It was only a matter of time until the Argentine clothing brand COOK (formerly John L. Cook) fell foul in the internet war-machine. Frankly, it’s been a long time coming.
Since 1975, the company has used the good ol’ Confederate Flag (née the Second Confederate Navy Jack) as its logo, joining an illustrious clientèle mainly made up of Neo-Confederates and white supremacists.
“No Al Logo”, an online petition, is officially calling out the brand for using the Confederate Flag as their logo and go-to textile print. As of early July COOK has switched to a different, racially neutral logo on their social media platforms, but the old trademark Dixie flag continues to be featured on their webpage, products, in their advertising, and reportedly on their in-store signage. The “No al Logo” petition is pushing for the brand to phase out the use of flag entirely.
The flag, the most famous banner being waved by the Confederate States in the (North) America, was originally used during the U.S Civil War back in the 1860s, and was originally representative of a collection of states that championed the use of slavery to drive their cotton-based economies. The flag later enjoyed a 1950s renaissance of sorts under the KKK as their unofficial banner, and has since become synonymous with the Klans’ extremist ‘purification’ projects.
So COOK, what’s up with that? It’s unlikely that their choice was a calculatedly scandalous piece of proto-clickbait, because the brand, established in ’75- clearly was founded well before the invention of hipster irony (the most annoying form of irony the planet has ever known). Plus their clothing, an inoffensive collection, one baby step up from college-campus normcore, leaves COOK a far cry from the world of professional commercial trolling that appear to dominate retail nowadays ( the outrage-mongers Urban Outfitters being a solid case study). Even so, they’ve made it clear that they’re very much aware of- and somewhat indebted to- the flag’s notoriety. Talking to Ámbito Financiero back in 2003, COOK heir Emiliano Fitá commented that:
“In the North [of the US] we had to modify the logo, as it resembled the confederate flag, but in the South you could say that [its resemblance] was the secret of our success.”
“Resembled”. COOK didn’t reply to our questions, but luckily the hands behind “No Al Logo” (who were similarly spurned by the company) were happy to talk to us. This is what they had to say about the project.
THE BUBBLE: There doesn’t seem to have been much evidence of protest against COOK’s use of the Dixie Flag so far- what made you start the petition now?
No Al Logo: In mid-June there was a racially motivated massacre of nine black members of a historically African-American church in Charleston, a city in the South of the United States. Afterwards, the [North American] media began paying attention again to the fight to get the Confederate flag removed from public display. And the #takeitdown movement achieved an incredible response in a relatively short period of time. In response, dozens of major US retailers – including Walmart, Apple and Amazon – decided to stop selling any Confederate flag merchandise, and released public statements repudiating the flag. It seemed like the right time to pick up on some of that momentum and expand awareness of the COOK logo.
TB: So why do you think the logo hasn’t gotten more attention before?
NAL: I think people in Argentina are really just unaware that the COOK logo is the Confederate flag. Also, COOK’s marketing is all in English and they use a lot of North American cultural motifs in their clothing, so it’s possible a lot of people believe COOK is actually a US brand. Even if they know that’s the Confederate flag, they may not realize that in the US this is a symbol of hate— if there’s a company marketing their clothing with the slogan “Live in Love” while using the flag, why would you think twice about it? The JOHN L. COOK brand has been around for a long time.
TB: How do you think people see COOK, as a brand? Are people going to be willing to hold it accountable?
NAL: Whenever I’ve spoken to COOK customers about this issue, they get upset when they find out that the logo is a racist symbol, that it stands for slavery and apartheid and violent oppression. COOK has a lot of loyal customers. It’s a difficult realization to come to terms with – it’s like a betrayal of their customers’ trust. Imagine that you’d grown up never knowing what the swastika stood for and yet it was the label on the back pocket of your favorite pair of jeans. And then one day someone told you what it meant! It’s confusing, it’s upsetting. People don’t want to be implicated in that. My impression is that people see COOK as a sophisticated brand, an aspirational brand, a global-facing brand. So I think people will hold COOK accountable because it’s the right thing to do. It’s time. Time to stop making money off a symbol of hate.
