Has SEALDs finally descended into self-parody or is this an innovative strategy to inspire young voters?
At the height of the student group’s exposure last year they received much praise for their slick attitude towards publicity, which resulted in a very lucid and clean web presence, and well-designed promotional materials that were easy to share. However, there was also a lingering sense that they might be emphasising style over substance; that their basic message was, well, too basic and merely propped up with attractive photos of attractive twenty-somethings.
Now comes news that SEALDs has teamed up with select shop in the tony neighbourhood of Yoyogi-Uehara, 12XU, to create a line of clothing, hats and bags. The collection is called “DON’T TRASH YOUR VOTE” as a nod to the campaigners’ current crusade to block an LDP victory in the Upper House election this summer by tactical voting and encourage the young or apathetic to head to the polls.
The products go on sale from May 22nd, first at an event at Unit, a nightclub in Daikanyama. This will be followed by a special pop-up store at Shibuya Parco from May 31st to June 9th. The female model in the shots below is KOM_I from the electronic music group Suiyōbi Campanella.
“This is What Democracy Looks Like,” as SEALDs are fond of saying. But does this look more like United Colors of Benetton than student activism?
A fashion-activism crossover isn’t a fully new development. SEALDs first worked with 12XU in summer of 2015 and went on to sell a lot of t-shirts. The hate speech counter-protest group CRAC, whose earlier emergence in many ways anticipated the signature SEALDs mode, also has a branded apparel range and online shop, and prioritises heavy use of social media and globally minded (English) slogans.
The SEALDs-linked Shimin Rengō citizens’ group also recently put out a poster showing an intergenerational lineup of leading members, including Aki Okuda, all wearing white clothes with black slogans.
As has become the standard, there are no Japanese words in sight, yet the intended audience is a local one. Though no doubt well intentioned, this approach does have the unfortunate corollary of seeming overly metropolitan. It potentially comes off as a campaign created by activists out of meetings in third-wave coffee shops in Shibuya, by people who know how to make something look good but perhaps don’t understand how to reach floating voters living very different lives to them. Or rather, is this tactic sincere, commendable and effective? We may well find out at the upcoming election.