MAC Rodarte Controversy: How to Give Your Brand a Bad Name Part 2

Sunday, July 18, 2010

40 comments
Edited to add: Want to help the women of Juarez? Check out THIS POST to learn how you can do your bit to help!
Edited to add (again): View MAC's response to the issue HERE.

Stupid companies seem to be in abundance lately. First it was the heavy-handed and overreactive threat by G+L to sue a blogger, and now Rodarte and MAC have decided to join in and create their very own scandal. Will the controversy never cease?

MAC has collaborated with designer brand Rodarte to release an upcoming collection called Rodarte, which they claim is inspired by the etheral beauty of the towns that border USA and Mexico. In particular, they named two of their nail polish colours Juarez (a pale pink) and Factory (a pale green). These two names in particular were at the forefront of much backlash, as people accused MAC of exploiting the controversy and violence there for their own profit. In particular, Juarez and Factory were really offensive to many girls, because Juarez is pretty much a poster child for violence, drug crimes, cross-border trafficking, and border-town factories, and a lot of the violence is female-specific(apparently female homicide is particularly high, as is rape). Also, the police are corrupt (stories abound of people being mugged in Juarez by the police), these crimes have little to no response. If you want to know more about Juarez, here's an 8 mins audio segment on NPR radio called "Juarez: A City on the Edge", a link kindly passed to me by Tsunimee, a Youtuber I follow. If you prefer to read, there's also an NPR article on it, called "Whos Killing the Women of Juarez?"

MAC's response was to quickly issue an apology, and they also said they would donate some of the proceeds to charities in Juarez. Of course, this is where opinion splits, there are people who applaud it, and people who feel that the response is inadequate. Both these posts have valid points.

As for me, I'm somewhere in between. I don't believe MAC when they say they weren't trying to exploit the associations of the border towns in their collection. I mean, this is the age of controversial product names. NARS has Orgasm and Deep Throat, Benefit has Thrrob, and once a makeup artist with his own cosmetics line went on MakeupAlley to ask what we would think of a lip colour called Adulteress (fortunately, it was nixed, as most of the girls had a bad response to it). So I don't believe MAC, of all brands, with their hip-and-edgy image, wasn't trying to join the fray. I'm sure they were aware of the controversy. I mean, look at the promo image:

(Image from The Independent, credited to MAC)


Skinny, emaciated girl looking like she's on the brink of death, check. "Exotic", Mexican-inspired clothes, check. Black rings around the eyes and deathly-pale lips and face, check. I don't know about you, but that sure looks like they're trying to exoticise the image of the impoverished factory girl! And I hadn't noticed it until Styrch pointed it out, but there's a ghost in the photo as well - the outline on the left is the silhouette of a woman, and the way the cloth drapes suggests she's wearing the same clothes as the girl. That just creeps me out - the way the girl looks like she's backed into a corner, combined with the way the ghost seems to be staring at her, just gives me the heebie jeebies (but then again I'm one of those wimps who don't like to watch ghost movies). I don't believe they can put out an image like that and say they didn't mean to stir up any controversy at all. That's a load of bull.

And it gets even worse if you look at the items in the collection. In addition to Juarez and Factory, there's a lipstick called Ghost Town, that's white, and one that's called Sleepless, that's a "light grey taupe", for that chic abused factory worker look. And they're even promoting lip erase, a concealer for the lips that's used to block out your natural lip colour so your lipstick is more true-to-colour on your lips. I know it's a permanent item in their line, but including it in this collection is just bad taste. Yeah, now we can buy Lip Erase to look like a murder victim! And don't forget Bordertown, a mineralized eyeshadow that's black with red, blue and silver veining - so you can get a badly punched up black eye, just like the victims of rape and violent crime! And of course don't forget the pigment named Badlands, or the eyeshadow called Sleepwalker - I guess being raped and abudcted on your way to work in a factory must feel like a dream, huh? Is this what MAC and Rodarte means by the "etheral" inspiration of Mexico? I really don't know how MAC and Rodarte can claim that they weren't aware of the connotations with a straight face. Everything, from the promo pictures to the product names to the colour selection, looks very deliberately done. I know that the whole concept behind the colours and the names is a bit deeper than simply exploiting associations - I know there is this whole sleepwalking, etheral theme behind it as well, but it doesn't negate the bad associations nonetheless, and I think the companies were capitalizing on it. They wanted this. They made it happen. They wanted the buzz. They just didn't want to look bad in the ensuing discussion.

