Thank god Tatiana the Anonymous Model addressed the New York Times City Room blog post about MIT professor Dan Ariely’s “findings” about counterfeit chic and moral laxity, because the responses to the study over at Fashionista were, as ever, driving me crazy. (Sample: “…when I see someone with a fake I think that they are ‘fake.'”) Jennifer 8. Lee writes, for the Times,
In one of his studies, half of the 250 subjects were told that the designer glasses they were wearing were “real,” while the other half were told they were wearing “counterfeits.” They were told to do a number of tasks that seemed to be related to the glasses, like evaluating scenery. But tucked into the sequence was a math test. Researchers found that 60 percent of those who were wearing “counterfeit” glasses cheated, while only 20 percent of those wearing “real” glasses cheated.
The Times interprets these findings to mean that counterfeit chic is the worm in the apple — that is has, as Tatiana puts it, “a discernible corrosive effect on an individual’s morality — that, in effect, wearing an item you know to be fake is like kryptonite for your sense of right and wrong.” She goes on to note:
Ariely also seems to have lacked a control group. No research subjects were asked to complete the honesty-testing tasks while wearing sunglasses whose brand-status was not stated, or while wearing no sunglasses at all. Having essentially no baseline for comparison makes the results suspect; unless we know how often “average” people will cheat at mathematics or lie for low-stakes financial gain under identical conditions, there’s no real way to know if people wearing branded items they believe to be counterfeit or real lie and cheat more or less often.
But most importantly, in real life people are not randomly assigned authentic or copied goods — they choose to buy them. And what motivates those choices more than wealth? The segment of the population who can actually choose to buy a real Birkin (price range lower limit: $6000, according to a Forbes article from last August that quotes a luxury goods marketeer thus: “People want to spend their money on frivolous things”) is vanishingly small. The market for the $100 Chinatown version is increasingly well-stocked. How utterly insulting that a study should come along effectively to congratulate the tiny segment of the population who can afford authentic luxury items on being not only more financially successful than the rest of us, but more moral. Except I’m pretty sure Bernie Madoff’s Cartier wristwatches were real.
And just for good measure, two of the comments left on the City Room blog in response to “The Moral Costs of Counterfeiting:”
The marketing processes used to turn commodities into status symbols are, from the outset, deceptive, cynical manipulations of cultural material. Associating these commodities with “realness” is highly problematic, and departing from consumer responses to branding to make general statements about honesty and authenticity is methodologically unsound. I suggest Professor Ariely enroll himself in Media Studies 100 before proceeding with his research. Moreover, this is the second article I’ve read in the Times about how unethical it is to buy counterfeit products. Both articles ignore the root causes of the social ills they describe. A better starting point from which to address the issue would be the enormous disparaties of wealth that these products are designed to publicly flaunt.
Obviously the Professor has never read “The Devil Wears Prada”.
NOTE: The “fake” Vuitton bag pictured above comes from Mind What You Wear, a “fashion guerilla” project “to bring awareness about what you wear and consume.”