Lululemon: Wide Right. No Goal. Tone Deaf. Class Blind.

 

So Lululemon does two years of marketing research in the rust-belt city of Buffalo, and somehow comes up with the idea that evoking two local sports tragedies totally out of context in a fancy floor-mosaic in their new store would express solidarity with the hoi polloi.

I think I know why that Lulu fabric goes all sheer. Clearly, the market researchers moonlight as quality controllers and test the pants by shoving their clueless heads up their asses while wearing them.

The dumb-dumb mosaic in question is the centrepiece of the new Lulu digs at the Walden Galleria mall. It’s emblazoned with the phrases “Wide right” and “No goal.”

“Wide right” was the phrase that NFL announcer Al Michaels used to seal Buffalo’s defeat in the 1991 Super Bowl when Bills kicker Scott Norwood (head hung in anguish above) missed a gamer-winning field goal with zero on the clock. “No goal!” is the chant that all of Western New York hollered for years in bars and in their dreams after Bret Hull illegally put his skate in the crease and tipped in the game winner that robbed the Sabres of the 1999 Cup.

Oh Lulu. You have no idea what real passion is, or what you’re messing with. For all of that “sweat everyday” and “do one thing a day that scares you”, you obviously know zilch about the deeper meanings of sports to people who don’t have the leisure to use it to express their neoliberal fabulousness, because they’re too busy using it to survive.

See, if your manifesto had been written in Buffalo it would say things like “Try to get that first shift at least three times per week.” Or “Even though you’re exhausted, go easy on the coffee.” Or “You can’t ask John Galt for a living wage.”

Maybe you thought that because “No Goal” was a popular bumper sticker in the Buffalo area throughout the early 2000s that everything was coolsies. But you don’t get to appropriate the battle chant of a group you want to be part of just so you go on to make them feel inadequate about their workout pants from Walmart. You don’t get to capitalize on the memory of something you don’t care enough about to understand.

The Buffalo news reported this tweet from @allysebian: “We can make fun of ourselves. You can not.”

But really — what can we expect from the cynicism of trying to ersatz-localize the franchises of a transnational McStore?

Sure — bring in your Bangladesh-made product, available only in sizes that can fit the bodies you want your logo on. Make sure you brush the collapsed-building-dust off each unit.

Then: pull on the local heartstrings. Create hometown buzz by reaching out to people you’d never have dinner with. Hire tile-cutters. Those old Italian guys struggling to make ends meet will do. Ask them to tile in painstaking detail key phrases that still smolder in their hearts. Practice radical acceptance and metta when they come in with cigarette smoke on their breath and salami in their lunchboxes.

You might feel all peace, love and leggings inside, but you’re really laughing at the tile-cutters. They probably know it. And all because you want their daughters to buy your stretchy pants. That’s what mindless capitalism and dissociative privilege does.

Lulu, you wanted to express solidarity. I have great faith that you think you wanted to do just that. But your business model is constitutionally incapable of expressing solidarity with anyone, from plus-sized women to sweatshop workers to Buffalo sports fans. It’s a bit of a problem, no?

Hey I have really great idea. Let’s hire unemployed Buffalo steel-workers to make shiny steel yoga mannequins. Let’s dress those mannequins up in stretchy pants with “Yoga Is the New Steel” printed across the butts. Then we can make tank tops that say “Who needs a union when you’ve got yoga?”

Joe jobs and football are so old-paradigm, fellow light-seekers. We’re in a new era! We’re taking over abandoned factory spaces to offer mindful movement at $22/hour. The ashes of the American dream are the vibhuti we wear to Landmark meetings and our yoga-inspired trance-dances. The dumpy folks sucking on Pabst down at the bar may never understand. But hey, what can you do?

I hope that yoga peeps far and wide can grok the whole class thing involved here, because it would suck to be as tone-deaf as the protégés of Chip Wilson. I’m having a dirty old laugh at the whole thing, but the mosaic isn’t really funny. The cracks between those tiles are the fault lines in means and sensibilities between the yoga class and the (no-longer-)working class. That mosaic is at ground zero of why liberals with enough money to buy $90 stretchy pants can be really crappy at even seeing the world they live in, let alone helping it become more just.

I hope yoga peeps get it, but I have my doubts. After Yogadork reports the story, Lucy, the first commenter, starts the stupid ball rolling:

“Anyone who takes a game played by men in tights this seriously needs to grow up and get a real life.”

Really? Isn’t this a store dedicated to selling tights? Who exactly has to “grow up?” Are you talking about men and women who work like such dogs during the week that they long to watch their bodily aggressions and glories played out in the gridiron cathedral?

