Dedicated to the man on East Houston Street snapping his fingers while holding a rainbow Hollister bag
Pride isn’t a brand. Has commercialization ruined Gay Pride? Pride month–awareness or cash grab by major brands? These lines should feel familiar–they’ve been culled from the copious yearly editorials decrying the commercialization of Pride. Ho hum. Every Pride it’s the same old debate, as corporations turn their branded identity rainbow colors to attract all that queer money, and as always my social media feeds are ablaze with critiques of this corporate takeover. I don’t know about you, dearest Pride marauders, but I’m tired. Wouldn’t you rather drink a cold beer from a can emblazoned with Marsha P. Johnson’s flower crown-framed smiling face while luxuriating in sequined rainbow-printed bootie shorts? I know I would.
Because I love corporate Pride. Commercial Pride. Consumerist Pride. Rainbow capitalism. There, I said it. Feel free to comment, hate, cancel or shame me for my wanton, debased consumerist frenzy. But, you’ll be shouting through my wall of mass-produced, cheaply made rainbow products. What’s that? I can’t hear you over the visual loudness as I cover myself in brands like a Nascar driver, dreaming about visiting Disney’s Pride in rainbow Minnie Mouse ears. I want the fanny packs, bucket hats, feather boas, Pride Converse, and my favorite, a multicolored striped gender-inclusive jumpsuit from Target that looks as if it was fashioned out of a shower curtain. I’m already sweating in eager anticipation. And if I rip a hole dancing? Well, some glitter rainbow Pride Duct tape will do the job.
I’ve spent days pouring over the worst…I mean, best of the Pride products, from Target pins featuring preferred pronouns to American Eagle T-shirts reading “Super Gay, and “Gayer Than Gay” (is Gayer than Gay more gay than Super Gay?) to a Walmart lion post with a rainbow-colored mane reading PRIDE. Roar! There’s rainbow Vans, rainbow Calvins, and rainbow Adidas. If you want something a little classier or just plain expensive, there’s a rainbow Gucci necklace for just $1690. A steal! And for the pretentious art set, ArtForum is even getting in on the Pride merch game with a $175 T-shirt collaboration with Helmut Lang that transforms Pride into a museum wall label. How many of these “political” artists will be sporting this at the next opening? No thanks. I’ll grab my trash from Party City, the purveyor of the tackiest of the tack, including a rainbow body flag, copious rainbow wig options, and a flask reading “I can’t even drink straight.” Sold.
I know. I know. It’s not “cool” to be into corporate Pride in 2019. Trust me, I’ve seen all the Twitter threads. And sure, watching a Chipotle burrito rumbling toward Christopher Street like an aluminum foil-wrapped donger isn’t a vision I ever really wanted either. But, as Michael Warner says, “The rule is: Get over yourself. Put a wig on before you judge.” I hear all you queer theorists collectively gasping and clutching your pearls at my misuse of this quote from The Trouble With Normal. Then, Warner was critiquing the homonormative gays seeking marriage, military, and essentially patriotic American normalcy at the expense of queerness’s radically transgressive and adorably abject roots. The exact folks that are marketed these rainbow products. But in 2019, we find ourselves in a different fractured position than when Warner penned his book in 1999. While we still have those white cisgender gays that, after achieving their HRC-funded goals, are turning more and more conservative by the day, there’s also a new group of social justice warrior queers with furious Twitter fingers and a hair-trigger readiness to be performatively outraged at any second (or at least write a think piece). These folks, too, need a wig. A rainbow one!
In fact, folks are ranting about Pride commercialization on corporate social media platforms with such fervor this year you’d think it was a fresh debate, as if queer anti-capitalists weren’t repeating the same tired lines and arguments that have been raging for decades like a glittery take on Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. In Pride Parades: How A Parade Changed The World, Katherine McFarland Bruce writes, “Since the early years of Pride, organizers and participants have debated the role of business sponsors and the balance of carefree festivity and serious-minded protest.” Pride has always been a point of contention, hitting boiling points about what the often fractured and hashed together LGBTQ+ community should be. Should we be political? Should we have fun? Can we have fun and be political?
