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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Flaunting donations is a bad idea

Published: March 14, 2008
Section: Opinions

What is the world coming to? Seriously, if it’s not global warming or the latest catfight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, it’s pop culture that’s stirring up the latest issue. Abercrombie and Fitch. Three words that might not mean much to somebody living under a rock, but if you’re even remotely familiar with the clothing industry, you’ve most likely heard them mentioned a few times.

In a New York Times article the other day, Abercrombie and Fitch’s 2006 philanthropic gesture, a donation of $10 million to the emergency department of a hospital in Ohio, was newly criticized. No, nobody is on their high and mighty horse saying a store shouldn’t donate money to a worthy cause. People are upset about what Abercrombie is receiving in return for their donation: the Ohio hospital agreed to name a new trauma center and emergency department after Abercrombie.

In theory, it doesn’t sound so harmful. It’s not like there’s going to be scantily clad Abercrombie models outside of the cancer ward trying to sell sexual images and clothes to young children. But after all, you can’t help but wonder whether or not it’s that great an idea to actually name a department of a hospital after a store.

We all learned about John D. Rockefeller in our history classes in years past and his philanthropic efforts and cannot deny that this goes on today also. But why do we always have to do something for show? Why do we always have to receive something in return for our charitable actions?

In reflecting upon this, I can’t help but be reminded of a Bible passage which discourages flaunting your charitable or religious actions. Sure, it’s great and commendable that Abercrombie is putting some of their money to good use, but why do they need more publicity in return? Aren’t their huge billboards filled with half-naked models enough exposure? (Pardon the pun) A coalition including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is seeking a reconsideration of the hospital’s 2006 decision because the time is near when building on the new ward will start.

There’s a fat chance that these anorexic models will be coming to a hospital near you to recruit the exhibitionists of tomorrow, but still. Like a letter to five of the hospitals’ senior officials said “the Abercrombie & Fitch Emergency Department and Trauma Center marries the Abercrombie brand to your reputation.” Maybe there won’t be an in-hospital Abercrombie store, but there is the slight possibility that children just might ask ‘what is this Abercrombie?’

Now, I think there are worse things to be worried about, but there is some basis for complaint. In a society where children are bombarded with harmful cultural messages from an early age, there’s reason to want to shield them from one more harmful message.

Of course, ultimately it was the hospital’s decision to name the center after the store, but why is it that that is a common practice today? When people go to a hospital, I doubt they really care that the lobby is named after the Limited Too or the emergency room after Abercrombie. My gut instinct tells me they’re probably looking for a little medical aid, but that’s just me! So why do we feel the need to name centers after them? Some might say what I just wrote is reason to name it after donators simply because most people don’t even notice the names, so what’s the big deal. But it’s just another example of culture’s tight grip on our lives.

If we can’t even go to the hospital without being reminded of the cultural beast beckoning us to conform to sexualized and beauty expectations, then where is the safe haven? And don’t say our own homes, because TV and the internet have proven that no place is safe to escape from society, not even the privacy of our own homes.

It may strike some of you as ridiculous that we have children dying of cancer, poverty-stricken nations, and a global warming crisis on our hands, and all we can do is bicker about Abercrombie and Fitch. So what to do? Well, as usual, just be a little bit more critical of the lengths to which our culture seeks to brainwash our youth and maybe next time you donate to charity, don’t automatically go tell your friends.