Balenciaga concept store in London.
Balenciaga concept store in London.
Image: Supplied

Not a lot of people are talking about it anymore, but the recent outrage over the release of two controversial—to say the least—campaigns by luxury brand Balenciaga should be cause for pause.

In case you may not have been paying attention, one campaign by Balenciaga featured images of children with handbags that look like teddy bears in bondage gear. The other had images that included ‘paperwork about child pornography laws’, as per the New York Times which called the saga “one of the most explicit collisions of internet culture, politics, fashion and conspiracy theories to date’.

The two campaigns drew wide condemnation across the Twittersphere and beyond. Even Fox News went in on Balenciaga, in what seemed like the brand’s condoning of the exploitation of children.

They absolutely should be condemned, and honestly, no matter how much they apologise, it’s kind of hard to believe that an entire campaign can go from concept to shoot and publication without a single person along that value chain sounding the alarm. That they condone child pornography is probably a fair conclusion, but let’s say they don’t—as creative director Demna claims—what, then, could be the reason for something so abhorrent to make it into the public realm?

The answer could quite simply be an addiction to controversy gone wrong. Ever since Demna took over as artistic director at the label, controversy has been part of how Balenciaga shows up, sparking outrage, disgust and everything in between along the way. One such instance is when they sent models down a runway looking like refugees carrying trash bags.

“It was an uncomfortable watch, and veered perilously to using a humanitarian crisis as an aesthetic,” Jess-Cartner-Morley wrote for The Guardian, admitting still that it was a personal show for Demna, who said the war in Ukraine, particularly, had triggered past traumas for him as someone who was—at 12 years old—one of 250,000 Georgians who were forced from their homes during the country’s 1991-1993 civil war.

We are outraged for what feels like a second before our social media feeds refresh and suddenly everything else is forgotten

While Balanciaga has issued apologies and metered out actions they believe will keep something like the latest controversy from happening again, we don’t really know what the long term consequences of this will be, but bear with me when I say I have no faith that much will happen.

Many may have condemned Balenciaga (even burning their Balanciaga gear in protest—which is just plain weird) but I wouldn’t be surprised if the brand suffers no real consequences to their bottom line. See, we’re so deep into what I call the era of chaos as a society that things we would have never tolerated even ten years ago are now very much acceptable.

Politicians—Donald Trump, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and I’m sure many others—seem to be able to get away with a lot while society gets outraged by their actions, but only for a moment. 

We are outraged for what feels like a second before our social media feeds refresh and some or other influencer speaks trash and suddenly everything else is forgotten—it’s old news. We’ve moved on to another thing we can be outraged about for a few hours or days before moving on to the next thing, and on and on and on.

At the same time, I do believe that the amount of chaos that keeps raging in society is enough for many of us to tune right out. So, whether or not there are consequences for anything, who is watching?

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