I have something against the new Nike campaign, and it isn’t about Kaepernick

Once again, be ready for sacrifice — as long as it serves your little ego at the expense of everything else.

I am tired.

Ever since I came to this world, whether through schools relying on grades and competition, or more perniciously by being faced constantly with ads and commercials urging me to become a better-self by buying bullshit, I have been confronted to the idea that I should try to be “THE BEST”. That I should try to be on top. And that only that mattered. That there was no need in being kind, in helping others, or even in being smart, as long as it did not serve the purpose of climbing up the very subjective ladder of human success and recognition.

I am going to talk about the words first, because I am a writer, and words DO have their importance. Looking at the words of Nike’s new campaign shows another symptom of our society’s sickness with “being the best, whatever the price” but first of all, it is dangerously evasive regarding the philosophy it propagates. This works like a mantra, and this is why it is dangerous: because it’s been around for way longer than the ad.

The importance of words

Featuring Colin Kaepernick, the ad is made up of two very elliptical sentences: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nothing is said about what that something could be — it might as well be that it’s OKAY to kill your neighbor for his beliefs, or that women don’t deserve equal pay — or worse, that they deserve to die because they won’t have sex with you. When looking at the ad, it is impossible to know what that “belief” you’re ready to “sacrifice everything for” should be. When I first saw the ad, I actually thought, in a pretty extreme manner, that this could actually totally work for an ISIS ad too, which is pretty ironic from an occidental brand and company. See, I am pretty sure people in ISIS actually DO believe in something, strongly enough so that they are actually sacrificing EVERYTHING for it, even their own body. This is the principal at the very heart of any suicide bombing. And I think these extreme kinds of beliefs have proven to be dangerous depending on what you chose to believe in.

However, this is just me giving meticulous attention to words. Even though I do believe that words used in commercials, because of the importance marketing and advertising have taken in our consumption-driven societies, actually do tend to act more like brainwashing devices and gurus than what we actually want to acknowledge. Philosophy, literature, sadly, have massively been replaced by ads and mottos used to sell shit all around the world. Just compare the number of available positions for copywriters to the ones open for actual journalists and writers.

I also have a problem with the second part of the ad. “Even if it means sacrificing everything”. Once again, what is that everything? Family life? Your friends? Your health? This is so stupid it’s outrageous. Nike doesn’t even want to do bad, but this is terrible. What kind of troubled person would agree to “sacrifice everything” just in order to be the “fastest runner ever”? (Because when looking at the commercial accompanying the ad, that’s what you learn: that the “belief” is individualistically sports related, of course). How about a more humble “prioritize your desires and needs”? Would that sound so terribly human?

Don’t be fooled: Nike’s real intentions

Of course, the fact that Nike used Kaepernick shows their intention to convey meaning, that this “something” could actually be very political, and that bravery could be shown by sacrificing your career for something you truly believe in — not only for yourself, but for others too. Still. I refuse to be fooled. Nike does not want us to stand up politically because, obviously, that would not work out so well for them. Nike represents everything that’s wrong with mass consumption and globalization, a company long-known for using child labor abroad and selling shoes a hundred times the price it actually cost to make them.

Here’s about the commercial now, that urges us to make sure we’re on the “best team”, or that we’re working hard to become the “fastest ever”. The whole political statement that can be grasped on the Kaepernick ad has totally disappeared and has been replaced by selfish dreams of performance. This just shows that if we are under any dictatorship right now, it is the one of our sick sick sick egos. A dictatorship that benefits from the brands’ propaganda, and, in sports, from the glorification of made-up gods that are paid millions. The soccer industry around the world is one of the most convincing examples of that.

It also shows that we may be more interested in keeping stars in our eyes than actually acknowledging the state of the world around us, and what it actually craves from us. “Let the people dream,” they will say. Sporting feats are all about the Neanderthal dream that we’re gonna be the strongest, therefore the best to reproduce with. Wake up people, this is the 21st century. Wait until the apocalypse (which will certainly happen if we keep staring at ourselves instead of helping the Earth) to give in to your “super-muscly-superhuman” dreams again.

Nike’s campaign, to me, is just another wake-up call that we need to change the nature of our dreams if we want our kids to have a future on this Earth. We need to let go of purely ego-driven achievements, and of the constant need to prove that we are better than others. We need to pour new dreams into our heads, dreams of compassion, dreams of understanding and kindness, dreams of shared successes and experiences. There is no more time for competition. There is no more time for selfishness. People are dying on the Mediterranean shores because of climate change and political instability. There is no more time and space to give a shit about industries that make millions out of people’s misery by selling them fake heroes and dreams.

Nike is selling you their belief. They’re actually doing it in a pretty smart manner by using Colin Kaepernick who actually took a stand (no pun intended) against police violence by kneeling during the national anthem. Still, they’re using it to sell shoes made by 12 year-old children in factories on the other side of the world to people they hope will feel so insecure they will try to find relief in something as abstract as physical performance. If there is one silver lining to all this, it lies in the fact that being a famous sportsperson may actually be used in a political manner, that’s all.

You do not need to sacrifice everything. “Everythings, nevers and forevers” will always be dangerous. If you do, sacrifice everything not for your own selfish dreams, but for the rights of others. Give yourself away to something bigger, and you’ll never end up alone. Maybe that is what Nike first intended to say, too bad they’re still more worried about selling shoes rather than their workers’ actual conditions, or just about anything else.

French-American writer. Comedian. Traveler. Witch. Featured on VICE (fr) — or how I got paid to write about my life instead of going to therapy. Paris//Chicago