Making money not love

Guest blogged by Jaspreet Kaur

There has recently been a lot of stir in the Sikh community about the GAP’s new “Make Love” holiday campaign. The Gap used Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor and designer, as a model for one of their promotional pictures. The response from the Sikh and non Sikh community was mixed and social media started buzzing with reactions to the image. A large add of this picture in New York City was recently vandalised and the Gap immediately responded by changing their twitter background to the image. Once again, the Sikh community responded, this time with more positive comments and support for the Gap.

What seems to have been forgotten in all this commotion is that the Gap is a multinational corporation that is only about their bottom line. They are about making money, not love. Their primary interest is to sell a product and by claiming to capture and commodify love, they are selling clothes. While the Gap is being praised for their quick response time and progressive thinking what is dismissed is the understanding that by the time a corporation uses an idea, it is no longer revolutionary. Gap would not have used a Sikh model if it hurt their bottom line. It is already acceptable and that is why the Gap can profit from displaying a turban and beard.

Waris Ahluwalia unabashedly supports this corporation, as is his prerogative. Sikhs are within their rights to follow in his footsteps but by virtue of the legacy of their activist Gurus they are obliged to be thoughtful and critical in doing so. Sikhs have never supported dominant regimes and in this historical moment where money is fluid across national boundaries and corporations have as much sway as governments, companies like the Gap are, without a doubt, the dominant power. You need to do no more that google “Gap human rights violations” to understand how poor working conditions are for those who produce the clothing that the Gap sells. For example, they were recently called out by the Institute of Global Labour and Human Rights for harsh working conditions in a Bangladesh factory where workers had to put in 15-17 hours a day and were having their wages unfairly cut. Unlike the overnight response to the vandalism of the advertisement, Gap’s response to the working conditions of these people was neither speedy nor effective.

Essentially, it would cost the Gap money to remedy their fundamental human rights violations and, as previously mentioned, the Gap is about making money, not love. There can be no bigger reminder of this than to observe the lack of response to violating working conditions in global south countries.

The make love campaign produced a beautiful image of a Sikh man in mainstream media that is positive and thought provoking. Their response to vandalism of this image has been immediate, compassionate and kind. However, a kind marketing branch of a human rights violating corporation is, simply put, nice capitalism. As Sikhs we have to think critically about how we position ourselves in this interesting conversation. If the dominant and oppressive system of the time gives us a kind nod, do we bow down and thank them? There has been a call to Sikhs to start wearing Gap clothing and support the Gap on social media outlets. How we live our lives, our purchasing practices, conversations, and consumption of goods are sites of politics and resistance. Every dollar we spend, word we say, and our choice of clothing shapes our beliefs and gives us an opportunity to live the Gurus message. So I ask then, what value to we put on the token gestures of Gap marketing when we know them to be hurting factory workers in inhumane ways. How do we use the message of our Guru’s to live as revolutionaries and see beyond the veil that capitalism pulls over our eyes.

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46 Responses to “Making money not love”

  1. @mjassal says:

    Seeking perfection in a GAP ad. Sorry but I have to disagree with the post.

  2. Ranjanpreet says:

    I think GAP ad is just the beginning, companies side with what's popular and accepted.
    This is a fair critique of the ad and GAP's tactics to gain popularity. With this ad, Ahluwalia, unfortunately, has become a face for GAP, not a face for the Sikh community.

  3. Balbir Kaur says:

    excellent post, and a necessary critique of the way that sikhs in the u.s. often willfully disavow the violent capitalist exploitation that corporations like gap participate in–especially with our sisters and brothers toiling and dying all over south asia, bangladesh in particular. thank you for this article.

  4. moorakh88 says:

    The measure that Gap is taking to promote diversity and the fact that it’s not treating it’s workers fairly are two different things. When you lump all the issues, environmental, workers, and shareholder issues, you become incoherent and a raging lunatic.

    Yes Gap is a corporation and is concerned about $. $ creates jobs and helps the economy.

    But in this case, it has tastefully promoted Sikhs.

    Let us acknowledge the good when there’s good.

  5. Thank you for revealing the truth about GAP's making money, NOT love agenda. Are many Punjabi "Sikhs" so hungry for attention & acceptance in the American material world of fashion consciousness that they do not notice being tokenized or cheapened by the GAP ad? "NBC TV interview with Gursant Singh on why GAP ad is disrespectful of Sikhs"

  6. jessypal says:

    I do not think we should give too much credit to GAP for promoting diversity. Its too big of a burden for them to carry alone (without us being involved) and that too keeping their corporate interests in mind.

    But I do not completely agree with the writer of the article either. What GAP has promoted (and true to their Marketing campaign) is "Make Love". It does not take a marketing genius to understand that they have achieved the desired results of their Marketing campaign. GAP has not run a campaign for Religious Tolerance, Or Sikhi as central theme or Diversity etc.