Every year, it’s the same song and dance. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Pride commercialism,” “corporate Pride” or “rainbow capitalism,” and you’ll find countless articles from the past couple years, whining about corporate money in Pride parades, corporations pretending to care about LGBT+ people while funding politicians who target the community, and the tasteless rainbow tchotchkes being sold by every big box store possible. And yet with these years upon years of discourse, what has changed? Has Pride ever successfully been reclaimed? Have they upset anyone at a corporation other than some exhausted and underpaid social media intern? Unfortunately not.
Now, I won’t deny that branded Pride is a special kind of existential horror as identity transforms into a market. As McFarland Bruce notes, “Critics today argue that to successfully court businesses, Pride parades tone down the more contentious, provocative displays in favor of presenting gays and lesbians as eager consumers who pose no threat to businesses’ social power.” These critics aren’t wrong.
But really, is it any different than the museums, galleries and other institutions currently putting on copious and sometimes half-assed exhibitions for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots? Particularly the art spaces that never before cared about artists engaging with LGBTQ issues, but have suddenly found meaning in the anniversary as something they can sell to collectors for both money and kudos points? It’s still commercialization, but just higher-end (maybe), better aesthetics (debatable), and dare I say, much less fun (definitely). I’d much rather peruse Target’s Pride section than to go another tired and staid Pride exhibition this month.
However, rainbow capitalism isn’t the only Pride being sold. We also seem to be in a period where we’re also being sold rainbow anti-capitalism or strangely corporate anti-corporate Pride. I mean, there’s even anti-capitalist merch, including a T-shirt on Amazon that reads “Queer Liberation Not Rainbow Capitalism.” Actually it says “Capitailism,” which I’m not sure if that’s a furry joke or a typo. Nevertheless this critique is for purchase for just $19.99! Make sure everyone knows you’re no sell out by buying this!
It must be profitable to criticize corporate Pride. Why else would so many big moneyed publications wedge editorial after editorial whining about how corporate Pride has tarnished the legacy of LGBTQ activism between their Absolut Vodka ads? Virtue signaling think pieces can also be lucrative. Perhaps the best example and certainly the most ironic is Raquel Willis’s article “50 Years Later, Pride Month Is A Disgrace To Our Ancestors.” The op-ed makes strong points about the abandonment of the radical goals promoted by early activists like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, from racial equality to trans rights and sex worker rights to access to healthcare, for “candy-colored, capitalist glitter fests that claim to honor the annual remembrance of Stonewall in the decades since.” However, the article can’t be understood separately from the venue in which it was published: Out Magazine, historically one of the main offenders in constructing the buying power of a gay market. Aren’t they partially the ones responsible for this glitter fest mess?
Since the cooptation by the forces of capitalism is fast and furious, I’ve decided, instead, to shamelessly love corporate Pride. If you can’t beat em, join em! I’ve always loved everything trashy and bad about America, and what could be worse than a rainbow American flag T-shirt from Walmart? And I know, it seems like rejecting this rainbow avalanche is the more transgressive angle. But, I find telling people that you can’t wait to drape yourself in rainbow from head to toe this June is more deeply unsettling and shocking, than kvetching about rainbow-horned unicorn dolls.
And look. I’m not saying everyone should go out and buy anything and everything with a rainbow on it. If nothing else, steal it! Be true anti-capitalists and shoplift (bonus points if you do it with a rainbow Ikea bag). Squat in the Pride section of Target, while wearing their cringey T-shirts that say “Extra like Guac.” Cruise their dressing rooms! Let capitalism get you laid.
What if by embracing corporate Pride with such over-the-top zeal that it actually worked to turn the corporations off of Pride entirely. Imagine if Listerine endured a bunch of queers tweeting praise at them for how well their Pride mouthwash in a rainbow bottle works after anilingus. They couldn’t get those bottles off the shelves fast enough! Post on TD Bank’s Facebook that you love depositing your rent boy money with them since they don’t ask questions about large amounts of cash. Go for a job interview at Google sporting a rainbow suit from Party City like a Pride clown. Go order your expensive rainbow Just Salad while furiously huffing poppers. Use your shopping spree-induced mania wisely. They want LGBTQ culture, they got it!