180330 Tactical - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

What does it mean when so many products call themselves "Tactical"? 

Knives. Flashlights. Pens. Backpacks. Pants.

As a marketing term it's supposed to denote certain qualities. Ruggedness. Toughness. Durability, Reliability. It's also meant to imply other things. Militarized. Weaponized. You too can be a warfighter, or at least think like you want to be one. This thing will get you through.

Our police look like soldiers. Our Outdoor Sporting Goods stores look like armouries.

A handgun is tactical. It's designed for killing people. To pick up a weapon like this, as a soldier, police, or civilian, is to be prepared to kill a person. Perhaps that's anticipated with a genuine dread and fear. But perhaps there's the expectation of a wistful "it had to be done" moment, rehearsed in the mirror as if life's a movie, or the eager opportunism of the doomsday enthusiast. Those are so often the motivations that are echoed in the choices of Tactical gear. 

A flashlight with a strobe to disorient and blind your enemies. A tactical knife to cut your way through bales of paracord or a hostile back alley. Tactical pants and backpacks to hold all your gear for bugging out on Shit Hits The Fan Day. A tactical pen for self defense with window breaker, free pouch, and second ink refill, $9.99 on Amazon. Four point five stars, six hundred and sixty reviews. 

What does this merger of militarization and marketing, this diffuse idealization of the worst case scenario, embody in our culture? I especially ask this for my American friends and family, where any transgression against the state or the military quickly becomes a crime against our glorious war dead.

What, particularly, are the ramifications in this time of Black Lives Matter and the ascendency of white supremacy, when alt-nazi protesters wear fatigues and claim exclusive dominion over the national flag?

Like most of my people who may read this, I'm a straight white cis man. Tactical marketing is aimed directly at me. And they're not wrong: I own more pocket knives and flashlights than I can count, and I have the hand-cranked radio, just in case. 

William S Burroughs had a simple admonition:

"As an old junk pusher told me, 'Watch whose money you pick up'."

Be very, very careful of the implicit ideas manifested in the things you choose.

Don't buy Tactical. Don't accept its premise. Don't adopt its mindset into your own.


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