In light of this, I feel that MAC's response - donating some of the proceeds to charities - is horribly inadequate, but it's the best they can do for now. They really should pull the collection altogether, but that may not be possible, given that the Rodarte collection is a collaboration with the Rodarte designer brand, and that Rodarte was really the one who came up with the entire concept. You can read about their "inspiration" here, and they have deconstructed US$4000 designer dresses based on this whole border-town concept. Style.com reports that Rodarte was "interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night." The whole bit about the factory workers inspiring the collection is in there - its not just supposed to be about etheral sleepwalking, they did in fact see those factory workers and think "Hey, it's great to do a collection on them!" And they did have Juarez particularly in mind. I don't know about you, but somehow that just strikes me as being really insensitive.

MAC, doing a collaboration with them, was probably contract-bound to imitate their concept for the makeup line too. So it would be hard for them to get out of it. In this case, I suppose the only other alternative is to donate the proceeds. It's not ideal, but I guess this is life. I personally feel that MAC should have gone one step further and donated ALL the proceeds to the charities, along the line of their Viva Glam lipsticks, instead of a measly unspecified "portion". That way, at least they wouldn't be profiting from any of the controversy they've created.

On a last note, I'm also surprised that while everyone is heaping criticism on MAC, while Rodarte - the collaborator and original designer that originated this whole fiasco - got away with it. The fashion press didn't give them a very hard time about their disgusting collection, and some even called it "beautiful", and as far as I know, Rodarte, unlike MAC, isn't donating any money to the associated charities at all. It just saddens me that Rodarte would stoop so low to get "inspiration" for their clothes, and MAC had to follow suit. I've never heard of or bought anything Rodarte, but now I don't even like or want to buy anything from them, and MAC has been tainted by association for collaborating with them. What are they going to come up with next, a Nazi-inspired collection with a red, white and black eyeshadow trio called Swastika?

Edited to Add: Looks like I'm not the only one feeling outraged. Here's a list of posts, compiled by Tsunimee, that other bloggers have made on the MAC Rodarte collection: LINK.

40 comments:

  1. Holy Jesus. I don't buy MAC - but this is my own preference, I refuse to give my money to a brand that jacks up their prices and their quality is consistently low - I get better pigmentation out of my NYX shadows. If I'm going to drop money on HE it's going to go to a brand that makes a product worth paying that kind of money for it. As I said, that's my personal feelings, as I know there are a lot of folks out there who would disagree with me.
    This is badly done, though. Badly. Why would you ever name something "celebrating" the border towns Juarez OR Factory? That just seems disturbing on so many levels. This collection was not on my radar, not being a follower of MAC collections, but I am very familiar with Juarez, Mexico and the problems with border towns in general. The promo image is disturbing. I agree that MAC is probably under contract and therefore unable to withdraw from this fiasco - but you have a point in that the least they could do is donate all profits to a good charity that is working to stop this violence and support those who have been affected by it. I'm also surprised that Rodarte is "getting away" with glamorizing this - disgusting.
    Fantastic article, you've really given us a lot of food for thought. Thank you for sharing it!

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  2. Wow. Thanks for cluing me in. I had no idea until you mentioned this n twitter.

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  3. I hadn't heard anything about all of this as I've forced myself to quit my MAC addiction after a really screwed up incident that I had with them.

    Now this makes me think they're even more messed up than I realized. However, it's frustrating when the main company is Estee Lauder and they have brands like MAC, Clinique, Bobbi Brown, Prescriptives, Bumble & Bumble, Origins, ...

    I wish I didn't like some of the products from those brands so much :(

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  4. spent all night reading all these blog posts! yours is very well written too, im so pleased we are all raising awareness on this topic! I find the images so creepy :(

    you can read my view here:

    http://bit.ly/baiPm6

    www.perfectly-polished-nails.com

    X

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  5. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have very strong feelings about what is and has been going on for an extended time in Juarez, since years back when I started to read about it after seeing a news segment on the criminal activities towards women there. One of my two favourite female musicians, Tori Amos, also wrote a song on the subject everal years ago, that touches me to no limit.

    This really does it for me, no more MAC. Sorry.

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  6. Oh my God, just join a cult or something. You are talking about freaking make-up. Vain,luxury MAKE-UP. And trying to turn it into some anthropological issue or something like that. Seriously!!!
    Some of this people commenting here probably never heard of Juarez before and now are all like "Oh my god, evil MAC" Like they give a damn about it.

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  7. @Camila: Thank you for your response, I appreciate that you took out your time to share your views on my blog, and I respect your views.