TB: What do you hope the response will be to the petition? Is it realistic to hope that a successful brand that has used the same logo for so long might change it now?
NAL: Well, in general, I hope the petition will simply provoke a conversation. I’d also love to see other Argentine companies take on more social responsibility. And I hope people will realize how hypocritical and offensive it is that COOK appropriates quotations from important Black figures in the civil rights movement in their marketing, such as Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King, Jr., placing their names above a racist symbol that represents everything they fought against.
Maybe this sounds naïve, but I see this as a great opportunity for COOK. Brands grow and evolve along with their customers. They’ve been around since the ’70s — think how much Argentina has changed since then. They can’t keep involving their customers in racism and violence, even symbolically. Not too long ago, COOK posted a quote on their Facebook page that said, “Not admitting a mistake is a bigger mistake.” COOK could move a lot of people by taking those words to heart.
So what could possibly have inspired the decision, and is it defensible?
It probably wasn’t that the Argentine brand digged the “Heritage Not Hate” campaign hard enough to open a branch in the deep, deep South. Most probably, although it’s hard to tell given their apparent policy of ‘schtum’ re: supremacist enquiries, it was a fairly arbitrary choice based on a ‘cool’ image and a collection of Jack Daniels stereotypes. A COOK employee reportedly described the founder’s logo choice as resulting from a tour of the US, in which:
“he saw the flag and liked it and decided to use it as the logo for the company.”
Let’s throw them a bone. There’s an interesting comment to be made here, in their favor, on the fairly unbridled use of national flags- particularly the Stars and Stripes, or the Union Flag– for the purposes of fast-fashion and tapping into the easy ‘trend’ of throwaway nationalism that rears its stripy head every time there’s a new bill or baby of particular interest.
Given that many people can probably count the national anthem verses they know on one finger, why is it suddenly not OK to show the same patriotic flippancy towards the Dixie flag that we do towards commerce’s other favorite Red-White-‘n’-Blues?
Or, on a different tack, why do we generally overlook the problematic associations of the Union Flag and the Stars and Stripes, and not those of the Confederate Flag? Using the Dixie flag offends because it has been defiled, now, by spilt blood, white supremacy, and the greasy fingers of thousands of KKK ralliers. This argument could logically go to asking, why not rightfully take to task other brands for their use of flags from other countries with histories of brutal discriminatory practices? Looking at you, colonial Britain. You too Christopher Columbus et.al. Those flags are stained sheets too, and as such we should be similarly cautious about where we air them and how ‘cool’ we think it makes us when we do..
A possible answer to both these questions (psych if you thought they were rhetorical) is the familiar caveat for ‘free speech’ based on a call for sensitivity and propriety. Both arguments against criticising COOK’s logo choice appeal to a double-standard in our attitudes towards flag use, and we see that this is thought-provoking, and this is very good. However, we are justified in treating the confederate flag differently to the other two A-list flags.
Firstly, The US and UK flags function not just as serious patriotic symbols, but also- rightly or wrongly- as pop-culture images that represent the more superficial aspects of their respective cultures. Think: the Queen, cucumber sandwiches, chicken wings, and, like… Miley Cyrus. The flags have a breadth of reference that makes their appearances on pencil cases and kitsch postcards more excusable. The confederate flag, by contrast, doesn’t have this luxury: in the mainstream it has only ever represented white supremacy and all the brutality and offence that entails, so flippancy is never really an appropriate attitude.
The second point is more interesting, but it’s one that would still demand that COOK get rid of the Dixie. If you’re arguing that we should be more cautious in our use of flags- and that is something we should really be thinking about- then you can’t go in with your hypocritical Dixie-guns blazing for a full 40 years without removing the flag once people start talking about it, because by then your point’s been made.
The constant flag-emblazoning by trigger-happy faux-nationalist designers, like cocaine tooth-drops and blood sacrifices, may well become one of those odd compulsions that future generations will look back on in bemusement.
In the meantime, let’s make it known for posterity that we are aware that this logo is no longer OK- if it ever actually was.
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