Now Dear Readers you know I love a luxury good like nobody's business. If my diamonds aren't Cartier my panties are! *hint hint. But I'm afraid that the new M. Louis Vuitton ad with M. Muhammad Ali has my panties in a bunch.
I have few associations the M. Ali but one of those is from Ted Koppel's wonderful 2001 memoir 'Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public' in which he details seeing M. Ali at a sporting event and approaching him to ask him how it feels to be the Greatest Athlete Who Ever Lived to which M. Ali responds "I'm still just a nigger."
This was written sometime before 2001 when M. Koppel reports that his wife is "frequently his 'voice' these days" so 12 or more years later it makes me wonder who was his voice in deciding to lend his image to the M. Louis Vuitton ad?
Now if I may deconstruct the above image for a bit. M. Ali's grandson is in the foreground and the caption for the ad is "Some stars show you the way. Muhammad Ali and a rising star. Phoenix, Arizona"
The text implies that M. Ali is able to teach his grandson how to fight. Anyone who knows anything knows that M. Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1984 and has probably suffered from it earlier than that. It's unfair and cruel and makes M. Ali's struggles with the disease less relevant. He can't teach anyone anything. And that's okay. He has a disease. Quick American Super Hero Syndrome! He's Infallible! He's Immortal!
Time Magazine, on the occasion of M. Ali's 70th birthday in February of this year, published
A Champion in Purgatory, in which they reported "Muhammad Ali is at a point in his life where he doesn't really do very much", "Sometimes his face freezes and he looks frightened, like he is in the midst of a nightmare", "A frozen stare creased his fase as the night wore on", and "Time has not been kind to Ali's health". My objection - in part - to the advertisement is the man who refused the Vietnam War by famously saying "I ain't go no quarrel with them Viet Cong... they never called me nigger" will be remembered as a pitch man for a mutli-thousand dollar bag.
The campaign, which in the past has featured Angelina Jolie, Bono, Francis Ford Coppola and Sophia Coppola among others is part of the Louis Vuitton Core Values campaign. On their website two things appear when a search for "Core Values" is made. Annie Liebovitz and Angelina Jolie. I watched a video of the latter and apparently "Core Values" means white privileged people being amazed that in a war-torn country - in this case Cambodia - there would be landmines left over from said war! And then a graphic pops up that says with help from the "international community" landmines have decreased since 2000. Whoa. I refused to watch Annie talk about her townhouse troubles and how she had to sell her collection of LV luggage to pay last month's mortgage.
And listen, I don't really care what a company does with their money. But calling something "Core Values" makes me at least think they're doing something with their money.
But my beef is not with their philanthropic nature (or lack thereof), it is with taking an icon who was so clear on his place in this world and putting him somewhere he has no idea.
His image is dead already and in the advertisement he appears post-mortem, photoshopped from his wheelchair to back patio. How long did Annie have to have her assistants stand there to get him to smile? How much steadying did they have to do to M. Ali? Did he enjoy it? By all reports he's barely audible and incoherent when he is. He appears frozen on the page. This is not Ali from the ring, instead it's Rocky Part 16: Human Growth Hormone Gone Terribly Wrong.
I don't pretend to be naive about the nastiness of advertising. I was once a teenage model and feel a strong affinity for Peggy on 'Mad Men' but sweet Jesus are there not enough "legends" alive and well that you can rape? Shirley Maclaine must be finished filming Season 3 of 'Downton Abbey' by now and I would love to see her rat-a-tatting it up for M. Louis Vuitton. Right?
When he told M. Koppel, already in the throes of Parkinson's that he was still "just a nigger" he sadly got it right once again.