    Lets not talk about what GAP has not done (Critics of this campaign) or what it has not done Right (Expecting perfection or assuming this is a promotional campaign for Sikh identity).

    Rather lets focus on how we can use this for better (Sikhi identity) awareness (So people at-least know that the person is a Sikh and none other) and conversation starter to share what Sikhi is all about (thats our job and not something which we can expect from anyone else than a Sikh)

    We have got the stage and now its our time to talk. Any more expectation from this effort by GAP is unrealistic or too idealistic.

  7. HSidhu says:

    Thanks for the post! I think you have a point, we do need to keep the overall picture in mind while acknowledging the positive benefits of the ad. Personally, the ad made me smile and every time I walk by my local Gap I smile wider and admire Waris (lol), but does it make me want to go into the store and buy something? No, I try my best (where financially possible), to be a conscious shopper and for me Gap is still very much associated with its "Manifest Destiny" campaign, which rubbed me the wrong way. And I just have to add, to the author: you do not sound like a raging lunatic, your thoughts are valid and thank you for sharing them.

  8. Turban Sardar says:

    What is the big surprise here. It is common knowledge that every corporations main task is to make money! Companies like Nike, Wal-Mart, etc, are all known to use cheap labor in Asian countries. Instead of being happy that a Sikh model like Waris was in Gap's ad campaign all the Sikh community does is complain. The main people supporting Waris are younger sardars like myself who see the world differently from the rest of the Sikh community. Sardar guys are always seen as Arabs, Middle-Eastern, Islam, etc. by American society. I think it's pretty cool that people will see Waris' picture at Gap stores and relate it to the other turban guys they might see around town and be like, "hey a guy with a turban works at my work, maybe these guys aren't so rare after all." So, it's up to us Sikh sardars to educate others about Sikhi, isn't Waris doing a great job of educated others about Sikhi by being a full sardar model? It's up to you Sikh community; either appreciate the picture or continue to complain (and we all know the Sikh community loves complaining).

  9. Tyson Jackson says:

    Who cares if the GAP is shrewdly using a Sikh model for marketing?

    At the end of the day, most Americans don't know that Sikhs aren't Muslim Arabs – this is win-win on all sides.

  10. Pani says:

    I have to disagree with this article. GAP did a wonderful thing by placing a sardar on their advert. I would like someone to walk past this ad and wonder who the tanned skin man with a beard and turban is. More recognition of who the Sikhs are is so important to our community. Our physical appearance is different from the American majority. I can appreciate GAPs use of Waris as one of the faces of their company. It makes me proud, and I'd like to think that many young sardars are loving this fabulous representation. We all know that sardar men are so handsome, just like Waris.

  11. guest says:

    Its a good thing to know and it also creates that common dilemma. one side we are also spreading the awareness of sikhi but on the other hand we are also used as a tool to become more people friendly with the consumer. it all comes down to at what cost do we go to spread awareness of sikhi. GAP is not a people friendly group, thousands of workers have died in their sweatshops and they have done nothing to improve their working conditions in order to keep their profits high and on the other hand we as a humanitarian religion are being used as a symbol of "love" and we look at it as a opportunity to spread awareness. This was a good read!

  12. Sofia says:

    Small correction: it's 15-17 hour *days* for workers at the factory in Bangladesh that supplies the Gap, not 15-17 hours/week.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking article.

  13. Hardeep Kaur says:

    Eh, you know fives years ago I would have taken issue with the ad. Now, in the age of Pam Gellers & Wade Michael Pages, I actually think the ad is necessary. It does not compromise my concern about Gap's policy towards Bangladeshi workers etc.

  14. Ang says:

    I think many of you are misinterpreting the reasoning in this article. Jaspreet bhainji is critically looking at the overwhelming praise that Sikhs are giving to GAP for their ad.

    If GAP wants to use a Sikh model, that's fine. If this has a positive effect on the Sikh image, that's bonus points. Should we be praising GAP incessantly and lining up to go purchase their clothes? I think that's where we can be a bit more cautious and critical.

  15. Guri Singh says:

    If GAP changes their company name to PAGH, I might buy a few T-shirts.

    On a serious note, this Ad alone has done more in educating Americans about Sikhs than has any other campaign. Yes, some will still think that Guy + Turban = bad guy but Sikhs are getting noticed.

    If only someone would hire me for a cameo role in The Big Bang Theory. I can be Raj's childhood friend visiting from India. Does anyone know the writer of this or other shows. Lets try and get a Turbaned Sikh on a prime time sitcom. *sorry, I digressed*

    Between Waris and Vishavjit Singh Sikhtoon wale, Sikhs are all over the US media.
    Well done, I say.

