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Simons: Advertising Death
Shortly after my post about whether assisted suicide is truly being offered as a free choice came out, I was sent a video that appeared to be part of a campaign for Simons, a Quebec-based clothing retailer. It was called All is Beauty and featured British Columbia’s Jennyfer Hatch, a 37-year-old woman who chose to end her life through Canada’s medical assistance in dying program (MAiD) after dealing with debilitating chronic pain associated with her Ehlers Danlos syndrome diagnosis. (The video appears to have been since pulled by Simons).
Simons made a commitment to Jennyfer that they would give her full creative control and the opportunity to pull the plug, so to speak, on the project at any point if she was not satisfied with the finished product.
The video itself, shot near Tofino a month before her death date, is beautiful, almost-ethereal and cinematic. She narrates with reflections about her life and death, beauty, and meaning.
"We really felt — after everything we've been through in the last two years and everyone's been through — maybe it would resonate more to do a project that's less commercially oriented and more focused on inspiration and values that we hold dear," Peter Simons, chief merchant (and former CEO) for the fashion chain, told CBC. Apparently, he met Hatch through the MAID program—which begs the question, why and how? How exactly does a corporation connect with such a program? Was MAID looking for a corporate partner? Or was Simons looking to connect with MAID?
And yet, according to Simons, the video is not about death or MAID. “It's a celebration of Jennyfer's life, and I think she has a lot to teach us."
For Hatch, it sounds like being involved with the project was about raising awareness for MAID and her belief about the importance of allowing people the choice to die in a “humane way.” But there are troubling things here. That a corporation would be involved is certainly one of them.
I’ve written about this before, corporations are not human. They may pretend to care about social issues, but their structure is such that in the end they are ultimately motivated by their own self-interests. In this case, the value for Simons is PR. Why else spend the money?
“It’s obviously not a commercial campaign,” Simons insists in a YouTube video, “It’s more an effort to use our freedom, our voice, and the privilege we have to speak and create every day in a way that is more about human connection. And I think we sincerely believe that companies have a responsibility to participate in communities and to help build the communities that we want to live in tomorrow, and leave to our children.” Simons is a business that was in his family for generations, so maybe he means it and it’s quite possible he is well-intentioned—but it’s still a business.
But more than just supporting a cause that needs to raise funds or awareness, in this case, Simons—a corporation—is actually glamorizing the choice to end one’s life.
Anyone who’s considering that choice, whether due to a terminal illness, chronic pain, or depression, is by definition vulnerable. And here they are being exposed to this beautiful end-of-life advertisement.
If Jennyfer had made this video for her loved ones as a way to capture her last days and remember her by, that’s one thing. Her last days of life could certainly be a celebration with friends and family, and they can be recorded. But they should be private. By sharing them so widely and publicly, it is designed to influence.
We live in a world where people love attention. They love attention so much that some of them will literally do almost anything for it. I’d like to think that Jennyfer’s decision was well-considered and that she had made the right decision for herself and her circumstances, but imagine how many people out there exist who who will be inspired by the attention and the beauty of her video. The next tiktok trend, instead of a funny dance, may well become a ‘farewell’ video. Maybe even a series. And by putting these videos into action, perhaps even if a change of mind occurs, the creator might feel incapable of changing their mind, lest they disappoint their captured, captive audience.
The choice to end your life is the most private, most intimate, most difficult decision of all. It does not belong on the public stage. And it certainly should not be a marketing campaign to sell clothes.
“Beautiful exits” need not be public.
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Who am I? I’m a writer with an overactive imagination and a random mind. Outside of Substack, you’ll find my work in publications such as Newsweek, WIRED, Variety, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Esquire, Playboy, Mashable, CNN Travel, The Independent, and many others.
Here, you can expect to see little essays on topics ranging from self-censorship, how to have better conversations and word misappropriation to whimsical thoughts about losing imaginary friends and insomnia. Anything goes. Here, there’s no “left,” “right,” or even “middle”. Just random thoughts. And everyone’s welcome to be part of the conversation—in fact, it’s encouraged.