There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, but some kinds of consumption are less ethical than others, and on this week’s Patriot Act, host Hasan Minhaj went deep on one of them: the wildly popular streetwear brand Supreme. In a segment that touches on everything from the size of sneaker manufacturing runs to Barbara Kruger to the debate over whether or not it’s good for United States companies to make a profit murdering schoolchildren overseas, Minhaj, a self-confessed sneaker addict, follows the money all the way from the line outside Supreme merchandise drops to a school bus full of dead Yemeni kids. The connecting link is the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm with military holdings that was the focal point for a lot of GWB-era paranoia (the Bush and bin Laden families were both investors). The Carlyle Group bought a 50% share in Supreme for $500 million a year ago, which is how the money you spend today on Barbara Kruger ripoffs can end up getting invested tomorrow in companies like Wesco Aircraft Holdings, which provides “integrated supply chain solutions” to BAE Systems to support the Eurofighter Typhoon, currently seeing action as part of the Royal Saudi Air Force:
The first thing that jumps out from the segment is Barbara Kruger’s comment to Complex about Supreme, which is one of the greatest press statements in history: “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers.” As for the thrust of the piece, Minhaj’s chart of the various connections between Supreme and the military industrial complex is Glenn Beckish in its complexity, but he’s not wrong: the Carlyle Group makes money from death, they also make money from Supreme-branded merchandise, and it’s a package deal. The vicious interests have wormed their way into so much of the economy that these kinds of package deals are so common as to be almost unremarkable—given how many 401ks include gun holdings, a lot of people are going to unknowingly retire on money they made from school shootings—but maybe this kind of commingling should be remarkable. Kudos to Minhaj, who is quickly becoming an essential voice in TV comedy, for remarking on it. As for the unstated suggestion underlying the entire segment, that purchasing Veblen goods like Supreme products to lord them over your friends and neighbors is an inherently shitty thing to do with your money, it’s a big and complicated topic, and something we should probably wait to address until after we stop treating people who kill other people for profit as if they were respectable businessmen, and start treating them like a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. Any day now.