How historians got Nike to pull an ad campaign — in under six hoursRoundup
tags: Lost Cause, public engagement, Nike, advertisements
Megan Kate Nelson is writing a book about the Civil War in the Southwest, which won a 2017 NEH Public Scholar Award and will be published by Scribner.
It was still early on March 30 when historian Amy Kohout began scrolling through her Instagram feed. An image caught her eye: an ad by Nike promoting its new line of Trail Running gear, which launched this month. It had a throwback feel: a vivid image of a lone runner on a dirt path, bolting along a green bluff above an ocean with inspirational text beneath, urging potential buyers to abandon all of their wayfinding technologies and become reacquainted with “the feeling of being lost.”
These were nice sentiments. But what gave Kohout pause was the slogan in large font underneath the photograph: “The Lost Cause.” And then there was the final sentence: “Because the lost cause will always be a cause worth supporting.”
For historians of the American South and the Civil War, these words are alarming. The Lost Cause was a story that white southerners told themselves after the Civil War to justify their embrace of slavery (it was a benign institution!), secession (a legitimate course of action!) and their defeat in the Civil War (a noble cause in defense of a “way of life”!).
After the war, historian Karen Cox explains, former Confederates used this narrative in a variety of ways to assert white supremacy across the South. This story “was ingrained in people for over a century,” says Cox, the author of "Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture." “It keeps getting repeated over and over again, and embedded in people’s minds through popular culture.” The film "Gone with the Wind," released in 1939, is the narrative’s apotheosis.
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