Are Louis Vuitton Callous Assholes? Maybe. But that is Beside the Point
"My illustration Simple Living is an idea inspired by the media's constant cover (sic) of completely meaningless things. My thought was: Since doing nothing but wearing designer bags and small ugly dogs apparently is enough to get you on a magazine cover, maybe it is worth a try for people who actually deserves and needs (sic) attention.This graphic is being circulated as a comment about who counts ~ about whom we should pay attention to and why. Apparently, the folks at Luis Vuitton are not amused. They are threatening to sue Danish graphic artist Nadia Plesner for this image which she is selling on posters and tee-shirts. Proceeds from sales will go to Divest for Darfur. The LV folk, however, seem to think that the designer bag here resembles their own products. On her web page Plesner offers this account of events:
When we're presented with the same images in the media over and over again, we might start to believe that they're important" ~ Nadia Plesner
In October last year I started my Simple Living campaign to raise awareness of the ongoing genocide in Darfur and to raise money for the helping organization "Divest for Darfur".The obvious point is that Louis Vuitton must be out of their corporate minds. Even if they could claim that Plesner's graphic depicts their product (which she, plausibly to my mind, denies) and if they could show that she somehow violated copyright (in what clearly is a parody), what sort of publicity do they think they are going to generate? Since they seem not to have figured that one out, maybe I can help. Before long there will be lots of people on the web and elsewhere making fun of LV for being idiots (at best) and callous assholes (at considerably less than best). But having now stepped right smack in it, the chic folk at LV need to find a graceful way to walk away without getting shit all over the carpet.
On February 13, 2008, I received a letter from Louis Vuitton’s main office in Paris, asking me firmly to end the campaign immediately, as they believe one of their products is being portrayed in the art piece. They refer to my website as “Exhibit 1.”
However, I stand up for my artistic freedom to express my view of the world as I see it without restrictions from anybody.
On February 20, 2008, I informed Louis Vuitton’s Intellectual Property Director that I intend to continue my campaign to support the victims of Darfur.
On April 15, 2008, I received a lawsuit from Louis Vuitton. I am now getting legal help from three lawyers.
The second, less obvious, but more important point is that Plesner arguably is participating in a standard, and not terribly admirable, practice of presenting images of suffering African babies and children as a vehicle for a moralistic complaint. The extent to which commentators are outraged by Louis Vuitton's response, seems a good indicator not only of the moralism quotient at work here, but of how easily such moralism can be misdirected. In the end, the Louis Vuitton splash is a sideshow.
The problems in Darfur are political. The resolution to those problems - as opposed to palliative measures that might alleviate symptomatic suffering and hardship - requires more than our (meaning denizens of the rich North Atlantic democracies) attention and compassion. Any such resolution will require coordination and monitoring and organization well beyond what might be provided even by already-up-and-running NGOs. It requires a political settlement.
Granted, Plesner is pledging funds to a campaign pressing large American mutual fund outfits to divest themselves of stocks from companies that "fund genocide in Darfur." But even such economic "sanctions" are unlikely to contribute much to a political settlement among the parties in the Sudan. If the divestment strategy were to work, the U.S. funds will withdraw investments from offending companies. Will those companies then have any reason to take constructive steps to support a political settlement. That seems like a long shot to me. Will images of naked African children provide a useful means of coordinating a movement to bring political pressure to bear on relevant parties to enter into a political settlement? No.
[Thanks to Henry Farrell for calling the Plesner/Vuitton dispute to my attention. Now get back to work!]