The line between parody and reality is a difficult one to define in these darkly farcical modern times, which so often feel like a trip through the wrong looking glass.
Our latest exhibit: A Neo-Nazi blog declaring New Balance the “official shoes of white people.” Yes, that’s right the sneakers that were once satirically associated with mainstream Caucasian sartorial sensibilities have officially been claimed. By white supremacists.
When does this surreal bad trip end again?
We’ll get to the details soon, but first a brief look back. Remember the blog Stuff White People Like?
In an earlier iteration of the internet, the site written by Christian Lander gently satirized the very particular tastes of what The New Republic in 2008 called “a very specific demographic sliver of left-leaning, city-dwelling white folk.”
The blog skyrocketed to popularity simply by digital word of mouth. It was covered on mainstream sites across the web. Lander scored a book deal.
Stuff White People Like highlighted, well, stuff a lot of white people like. One of the blog’s more than 100 entries spotlighted The Wire; another spotlighted microbreweries; another spotlighted Wrigley Field; another spotlighted having two last names. So on and so forth.
And there, number 96 on the list was, “New Balance Shoes.”
“It is considered a legendary white male move to play basketball in a pair of New Balance,” Stuff White People Like explained in 2008. “Lots of layups.”
Now here we are in 2016 with New Balance having just been declared “the official shoes of white people” by a neo-Nazi website.
“Im a Nike guy. Or rather, I was,” read a post this weekend on a site called The Daily Stormer. “Its time to get on-board with New Balance now. Their brave act has just made them the official brand of the Trump Revolution.”
Man … what? Neo-Nazism resides at the opposite end of the whiteness spectrum from the slice that Lander’s blog highlighted. But still this reads like a line from science fiction book about a farcical dystopia. Alas, it’s reality.
It’s the same reality in which Ben Carson bowed out of the running for Trump cabinet position because, as a spokesperson said, “he does not think he is prepared to run a federal agency.” This came months after Carson ran for president. Of the United States.
It’s the same reality in which people die taking selfies.
It’s the same reality in which poop emojis are touted as a key to female empowerment.
It’s the same reality in which Donald Trump is elected president.
But we digress. The The Daily Stormer post about New Balance shoes this weekend went on to include a few slurs against gay and transexual people. Meanwhile, just to further orient you here, the site features sections titled “Jewish Problem” and “Race War.”
So how in the hell did we get here?
The capital-H “Here” with a reality TV star as president-elect, death by selfie and so forth is a topic for another day. But the lower case “here”, with white nationalists having claimed New Balances as part of their “uniform” is nonetheless a story that will have you shaking your head.
See, New Balance shoes unlike many popular sneakers are manufactured in the United States. Lander cited this on Stuff White People Like back in 2008 as a root of their popularity among liberal Caucasians.
Then on Twitter last week, Wall Street Journal reporter Sara Germano quoted a New Balance spokesperson as saying Barack Obama had “turned a deaf ear” to the company as an American manufacturer and that the company feels “things are going to move in the right direction” under a President Trump.
Germano clarified in a later tweet that the comment specifically regarded the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership bill, a free trade agreement promoted by Obama but one Trump has said he’ll block. Blocking the partnership, ostensibly, will help American manufacturers such as New Balance.
Twitter is not a place for nuance, though. As Mashable‘s Patrick Kulp reported last week, many took the New Balance spokesperson’s comment as a full-on endorsement for Trump. People began posting photos of their own New Balance sneakers being trashed or burned. Boycotts of the company were promised as well.
And this is where The Daily Stormer swooped in over the weekend to claim New Balance as “the official shoes of white people.”
“New Balance is making a gesture to support White people and to support US manufacturing,” the white nationalist site’s declaration read. “We need to support that. I see New Balances now becoming the official shoes of White people. I myself am due a new pair of sneakers. Im browsing their website now.”
The Daily Stormer post featured an image of a pair of gray New Balances nearly identical to the gray pair of New Balances pictured in Lander’s Stuff White People Like entry from 2008.
More than 20 threads posted on the pro-Trump subreddit over the past four days now celebrate New Balance and promote buying the company’s shoes.
New Balance released a statement Monday saying its original comments about Obama and Trump had been taken out of context. The statement said New Balance is a “values-driven organization and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world.”
The Daily Stormer was undeterred, however. In a follow-up post Tuesday, the white nationalist site falsely blamed New Balance’s statement on a “hack.” It also relayed an alleged phone conversation with Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, in which LeBretton supposedly made several racist remarks.
That conversation never happened, a New Balance spokesperson told Mashable on Tuesday.
But welcome to 2016, where news is often fake, shoes are claimed as tools of racism and the line between parody and reality becomes more blurred every day.