Remembrances of March Madnesses Past

With my hometown team in the Sweet Sixteen, I thought I’d dig through the archives of a long-defunct, long-offline version of Sample Reality and repost the only thing I’ve ever written about the NCAA. It begins with this Nike advertisement from 2000, a fantastic little commercial produced by Wieden & Kennedy (Portland, Oregon), which illustrates Marx’s idea of the commodity as a “social hieroglyph” better than, well, better than Marx ever did.


Quite simply, what we find in the advertisement above is the fantasy that Nike shoes literally grow on trees. They are not the products of human labor, but the produce of the earth, nourished by the sun and sold at a farmer’s market in sleepy Bracketville, a fictional town created by Nike during the 2000 NCAA championship.

Bracketville, where “dreams grow on trees,” is the fanciful antipode to Indonesia and Vietnam [and now, in 2008, China], where most of Nike’s shoe production actually occurs. Dismal working conditions are disavowed, by both Nike and its customers, and replaced by pleasant images of sunshine and plenitude. Women and children factory workers, whose labor is congealed in every pair of “Air Flight” shoes, disappear, leaving behind no trace. The factories disappear as well. Indeed, Nike itself vanishes. In the corporation’s place we find only the friendly local farmer, selling his home-grown shoes to eager American customers. In a bizarre twist of logic, $1.20 worth of labor becomes a $90 pair of shoes, which in turn becomes an abundant crop sold by the basket-full. [The shoe-fruit, as I say above, is a social hieroglyph, by which Marx meant a commodity whose origins are obscured, its means of production veiled, and any traces of human labor, hidden.]