By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — As soon as a well-meant charitable effort is twisted into a Stanley Cup rallying cry, all bets are off.
This mission-creep was probably inevitable, knowing how subtly and easily such transformations occur, abetted by media in such a rush to push pandering, lazy plot-lines that they blind themselves to the crassness of using tragedy to sell support for a hockey team.
#BostonStrong began in the immediate aftermath of the marathon bombing havoc as nothing but good intention to unify the city and the relief effort. As was noted in this space at the time, the unfortunate aspect of anything “_____Strong” is the continuing reminder of the source of that branding template: the utterly fraudulent Lance Armstrong, and his corrupt, mismanaged charity that bears half his name, LiveStrong.
Negative connotations notwithstanding, BostonStrong has succeeded in galvanizing fundraising for victims and given a proud city a standardized, positive, recognizable slogan as it works to move beyond the terror of those days.
Now imagine what you would have thought at the time — as the manhunt for the murderers was unfolding, say, — if you were told the same expression would soon be on t-shirts and placards, in black and gold with the Bruins’ famous “B,” employed as the equivalent of “Let’s Go ‘Hawks!” with no sense at all of appropriate separation between grim, historic significance and the mere distraction that is sports.
Fans in Toronto faced backlash over a “Toronto Stronger” hat, and CubbyTees.com in Chicago was subjected Friday to what it termed a “good new-fashioned Twitter-lynching” before opting to stop sales of its own “Chicago Stronger” shirt.
(The proprietor of CubbyTees.com was contacted yesterday by the Boers and Bernstein Show, but declined a request for an interview)
No surprise that either product faced that kind of unwelcome reception, but here’s the deal.
The moment it became clear that “Boston Strong” crossed over from purely altruistic endeavor to Bruin-themed hockey catchphrase, the right to take offense at such response was forfeited, even if such hats or shirts are in such obviously questionable taste. I’m not saying I’d ever want to wear one — nor would I be comfortable with my fully-Blackhawks-crazed wife or son doing so either – but I will support those who produce or purchase them against the convenient, unwarranted indignation of the social-media masses.
Either the term is sacrosanct or it isn’t. If it’s okay for one fandom to in any way conflate it with their support of an NHL title-contender, then they can’t hide behind sensitivity when opposing forces turn it back at them. Once it’s about hockey, there’s no more finger-wagging.
Any weak claim that “Toronto Stronger” or “Chicago Stronger” insults victims can be summarily refuted by pointing out that if there is such an insult, it occurred when all their pain was repackaged crudely and obtusely to aggrandize support for the Bruins, Red Sox, or any others paid to hit something with a stick or play with a ball.
After the negative reaction they endured, CubbyTees.com posted “The design poked fun at the embarrassing, self-congratulatory branding of the tragedy, and its inappropriate adoption by SOME BOSTON FANS AS A MINIMIZING SPORTS ANTHEM, not the sad reality of that day’s mayhem. The design was based on the puzzling creation of a “Boston Strong” slogan in the first place, and then the use of that banner for the glory of New England pro teams.”
Many in Boston, it seems, feel they have earned the right to use “Boston Strong” however they deem fit, then are shamelessly using the bombing victims as a shield when confronted with a snarky rejoinder. Once the choice is made to engage in the arena of civic trash-talk, one must abide by the often rough-edged protocols that push the limits of proper discretion.
Besides, a more effective way for Boston fans to show how “strong” they are is by not overreacting to a silly t-shirt.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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