May 192015

kinkbnb-logo-leather-pride-flag-2KinkBNB’s logo is terrible.

First, and perhaps most egregious, is their use of Impact font — popularized by LOLcats, the typeface has been the standard for image macros and internet memes for the past decade. Impact font…. seriously? Like, were there no other simple sans-serif typefaces they could have chosen?

While I can’t imagine the logic (if any) behind that choice, KinkBNB’s allusion to the Leather Pride Flag is as subtle as a sledgehammer (or perhaps, as subtle as a spanking).

It would be disingenuous to say I carry no purposeful, physical markings of cultural identity, but I prefer to think of them as aesthetic choices rather than ideological ones. They are about appearance — not about identity or affinity[1]. While you won’t find a triskellion, venus, or other membership/pride emblem on my person, my automobile bumper, or my online identity, I absolutely recognize their meaning and value (even if they aren’t all that important to me).

That’s why this KinkBNB’s allusion feels more like appropriation, and it doesn’t sit well with me[2]. (Excuse the reduction and non-linear chronology of what follows).

Obviously, KinkBNB’s logo is an allusion to the Leather Pride Flag, which is an ex post facto symbol with origins in gay leather culture post-WWII and its rejection of mainstream sex culture. More than that, leather subculture’s appropriation of biker culture’s aesthetic (leather) was a visible counterargument to stereotypes that painted gay men as effeminate and weak. Leather meant something, and wearing leather said something important.


[Aside: While gay men’s leather culture developed in the late 1940s, the Leather Pride flag wasn’t introduced until the International Mr. Leather conference in 1989[3], a decade after the annual event was first held. While leather culture was still primarily associated with gay men when Tony DeBlase presented the flag in ’89, cultural membership had already expanded to include straights and women — those enjoyed the BDSM aesthetic, rejected normative sex practice/identity, or perhaps both.]

Anyway, branding a business with the symbols of a sub(/counter)culture organized around rejection of the mainstream rings insincere to me, particularly for a service that draws its name from “bed and breakfast” (which denotes entrepreneurial aspirations of those with means to have them and travel accommodations for those with funds to reserve them) and makes a profit by taking 10% of all transactions off the top.

I think it bugs me because of so many recent, high visibility marketing campaigns that have diluted, coopted, and misinterpreted feminism as a means to sell stuff. Women’s empowerment is trendy at the moment, and so it’s been employed in branding and marketing for pop stars, pornography, fashion, and toiletries[4]using feminism rather than being feminist.

It’s a strategic deployment (a manipulative appropriation of buzzwords, aesthetic, and iconography to sell products) rather than an ideological employment (a principled effort towards equal rights and opportunities for marginalized populations).

KinkBNB’s appropriation of leather pride symbols bothers me for the same reason Dove’s appropriation of feminist buzzwords does. Clearly, Dove is a million times more strategic (and worse) — their deployment directly opposes many feminist goals. KinkBNB’s appropriation of symbols just seems careless, and that’s a shame, because being more thoughtful about the movements that enabled its existence wouldn’t hurt its bottom line.

Is it a big deal? No, but it bothers me when people take things that don’t belong to them and use them carelessly. Are companies obligated to respect or participate in cultural movements? No, but it would be nice.

[1] Yeah, I know I’m kidding myself.
[2] Before anyone gets their leather knickers in a twist, I’m not calling for censorship or change, and I’m not even leveling that harsh of a criticism. I’m saying it doesn’t sit well with me and I shared my thinking because I’m a thoughtful motherfucker with an overthinky brain.
[3] According to Wikipedia (the source of all human knowledge): “Leather Pride Flag.”
[4] Beyonce at the VMAs; “feminist” porn (specifically the Feminist Porn Awards); Chanel’s faux feminist protest; and Dove (fuck Dove).

  4 Responses to “allusion and appropriation”

  1. I salute your overthinky brain.

  2. I felt the exact same way when I made the connection. There was a time when I would have given the benefit of the doubt but experience has given me perspective that says otherwise. I know of marketing departments who sat down on 9/11….like..hours after it happened to talk about how they could use it to get themselves out in the community to “show support” but not to actually do anything that would help anyone. I think that’s the line that says a lot “show support” means to just show it without actually doing it.

    Meh..I’m just cranky because Letterman only has two shows left.

  3. Criticism noted! I do have to respond though.

    Ryan and I are deeply involved in the BDSM subculture here in San Francisco, Ryan moreso than me because he started Wicked Grounds in SF. It’s just us two. Ryan is not really a computer person so virtually everything including the logo was up to me – and believe it or not, it’s the very first logo I’ve ever made. Well, scratch that – v1.0 of the KinkBNB logo was HORRID. And to address your Impact complaint – I tried the logo with EVERY font I had on my computer, over 500 fonts. That one just looked best to me.

    The allusions are very deliberate. First off, there’s no way this will actually work without community support, so the nods to the flag were included for people in the know. You think that the person reading about us in Cosmo is going to get it? Nope. But you did, and that’s what we’re after. I’m under no illusions that we “own” anything as far as the leather pride flag goes. I don’t think ANYONE owns it. We probably won’t keep it the same forever either. The BNB part of our name is a blatant appropriation of a marketing plan that branded BNB into everyone’s eyeballs too.

    We wouldn’t have used the logo if we hadn’t run it by just about everyone we knew and didn’t have an overwhelmingly positive reaction. And honestly, my biggest hope is that someone will talk about how it emulates the leather pride flag to someone who has no idea what that is – and that mention will get them to google the flag and find out more about the culture. Allusion is best when this happens.

    The heart as an icon is an absolutely wonderful use though. And it looks way better than the buttplug logo from AirBNB!

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