I wanted to share an article written by Ian Crouch in the New Yorker….
If you’d fallen asleep for the past month, and had awakened to tune into a recent Boston Red Sox broadcast, you’d likely be surprised to learn that this bunch of Sox are in first place, but would be much more surprised to hear Don Orsillo, the play-by-play guy, read promos for something called the One Fund, established, as he notes during breaks in the action, to “help victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.” Even if you haven’t slept through the last few weeks, the words still sound startling and strange, despite the blanketing coverage.
The blue-and-yellow One Fund logo, designed to look like a race bib, appears all over Boston these days, and is especially noticeable at the end of television commercials for companies like Dunkin’ Donuts and Citizens Bank (both of which have pledged a hundred thousand dollars). As of this week, the One Fund had raised more than twenty-nine million dollars. Roughly eleven million has come from individual donations, while the rest has come from institutional and corporate gifts. This is not to say that these corporate donations are somehow sinister or purely self-promoting. Instead, they are just one marker of how, in the month since the bombing, there has been an alignment of charity, marketing, and commerce—which mostly serves laudable and important ends, but nonetheless is complex and, at times, disconcerting.
There is, for example, the phrase “Boston Strong,” which within hours of the attack had become a rallying cry for the city—a statement of resolution and solidarity in the face of fear and sadness. And, as happens these days with any rousing slogan, it appeared on T-shirts. Ink to the People, based in Milwaukee, worked with two students at Emerson College on a design that has raised more than eight hundred thousand dollars for the One Fund. (The shirts sell for twenty dollars—the company donated production costs on the first fifteen hundred shirts sold, and have given fifteen dollars for each after that.) If clever shirts, and other sleek retail items, motivate people who might not normally give money to donate to the victims, then they have served a noble purpose and achieved practical results. (Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong product line for cancer research did this.)
Yet there is a more efficient act of giving, which would be to send the money directly to the One Fund itself, skipping the middle production costs—as well as avoiding a chance for cashing in by the unscrupulous. On the streets of Boston, vendors hawk “Boston Strong” merch that seems certain to benefit no one but themselves.
The swiftness with which “Boston Strong” went from a comforting phrase to a fashion statement and casual marker of regional identity reveals a certain friction. We want to participate in a common cause, but consumption, as a primary expression of grief and pride, is inadequate. I wore my old Red Sox hat with a little more purpose in the days after the attack, and my instinct to cleave to the team was not unusual. The most common visual manifestation of the slogan “Boston Strong” incorporates the Red Sox “B” logo above the word “strong,” as if the Red Sox organization were sponsoring the city’s attempt to reconcile with terrorism. Which, in a cross-marketing sort of way, it has. The Red Sox, along with Major League Baseball and the Players Association, have donated more than six hundred thousand dollars to the One Fund; hats featuring the logo are on back order at the M.L.B.’s online store.