The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Corporate Flip-Flop

June 26, 2003 | 16 Comments

Hindus love their elephant-headed God, Lord Ganesh. According to the American Hindus Against Defamation, he is the “most auspicious form of God” and is the deity they invoke, and seek blessings from, before starting any activity.

On the other hand, Hindus (according to AHAD) feel differently about shoes. They consider them “dirty” and take them off before entering their homes or temples. So you can imagine the Hindu reaction (according to AHAD) to this:


Like any self-respecting, self-absorbed religious pressure group, AHAD reacted hysterically, denouncing the product as a “particularly offensive and disgraceful” one which “signifies trampling upon the deity.” They organized a web-based protest against the manufacturer of the flip-flops, American Eagle Outfitters, confronting the company with arguments like this:

We are certain that the reaction of the Christian, Jewish, or Moslem community would have been equally outrageous if their revered symbols were placed on the flip flops. It is most likely due to the fear of the reaction of the Christian, Jewish and Moslem community that the American Eagle Outfitters has chosen to bring out the flip flop with a Hindu religious symbol — Lord Ganesha — while avoiding Christian, Moslem, or Jewish symbols.

Yes, the omnipotent Jesus, Yahweh and Allah are sensitive sorts, so I can see how finding themselves pictured on sandals would upset them in a way that wars, genocide and plagues apparently do not. And although the Virgin Mary makes regular appearances in foggy windows, Mother Teresa was personally distressed to find her face in a cinnamon bun. So American Eagle Outfitters — determined to insult some religious group but fearful of “outrageous” reactions by adherents of the Abramhamic faiths — picked on a helpless little elephant.

How did AEO respond to AHAD’s paranoiac demand for a nationwide recall of the flip-flops and an “unequivocal apology” for this presumably deliberate insult? Complete capitulation, of course:

Pursuant to your request, this letter follows up on the email to you yesterday from our customer service department which confirmed that American Eagle Outfitters will remove from its stores the flip flop shoe that include a likeness of Lord Ganesh (Ganesha).

Our goal at American Eagle Outfitters is to make AE brand merchandise that is fashionable and affordable for our customers in an inclusive and equitable environment. We value diversity and respect the ideal of freedom of expression of all religious and cultural beliefs.

On behalf of American Eagle Outfitters, please accept this letter as our formal apology for our of use of the image resembling Lord Ganesh on this product. Again, this letter confirms that we will remove these flip flop shoes from our stores in order to maintain the good will and our customer relations with the Hindu community.

We appreciate your interest in the AE brand and hope that you will continue to be satisfied customers of American Eagle Outfitters.

Very truly yours,

Neil Bulman, Jr.
Vice President and General Counsel

I can’t be too critical of this Corporate Public Relations 101 response; AEO, after all, is in the business of selling footwear rather than arguing theology. But what’s this nonsense about valuing “diversity and respect for the ideal of freedom of expression of all religious and cultural beliefs”? How does AEO know there isn’t some Hindu sect that celebrates Ganesh by treading on him? And doesn’t freedom of expression include MY right to wear Ganesh-themed sandals, just for the purpose of spiting idiots who believe in elephant-headed Gods?

[link courtesy of Mr. Thorne]

Note: AHAD also successfully bullied SittinPretty into recalling its collection of beautiful toilet seats depicting Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali. In their apology to “the Hindus of the World,” SittinPretty’s owners stated that “[t]he toilet seats were not at all an attempt to insult our beloved Goddess Kali or Lord Ganesha, both of Whom we both feel personally close to.”


16 Responses to “Corporate Flip-Flop”

  1. Kingsley Jegan
    June 26th, 2003 @ 2:33 am

    It would have been so much cooler if they’d added Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious symbols to their line :P

  2. Rumblefish
    June 26th, 2003 @ 2:39 am

    The virgin mary has taken up a slightly different residence.

  3. Jason Malloy
    June 26th, 2003 @ 2:48 am

    We are certain that the reaction of the Christian, Jewish, or Moslem community would have been equally outrageous if their revered symbols were placed on the flip flops.

    Those crazy bastards have a point.

  4. Jason Malloy
    June 26th, 2003 @ 2:51 am

    errr…..I said, those crazy bastards have a point.

  5. tara
    June 26th, 2003 @ 3:44 am

    Oh gawd, does the hindu community really have nothing better to do? I’m sure one of Ganesh’s top priorities is to avoid such demeaning commercialization of his cartoon likeness onto cheap preppy American Eagle clothes ….Although, when you have a big hang up about the

  6. Nick
    June 26th, 2003 @ 9:02 am

    How about diversifying into making flip-flops for elephants? If they’re holy, and shoes aren’t, which triumphs when the two are brought together?

  7. Jason Malloy
    June 26th, 2003 @ 9:44 am

    How about diversifying into making flip-flops for elephants?