And what’s a “real life”, anyway? Have you ever watched a wide receiver dive at full speed into a crushing tackle to try to get just their fingertips on a ball thrown like a bullet? Ever hear about Brett Favre breaking the fingers of his receivers with the force of his passes? Have you seen defensive linesmen vomiting at the sidelines after the exhaustion of a long series? These guys play so hard that they’re in chronic pain from their thirties onwards. Yet they continue, maybe born for it, because they were born there, on that piece of earth they fight over. What else do you do under the Friday night lights of your small town where your dad just got laid off? What is this body good for, anyways, if it doesn’t feel its own strength and pride?

Here’s a haunting parallelism brought to you courtesy of global capitalism. Maybe football in Buffalo runs as deep as Vedic ritual in Bangladesh. Both game and religious sacrifice help to keep people alive and vital while they forge steel and sew stretchy pants. Or while they beg for better wages from people who believe in progress and assure us that everything’s all good.

In the Buffalo News, commenter “Memetic” nails it:

“The Bills and Sabres are the furthest thing from the minds of the upscale clientele drawn to this store. In fact, they probably appreciate a good dig at the galoots that live and die by them.”

I can say that I didn’t really get football until I tried to run a yoga studio in rural Wisconsin. The studio had to schedule around not only Packers games, but Packers practice reports on the radio.

There I was, bringing a different type of movement into a land of muscle and impact, pain and glory. It only really worked when I realized I was just a guest of people whose souls cut deep into those frozen lakes and chalk-lined fields in ways I did not understand.

 

 

11 Comments

  • RigHt on Mathew! This why I do not shop at LuLu. Money talks. If you don’t agree with a corporation’s values, hit them in their pocketbook , don’t spend your money on their product.

  • My liberal dog does NOT work. Not even to fetch.

    All the over-breeding has resulted in early onset arthritis, and she lives on the pain pills/Rimadyl, morning and night.
    I feed her an expensive prescription diet, and she is groomed monthly.
    I spend time each day giving her a car ride to a local dog park for a gad about. Her favorite place is the car.
    —Thanks to the pain/inflammation pills she can jump on the bed for a visit and a cuddle.
    I and mine are bleeding heart liberals.

  • Matthew I absolutely love this. As a yoga teacher, socialist, studio owner, NFL fan (Bear down!), and lululemon ambassador this piece really “hits me in the feels.”

    I don’t need to see the “wide right” mosaic to know that the corporate culture at Lululemon is characterized by contempt for working class culture and values. Accepting their offer to become an ambassador was not an easy decision for me. Ultimately, I decided that I live in much closer proximity to the individuals who manage and work at the local store than I do to the corporation. And I liked them more than hate the corporation.

    And I really do like almost everybody I have met who works there. Some of them have become friends. They are kind, generous, and thoughtful people with whom I generally enjoy working.

    However I do question my endorsement of the company almost every day. Sometimes I feel embarrassed by having my picture on the wall of the store. I wonder if more ambassadors feel the same way. And if it would be possible to use our positions creatively to make a push for the corporation to sign the Bangladesh Accord (http://bangladeshaccord.org/). That wouldn’t “fix” the corporation, but it would, at bare minimum, make me feel better about my involvement.

    Somehow I doubt that other Lulu ambassadors are regular readers of your blog. I imagine my peers busily thumbing malas and fixing their topknots. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised?

  • I’m a NeoLiberal dog. I work.

    I stay at home all by myself all day long.
    Sometimes, I git throne on my back. Ala Cesar Milan.
    — I hold my pee, ’cause I know not to drink water until my peep comes home. My peep holds her urine too. She don’t take too much shite, just enough to keep her job.
    She votes for gun rights —and hearth and home.

    Where I’m at. Home By myself.

    She leaves the water there, I just can’t drink it.
    ‘Cause then I’d have to pee in the house.

    I support my single parent mom, NO MATTER WHAT.
    She feeds me for keeping the robbers away from the stuff. Ruff.

  • I contacted Lulu corporate headquarters when I found myself instructing yoga classes to an upper class clientele base who wore their products. Being a poor Zen resident student I could not afford to ‘look’ like my customers so I requested product donations. After being passed along to many contact employees I was told my their public affairs department that they did not have any programs to assist me. Basically it was that if I could not afford their product – I was not a ‘target-customer.’ I did not last long on that job and I know it was due to my ‘peasant’ workout outfit.

  • i avoid all this ‘brands’ names etc for my yoga classes. dont like at all the ‘celebrity yoga teachers world’ that are using those brands either. loosing total contact what truly yoga is. use pj pants for classes…avoid expensive yoga mats…you only need your heart in a good place to teach a magic class!

  • Mr. Remski, thank you for another wonderful and truthful essay. It reminds me of James Wright’s “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio.” (The poem is on various websites for those who want to read it.)

    • Thanks George. Here’s the poem:

      Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

      James Wright, 1927 – 1980

      In the Shreve High football stadium,
      I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
      And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
      And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
      Dreaming of heroes.

      All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
      Their women cluck like starved pullets,
      Dying for love.

      Therefore,
      Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
      At the beginning of October,
      And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

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