  16. Daman says:

    ok once again…y are we degrading the fact that he got Sikhs national and international recognition…I have a question to the writer of this post…do u not have a job…if so…Y…u are making money for ur boss and according to u that is not right…y is it that when someone tries to do something good for themselves or the community we the community are the first ones to degrade that person…Waris has my full respect and support because in todays world and society he is supporting his beliefs by wearing a turban and being a bearded Sikh….I am a practicing Sikh living in the city of Chicago and it makes me PROUD to see this ad in the window of Gap on Michigan Ave it makes me PROUD to see this ad at the bus stops on street corners and on the sides of buildings for everyone to see from a far. When someone, especially the writer of this article can get the Sikh community, who is still misunderstood as Muslim, national and international recognition STOP TRYING TO MAKE THIS A RELIGIOUS FIGHT CUZ U MAKE URSELF LOOK IGNORANT!!!! Trying to compare todays world with the time of the Gurus is as low as u can go…The GURUS stood for INJUSTICE NOT FASHION DESIGN AND MODELING…SO GET UR FACTS STR8 BEFORE YOU GO OUT THERE AND START SAYING THINGS!!!!!!

  17. Parmjit Singh says:

    What a beautifully written article. As Sikhs, it’s always our responsibility to consider sarbat da bhalla or welfare of all. I understand that the article to simply say that regardless of our personal view to which we are entitled, think larger and beyond our immediate bubbles. That is always what Sikhs should do. I can do that and still keep Gap good and bad in perspective and have much respect for Waris.

    I had reactions on multiple levels to the ad. I generally equate corporate advertising to childish deceit for simpleton masses. Nonetheless, immediately like many, I thought how cool that such a classy guy true to himself is portrayed as a classy guy true to himself. Gap or no gap, humble Sikhs have always been models in that respect.

    I cringed at the reaction of Gursant Singh as I thought it was over the top. But I also cringed at those young Sikhs who responded to him in childish ways rather than critique his view.

    I was uncertain about the women hanging off him, found it a tad embarrassing when I was actually in public walking past the ad. I know my value and do not need an airbrushed woman or GAP Inc. to give me a boost. Confident women are probably desensitized, but also don’t need to hang off and onto men to that extent.

    However, to the degree he has the woman’s respect and admiration in the ad is quite necessary as it is closer to reality for most confident sardars in the West than stereotypes in media.

  18. Simran Jeet Singh says:

    I appreciate this piece and thank Jaspreet Bhainji for writing it. I think it's absolutely something that we need to take into account as we develop mature and strategic responses to Gap's campaign and public response to the defacement of the ad. I think it's important for us to find a balance in recognizing the social progress that comes with media attention such as this and the injustices that undergird its production and practices.

    I'm also skeptical of giving Gap too much credit for featuring a sardar in its advertising, yet I do think it is to be celebrated and commended at the same time. I don't find these to be contradictory if we are able to do it in a nuanced and careful way.

    So what's next? I think we have sufficiently celebrated the presence of a Sikh in this space. I would be happy to see this leveraged into a campaign that respectfully challenges Gap to begin reforming some of its policies and practices to cohere with certain standards of human dignity. I actually just got off a radio interview where I discuss this issue in particular, and I would love to have some thought partners interested in pushing this forward in some way.

  19. sant sipahi says:

    " If the dominant and oppressive system of the time gives us a kind nod, do we bow down and thank them?"

    that says it all. thanks, Jaspreet.

  20. Do Sikhs really want GAP's material "Sikh" prince as a "role model to younger Sikhs"? In this new article The New York Times states, "Mr. Ahluwalia, a role model to younger Sikhs…"

    Gursikhs do NOT want manmat actors like Waris Ahluwalia as representatives of the Sikh religion. Join the protest against the GAP ad! Just view Waris Ahluwalia's Google images and you'll see he is Not following the Sikh Reht or Sikh code of conduct.

    EVERY Sikh is representative of the Guru and the Khalsa Panth, especially one who is in the public eye. If they behave in a way that breaches SRM (Sikh Rehit Maryada) the whole Khalsa suffers.
    "Jab lag Khalsa rahe niara. tab lag tej dio mai sara.
    jab eh gahe bipran ki reet. mai na karo in ki parteet".
    "So long as Khalsa retains his distinct identity, I will give him my entire radiance and strength. But if he should take on a non-Sikh way of life, then I shall have no confidence in him and withdraw my support and protection". Guru Gobind Singh Ji

    "NBC TV interview with Gursant Singh on why GAP ad is disrespectful of Sikhs"

  21. Mohinder Singh says:

    What is wrong with making money and love,if I was offered the kind of money Waris was offered I would jump at the chance for being a model and then make love to the chic in the picture.Stop being a prude and njoy the recognition,btw I am 80 plus.

