Knock it off

Let me preface this month’s column by saying that I am one of those self-righteous, self-important, vegetarian, anti-fur, hybrid-driving pretentious A-holes who will sit across from you at brunch staring into my child labor-made smartphone, drinking fair trade coffee, and glancing up occasionally only to make you feel silently judged about your leather jacket. You monster.

Earlier this week I got into a discussion with a friend about child labor. I know, right? Who doesn't love it? We started talking about working conditions in these Chinese sweat shops. Did you know some factories in China have installed nets to prevent people from jumping to their deaths? And I thought I was desperate to get out of MY old job!

At these factories, people put in 12–16 hour days cranking out the products we buy every day. Some of them luxury items like smartphones and expensive bags. They do this work for very little money. On the other hand, imagine how much that iPhone would cost if it cost $5 more to make! Sure, they get a place to live and (some) food to eat but, but ask yourself is that REALLY living? They toil away making the trinkets that make our American dream just a little bougie’er, and they can't get a day off.

So some of them, having worked in the factories that make our luxury goods, go into business making knock-offs of said products. Now I would NEVER endorse copyright infringement, and I'm not doing that now…. I'm just playing devil's advocate. These people being worked to death and hanging on by a thread see how easy it is to make these products and sell them for a HUGE mark up, just like the companies that have exploited them do.

When these knock-off factories are discovered, they send in—I shit you not—SWAT teams to surround the places and take the faux merchandise at gun point. Talk about overkill. Meanwhile, the leaders of the corporations that sell these products have enough money and power to make Solomon blush. They sit in palaces built on the backs of these people they've now ordered to be held at gun point. Pardon me if my sympathy seems misplaced, but they seem like real jerks.

Why are knock-offs such an issue? People will say that they fund terrorism and drug running. Okay, well being held at gunpoint because you've tried to work around a torturous system seems pretty terrifying to me. And seriously? What DOESN'T fund the drug trade in some way?

Others will say that knock-offs insult the integrity of the artist. Oh! Pardon me! It was difficult to spot your integrity as an artist when your lack of integrity as human being was shining SO much brighter. You willfully grow your profits by allowing your products to be made by sweatshop and child labor, and now you wanna talk about integrity? Yeah? No.

Here's why I think knock-offs really chap the rear: luxury items are a way separating the haves from the have-nots. It is this game of relative deprivation we play in American capitalism to make it easier to keep score with our neighbors. Who needs to internalize and improve when we can just buy badges of self worth?!

Are all sweatshop jobs awful, and should they be banished? Maybe not immediately. People need those jobs. But maybe, just maybe, if we demanded people be paid a fair wage for what they're making—like a smartphone with a 600% mark up for example—we could combat the problem of knock-offs and the collateral criminal damage surrounding them a little bit better.

Holding poor people at gunpoint to confiscate counterfeit bags seems like the worst possible way to fix anything. I'm sorry but, in this scenario, I feel sorry for the big, bad, knock-off making laborer, NOT the designer with a house in the Hamptons.

Life is funny that way. If you flaunt how good you have it in front of people, they will likely conspire to take it or tear you down, whether it's by starting a rumor, stealing a partner or ripping off your design. Don't rub success in people's faces, especially when that success is just birthright, luck of the draw, or, most dangerous of all, built off the work of those very same people. Be cool: don't be a pretentious jerk (or start slow, and just try to be a less pretentious jerk). Knock it off.

Also maybe consider living simply, so that others may simply live. And, no, I’m not just talking about your handbags and Ferraris.





Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo

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