    I do however personally believe that this issue does go beyond the "it's just makeup" argument. After all, if it was just makeup, then makeup brands would not spend money on advertising or creating a brand image, or trying to portray their brand a certain way. The truth is, whenever we buy a product, we don't just buy the product, we also buy their advertising and their brand image, whether it's a car, a skirt, or makeup. This is why I find MAC's campaign so disturbing - because while I respect that it's just makeup, the image for this campaign is quite disturbing. And I know I'm not alone in feeling that as well.

    Also I do understand that people don't always know everything. They may not have heard of Juarez, and they may not end up doing anything about it. However, the first step to action is always awareness, and this is what the numerous blogposts on the MAC campaign are trying to do - raise awareness of the issues at hand. At least we can say we did something in our individual capacities as bloggers!

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  8. Great post :) I'm a news junkie so I've been aware of the situation in Juarez for many years.I think this is unbelievably irresponsible on the part of Rodarte and MAC,but, then again, cultural insensitivity in the fashion industry is nothing new.It's really sad.

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  9. I'd expand on Camila's comment (while not agreeing with it)...
    Thank you MAC and Rodarte for doing something controversial...something SO controversial that it's got the blogging community spreading the news about the horrific conditions in towns not many care to know about. Thank you for bringing this issue to the attention of consumer ostriches and while I could think of a better way to do it (one that wouldn't hurt the brand so much) I still thank you for creating the buzz.

    I completely understand that people in general and very often "marketing creativity" does something terribly stupid. I sincerely hope the company will do the right thing next...so far they are falling very short. On another note, I am not thrilled with the new colors regardless of what they'd themed them on.

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  10. Thank you for writing this. I don't live in the US or Mexico and so I'm not aware of the controversy behind the collection and now I'm glad I know and I definitely will not be buying from it.

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  11. Seems like a lot of people have an imagination and will believe what they want. How do we know, really?

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  12. @Camila - I'm one of the ones that commented and it's not that I haven't heard of Juarez before - you'd have to live under a rock to not have heard something about it!

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  13. Just because MAC named their product "Juarez" doesn't mean they are supporting rape, or take a lax stand on the issue, or anything of the like. That's a gross statement to make, or if indirectly, a very damaging insinuation. If they named an eyeshadow "Aruba" does that mean they are trying to exploit Natalie Holloway's abduction/murder? No. Guess what? There ARE ghost town's on the Mexican border. There are factories and factory towns. Period. I don't see a press statement or slogan saying "this is all Mexico is, look how horrible the Mexican people are, lets laud the corrupt government" Perhaps Juarez is just the name of a town that is the most recognizable near the border. Look at the model in the picture. You can clearly see they are going for a spooky, haunting old west vibe. No one is trying to exploit women. I think you all need to take a step back and realize what you are getting so upset about. You are treading a slippery slope towards censorship.

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  14. Oh please. This is ridiculous. Almost anything can be taken out of context and warped. Similarly to the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, extremely PC people can find something offensive out of almost anything if they trace back, warp, and create negative connotations and allusions out of things. And equating a red black and blue eyeshadow to the blackened eye of a drugged rape victim is such a hyperbolean stretch its laughable. Its supposed to be spooky. Or perhaps you all who haven't heard of Juarez are also not aware of the supernatural lore surrounding the Mexican American border. Look it up. If you really want a cause to support, go volunteer at your local soup kitchen, animal shelter, or pick up litter from a polluted brook. Much more effective than getting angry over a makeup collection. And before anyone tries to reply with "You don't know me! I volunteer all the time! Don't make assumptions!" Save it. You get the point I'm trying to make.

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  15. I just discovered your blog and I really love it, really great!

    xx fesi-fashion

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  16. Ugh ...two steps forward and five steps back. Thanks MAC.

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  17. A quick note to the Anon who said you'd have to be under a rock to not know of Juarez - while it's a known issue in the US and Mexico, it's not an internationally known issue outside of human rights circles.
    I was completely unaware of what Juarez was, and to be honest on first plus I thought it was a boys name or named after one of the Rodarte designers.

    Regardless of whether MAC or the people from Rodarte came up with the names for the colour items and what their intentions were, it was a tacky result and not fitting in with a brand ethos of inclusion and empowerment.

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  18. Yes, quite tasteless really. I wonder what will come of this in the end

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  19. @Anonymous 1: Thank you for your comment. Did you read my entire blog post? The Rodarte collection was in collaboration with Rodarte, if you look at the links I provided on the backstory to Rodarte's Fall/Winter 2010 collection, you'll see that the girls were indeed inspired by the factory girls - You're entitled to your own opinion, of course, but to me, the last part of the sentence is worrisome. Basing your collection on the style.com link provided states that "From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night." factory workers going to work in the middle of the night and calling it etheral is rather insensitive at best, and downright callous at worst.