  22. SinghK says:

    Lol at people screaming ethics. Anyone who points out GAP is a greedy corporation should check himself / herself. No country nation or corporation is ethical. Accept that fact.

  23. Activism says:

    "Waris Ahluwalia unabashedly supports this corporation, as is his prerogative. Sikhs are within their rights to follow in his footsteps but by virtue of the legacy of their activist Gurus they are obliged to be thoughtful and critical in doing so. Sikhs have never supported dominant regimes and in this historical moment where money is fluid across national boundaries and corporations have as much sway as governments, companies like the Gap are, without a doubt, the dominant power. "

    This is an important passage in the essay. It is also an example of the general technique.

    Maybe we can have a discussion to justify this sentiment.

    If we can prove through historical record and discussion of gurubani that this passage is justifiable and basically 100% correct then I would be glad to know.

    If not, then the tact taken on this site that equates the Gurus and sikhi as a progressive activist ideology fully in line with our current progressive activist revolutionaries is more dubious.

  24. Activism says:

    Was reading something today on the history of early Christians, might be interested in consider:

    "Christians were not locked into a single identity. Like other Romans, they were happy to wear many hats, of which their religious identity was only one among many. It was their leaders who wished to lock them into a single, intransigent identity. They did not always succeed. When we read the sermons of Augustine, we can often hear a grating noise, as his message ground its keel against barely hidden sandbanks of reluctance or, even, confident alternative interpretations of what it was to be a Christian."


  25. Activism says:

    It's more than that.

    There is power in defining a cohesive group with a shared ideology shaped by a leadership class.

    Its for our own good though.

  26. Activism says:

    Basically the concern is when you say "as Sikhs" we should be activist, anti-capitalist revolutionaries and oppose the GAP as an arm of multinational global capitalism destroying lives in the global south.

    It would be really nice for those who think of their life work as resistance to global capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy if Sikhi was formed as an ideology of resistance to global capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy. If that were the case the movement of resistance would gain at one stroke about 20 million committed members who just have strayed from their historical legacy.

    However, I do not think Sikhi is really defined in this way. Maybe a scholar can make the whole case?

    Second, the activists should really subject their own analysis and activity to the critical examination they ask others to do, and do so as publicly as they call out everything else they write and organize around. Among other things maybe they can analyze the problem of continuing to think of the "community" as an apparently monolithic ideological entity that acts in one two predominant ways at any given time.

  27. sant sipahi says:

    Some points well taken, Activism…one could make a good argument, however, that Sikhi has historically and traditionally been attuned to the problems of its times in whatever phase. Certainly if the tradition as it has been passed down to us tells us anything it is that. Sikhi is a belief system of a living tradition, and in that sense, yes, we will have to update causes and our attention to things that are happening right now, things that earlier Sikh communities may not have had to face in the same way.

    The incessant creep of global capitalism is the pressing problem of our time, even from a Sikh perspective because it is the problem of economic INJUSTICE. I think that if the Sikh community can agree to any one principle it would be a steady and relentless movement against injustice of any kind. So I think we can make an argument that turning the attention of the qaum towards the problem of global economic injustice is a justifiable move in light of Sikh principles.

  28. Activism says:

    The argument needs to be made and not assumed. It is understandable if Sikhs who are active in this movements see the overlap and derive sustenance and guidance for their beliefs from gurubani and Sikh history.

    But make the argument consistently and in a way that honors the intelligence of their audience. Facile equations of Sikhi in its totality and this current manifestation of a radical left movement will not do.

  29. Activism says:

    The activism discussed here would seem to have at least something to do with a tradition of radical, post-modern, and progressive left movements originating in historical processes deriving from at least the French revolution. Could these influences not be taken into account and distinctions made when the writer is working from this frame and not from the frame of Sikhi? When this is so, why not name this to the audience and ask them to consider where there are parallels and overlap with Sikhi and the Sikh tradition?

    Were our Gurus activists? Or enlightened messengers of how to live liberated from Maya while in the world? There is a difference no? There are consequences to seeing the Gurus as activists of a social movement right? Partisans of one side of a historical process that can be seen as a consequences of conflict between a "left" and "right" deriving in part from partisans in the French Revolution? The phrase revolution itself, what is the context of this word? Is this word not meaningfully based in a context that has meaning when one sees it as a process deriving from European history and ideology? "activist revolutionary" connotes significant meaning in context. It is a significant thing to proclaim The Gurus activists. It is a statement with ramification.

  30. Mandeep says:

    This man is a disgrace to Sikhism! Touching a female in such an inappropriate manner and then showing it to the world is even worse.

    Sikhs in USA and Muslims in USA need to act like Sikhs and Muslims. Or they are disgracing their religions.

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