January 29, 2014

About Those "Pro-Gay" German Olympic Uniforms

There is a great Jerry Seinfeld sketch that I’ve remembered for years. It’s about Jerry being sick, being a baby about it, and having no qualms about downing as much medicine as he can so that he doesn’t have to feel even the slightest discomfort. The part I always found especially hilarious is the riff about securing a lethal dose that he can back off just enough so that it doesn’t kill him.

If people are debating whether the new German Olympic uniforms reference the gay flag or not (1, 2, 3, 4), that’s not the point. It’s that Team Nike, with their brain trust of ad people and designers, take us right up to that line then back it off slightly. This is what powerful advertising does. Typically, its both evocative but also that ambiguous or subliminal. In this case, the uniforms (for gays and lesbians, for progressives, for the sympathetic or guilty-feeling Olympic officials) do evoke the gay rainbow … until they don’t (especially for Russians who know they have maximum exposure, know more overt provocations are coming, and require the deniability).

The winner of the gold, by the way (similar to the case of those Russian female athletes who supposedly staged a kissing-in last year) is the corporate sponsor. Nike wins for creating the gay allusion and for appearing to push back on the Russians with a fashion statement for human rights. At the same time, they literally score by enabling the Russian boycott and sustaining enough deniability all around.

Photo Gallery: Germany’s Sochi Uniform (Spiegel)

(photo: Getty Images)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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