    Furthermore, I don't know how my blogpost is supposed to encourage censorship. I think that's a bit far fetched. If anything, I speaking my mind as an individual, and allowing you to have your own opinion and post it on my blog, is the antithesis of censorship. It's awareness and healthy debate that I'm after, not censorship, and I feel you must have seriously misread my post to think that.

    @Anonymous 2: Thank you for your comment. As with my response to Anonymous 1, I do not believe you have read my post in full before responding to it. The style.com link provided states that "From there, they became interested in the troubled border town of Ciudad Juárez; the hazy, dreamlike quality of the landscape there; and the maquiladora workers going to the factory in the middle of the night." There really is this element of factory workers in there, due to the orignal Rodarte collection, it's not just all about sleepwalking and ghosties. It's there, in Rodarte's Fall/Winter 2010 campaign press release, and they have remained unapologetic about it. I didn't make this up.

    I'm not going to reply to your personal attack in the last bit of your comment, but thanks for your comment anyway.

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  20. Thank you for your well researched and well written post on this subject.

    It is a shame that people are hiding behind the anonymous setting to make
    their points. I think if you have the conviction of your views you should be able to stand up and be counted.

    In my post I also point out that one of the products is named quincieniera. This is the coming of age party for a 15 year old girl in mexico and some other countries. Tragically most of the murdered victims never reached this time in their lives. If Rodarte could explain what that has to do with the "ethereal landscape" I would listen.

    Fantastic post x xx

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  21. a well written post. no mac for me...

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  22. Chill out! Goodness me! Its just make-up. enjoy cosmetics for what they are. in the same way wearing Deep Throat blusher doesn't make you a slut, wearing this new Mac collection does not mean you are condoning the atrocities that take place in certain parts of the world.

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  23. ive come to just expect it by now from makeup companies. if i disagree with it i just boycott it. mecca cosmetica is another one that grinds my gears. its an australian equivalent to sephora ignorantly named after the most holy meeting site in islam. putting any inappropriate references to makeup is nothing new so it doesn't surprise me but definitely something i dont agree with.

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  24. Sami, there are two uses of mecca. There's Mecca, capitalised, which stands for the holy centre of Islam. Then there's mecca, not capitalised, a common term for the ultimate item or location.

    If you're going to boycott Mecca Cosmetica, it should be over their obscene price gouging and the flattening effect they have on the availability of product in Australia.

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  25. I think it’s quite arrogant to post blogs or comments how outraged you are with MAC or Rodarte when you are sitting there doing nothing and may never do anything to help. It’s one thing to post a blog for awareness, but what else are you doing? Do you truly think this will be enough to even remotely change what is going on in Juarez? When I type “you” I am in no way directing this towards YOU, I am referring to everyone and anyone who seems righteous enough to blog, comment, text, talk about this issues rather than actually doing something. I understand how “raising awareness” of an issue can help you feel like you did your part, big pats on the back, but in actuality it does almost nothing if it’s not backed up with an ACTION. I know a lot of people will read this as offensive –and I guess that’s because it is, but only because it’s the truth. If you are truly outraged by this collaboration, do something that’s going to help.

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  26. @Anonymous 3: Please see my response to Camila, she's also put forward the "it's just makeup" argument, and I've already responded to that in the comments earlier.

    @Anonymous 4: I find your comment funny. You're accusing bloggers in general of sitting on their butts typing away, and of course by posting your comment you have shown that you are also sitting on your butt typing away. It's a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. I could throw back your own argument at you - if you really want to help, stop whining about other people not helping and do something about it :P But I won't, because I'm not so presumptious as to assume that just because someone is blogging (or in your case, commenting), it automatically means they aren't doing anything. Blogging and helping are not mutually exclusive. Neither is commenting and helping. I hope that with your comment, you are taking some action too - at least some good will have come out of this discussion!

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  27. Wow, this is really disturbing, and I applaud you for shedding some light on it. How upsetting and NOT what we want from a BEAUTY brand. Thank you so much for sharing this. No MAC for me!!

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  28. I had no idea about this, but i recall in the past hearing something about violence in mexico frontiers...Rodarte should be incriminated by this, and do believe that Mac could give all the money in charity, but of course change the names of the products.
    Is disgusting and really hurts how wicked and pervert people can be...what's next:child abuse as the new cool fashion!!!i don't even want to think about it, it really hurts and devastate me.