    Flip-flops are defined as a back-less, rubber-sole sandal held to the foot with a thong around the big toe. But elephants don’t have big toes.

    So sadly this profound theological inquiry will have to remain unanswered. . .at least until Hindus mature in their spirituality enough to start their equivalent to Christianity Today.

  8. Jean Paul Fastidious
    June 26th, 2003 @ 10:28 am

    Tara: Unlike those stuffy and humorless Hindus, Christians are more than happy to provide you with whimsical footwear. Susej uoy sevol!

  9. Jean Paul Fastidious
    June 26th, 2003 @ 10:36 am

    And one more thing… We all know the real reason they choose a Hindu symbol and not an Abramhamic one: Ganesha’s “cool” looking. What self-respecting hipster fratboy of the sort AEO targets would want to walk around in flipflops with crosses, stars and moons on them? That would look like something you’d get for free in a box of Lucky Charms. More of a item for a store targeting ironic, kitsch-loving homosexuals, really.

  10. ZroKewl
    June 26th, 2003 @ 11:15 am

    JPF – “More of a item for a store targeting ironic, kitsch-loving homosexuals, really.”

    Honey – Jesuit fashion is so last century. Ganeshers are simply fabulous.

  11. Rumblefish
    June 26th, 2003 @ 2:01 pm

    I hope that wasn’t french you were speakin jean paul. Becuase we don’t take kindly to french speaking people.

  12. Angel Girl
    June 26th, 2003 @ 7:05 pm

    i’m hindu, and think AHAD is, quite frankly, trigger-happy. in case anyone didn’t see this kohler ad (elle decor, etc.), it’s been pulled too, which sucks. i don’t think a corporation or business should have to be sensitive about a non-copyrighted image of any kind. i mean, who owns religion to argue it?

  13. markm
    June 26th, 2003 @ 8:46 pm

    I can certainly understand Mother Teresa’s upset over the nunbun though. What woman wouldn’t be upset when you point out her face looks like an especially wrinkly cinnamon roll?

  14. The Raving Atheist
    June 26th, 2003 @ 8:57 pm

    KINGSLEY: Yes, that would be a wise corporate strategy — almost as wise a renaming themselves the “American Toe Fungus, Corn, Bunion and Foot Amputation Shoe Company.”

    RUMBLEFISH: I see she’s moved from the window to the chimney. Is this post considered the chimney of the post that your comment is relevant to?

    JASON, JASON: Originally, I thought you meant to “agree” with AHAD that any reactions by other faiths would be “outrageous.” But when you added the link, I was convinced of it.

    TARA: Please try to have a hang-up about the dirtiness of your shoes — they probably aren’t all that clean. It was really the elephant-headed God hang-up I was concerned with.

    NICK: It’s like adding chocolate to peanut butter.

    JASON: Ganesh has big toes; only His head is elephanty. And elephants have BIG toes, but not a pair of “big toes.”

    JPF: Since we don’t know what Jesus looked like, we don’t know if he looked like the Elephant Man, or even something cooler.

    ZROKEWL: Gods are forever; they never go out of fashion.

    ANGEL GIRL: Sorry that you’re a . . . I mean welcome! Actually, originally I intended the post to be mainly about how pretentious it was for some groups to act like they spoke for their whole religion and owned its symbols (which is why I said “according to AHAD” a couple of times) but somehow I forgot (I’m no elephant).

    MARKM: I’m more concerned about the bun’s feelings.

  15. markm
    June 26th, 2003 @ 9:19 pm

    RA, you are correct. My apologies to the bun.

  16. Maah!
    July 8th, 2012 @ 7:39 pm

    They could have just used cute little elephants, not an elephant with a crown giving blessings with a bowl of sacrament in his hand–clearly and unmistakably Lord Ganesh’s image. Furthermore, the religions of the East venerate the holy FORM of God, which the Christian religions are uncertain about and the Muslims attampt to abolish. Some Christians would feel confused by the Hindus being insulted by shoes with the form of God Ganesh on them. Traditionally the feet of saints, Gods and sons of God like Lord Jesus are held in high reverence in all religions, while the feet of the fallen souls are kept away from holy books, saints, Gods, etc. A Hindu will avoid stepping over any person or touching them with his feet because he knows a form of God resides in the person. The subtle science of the energy of the body says that energy comes off the feet and also is absorbed by the feet so the habit of removing shoes before coming into the home is to keep the home less affected by the negative energy picked up outside on the shoes. Most Eastern cultures adhere to this, it is not religion-based. It is cleanliness and respect for the home. It is good they apologized and stopped selling the footwear but it is doubtful that they innocently chose Sri Ganeshji to step on. In the last century, invading Muslims broke Hindu temples to the ground, built their own temples on the spots, burying the Hindu Gods inside the entrance stairs so that Muslims would walk over them.

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