling in a truly change-the-world sort of way. Never before have we Common Folk had the ability to identify common issues and then take action that effects real change. The web and its content made available via the Internet is perhaps the greatest and most broad mechanism for identifying truth and sponsoring shared understanding. It can empower the powerless.

Only mostly we use it to complain.

It’s not hard to get offended by Victoria’s Secret (especially as the parent of a daughter); its products objectify women as Barbie wannabes and offer them up as fodder for frat boy fantasies. The brand is also wildly popular with women who either 1) like that approach to their sexuality, or 2) don’t buy into it, but simply enjoy the products (the original positioning for the brand was as something they could buy for themselves and very possibly never reveal to anyone else vs. using lingerie as a tool to gain acceptance from men…hence the ‘secret’ in the name).

The geisha angle was silly, almost as if they’d packaged some themed McDonald’s toys with the teddy in order to call it “Asian.” Since it was described in the online copy as “your ticket to exotic adventure,” though, the dissenting blogger felt it sold exploitative role-playing. The problem is that the brand is one huge sexual role-play fantasy, and it took a lot of introspection and creative license to make the case that the product was significantly more tasteless than the rest of the offering. One comment after the blogger’s story suggested that if the ad had been entitled “Elegant Goth Lolita,” nobody would have taken note.

But because one person was particularly offended by this particular item, and found a ready echo chamber at a web site dedicated to issues relating to race, and then the  online ‘news’ sites like Huffington Post and The Daily Mail reported it as a controversy, the product disappeared from Victoria Secret’s site.

That’s not evidence of peer-to-peer collaboration or effecting meaningful change in the world, is it?

Most brands are realizing that there’s someone out in the ethersphere who will be offended by something it does. Online tech gives everyone a soapbox (again, I’m all for it) and makes anyone a potential rabble-rouser. And then it stops…right there…since very few people are actually equipped to propose real things, inspired to lead one another, or willing to take the time and effort effecting real change takes.

Digital media let us make a point and then violently (and virtually) agree with one another. Sometimes, this strange alchemy gathers so much steam that it scares brands into reacting, but mostly it results in a tempest that soon fades. We talk and “like” and then we move on. Or the tempest itself is centered on something that offended someone instead of some real operational issue. We take issue with ads or other ephemera of business, which are easy to turn on and off to simulate action.

Still, so much marketing gets away with selling us impossible ideals of beauty, happiness, and success, even in 2012.

Corporations and governments  should be scared shitless of the day when we of the huddled masses figure out that we can use the Internet to change the things they offer us.

For now, we’re mostly content with merely complaining about it.

Image via: flickr

Original Post: http://baskinbrand.com/?p=1014