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  29. I'm with u on this..Being as huge a brand as MAC is,this was an insensitive,shallow and obscene move on their part..

    A brand that makes high end cosmetics for women,isn't supposed to be making use of their miseries and distress for cheap publicity..

    No MAC 4 me 2...

    Its about time 4 some to take their mind off the profits they make outta women and invest some of their attention in a virtue called social responsibility for the same..

    As for all the anonymous ppl trying to take things lightly or accuse u of raising ur voice,I believe spreading awareness abt something this serious is a very sincere way of helping ppl..This way we can reach out to the ones who can bring abt a change in the lives of those who suffer....It also acts as a defense towards nonsense like this to be repeated in future..
    U totally got my vote..

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  30. sigh, I feel so sick looking at the pictures. Cant MAC do better than this. It shows how insensitive, shallow minded they are by naming and publishing this kinda of photos

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  31. @sakura Blossom, the youngest victim they found in Juarez was 14, so they already are exploiting child abuse.

    The whole situation makes me cry. It's so upsetting they're not just exploiting the situation in Juarez, They're glamourising it!

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  32. At least this collection is bringing some much needed attention to Juarez that it might not otherwise have received...I'm not saying it makes it alright, but it is what it is. On another note, the image released absolutely does NOT make me think of "Etherial Mexican Beauty"

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  33. I am disgusted with MAC. I don't know what they were thinking when they came up with this. I know they are going to loose so many followers and sales. They have lost all credibility. No amount of money onr damage control they do will right their wrong. I personally will never buy their products again. I as a family member of someone who has personally lived throught the atrocities tha happen in Juarez. I woudn't even want their products for free.

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  34. i think this is sick who ever came up with this stupid idea needs to be prosecuted this is like promoting murder and rape no more mac for me this company is gross i dont enen want mac to email me anymore

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  35. I am a little disappointed at the controversy here. Not saying it's not credible--however, I feel that the issue here is sensitivity to a particular problem that has been stirred up (purposely or unintentionally), not just the new line collaborated by MAC & Rodarte. Read between the lines.

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  36. EVERYBODY. JUST READ THIS.

    Anonymous said...

    Just because MAC named their product "Juarez" doesn't mean they are supporting rape, or take a lax stand on the issue, or anything of the like. That's a gross statement to make, or if indirectly, a very damaging insinuation. If they named an eyeshadow "Aruba" does that mean they are trying to exploit Natalie Holloway's abduction/murder? No. Guess what? There ARE ghost town's on the Mexican border. There are factories and factory towns. Period. I don't see a press statement or slogan saying "this is all Mexico is, look how horrible the Mexican people are, lets laud the corrupt government" Perhaps Juarez is just the name of a town that is the most recognizable near the border. Look at the model in the picture. You can clearly see they are going for a spooky, haunting old west vibe. No one is trying to exploit women. I think you all need to take a step back and realize what you are getting so upset about. You are treading a slippery slope towards censorship.

    I TOTALLY AGREE WITH THIS STATEMENT. SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST STUPID ENOUGH TO BLAME MAC ONLY WHEN RODARTE ITSELF ARE ALSO AT FAULT.

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  37. ~Elizabeth aka Lacquered Lizard said...
    I'd expand on Camila's comment (while not agreeing with it)...
    Thank you MAC and Rodarte for doing something controversial...something SO controversial that it's got the blogging community spreading the news about the horrific conditions in towns not many care to know about. Thank you for bringing this issue to the attention of consumer ostriches and while I could think of a better way to do it (one that wouldn't hurt the brand so much) I still thank you for creating the buzz.


    I would also like to say that I was never aware that inspiration=exploitation. Who is to say that just because these things inspired them, they condone these atrocities? I highly doubt that was the message they are trying to send. Maybe they hoped to raise awareness. Maybe they haven't apologized because they feel that they did nothing wrong? I dont know. Just as nobody knows if they really were trying to capitalize of the horrors of Jaurez.

    I'm not saying what they did was wrong OR right. I just wish people would wait until they knew the WHOLE story, from EVERY SIDE, before they started judging.

    thats all.

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  38. why dont they get inspired by something nice not with something so horrible n sad like this to all of you that think this was such a great idea imagine if you were a mother or a relative of one of this victims would you still think yhe same way? no i dont think so that was wrong mac even know what did was wrong thats why they are trying to appoligize but is too lata they have already lost alot of thier costumers

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