Dear PoPville – Questionable Marketing for Crime & Punishment Museum

“Dear PoPville,

The Crime & Punishment Museum has these young people out sometimes around the Gallery Place metro handing out coupons for tickets to the museum. They’re always young people dressed up in these orange jumpsuits. On the day I took these pictures there was one white female and one black female in the group handing out the coupons, but everyone else, and everyone else that I’ve ever seen doing it, is an African American male. The outfits have a patch that says Crime & Punishment Museum but they’re very realistic if you’re not paying close attention. It just seems like a poor choice. Anyway, I’d definitely be interested to see what others thought.”

In late June WAMU’s DCentric reported:

Employees have worn the outfits for three years. Although most of those handing out coupons in Chinatown were black men, all employees are required to wear prison jumpsuits when they engage in promotional activities, community activities or sales calls, wrote Janine Vaccarello, the museum’s chief operating officer, in an email to DCentric.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of this marketing campaign. I think it’d be better if they are going to wear costumes then they should wear period costumes like bootleggers from the 1920s or Al Capone style (like advertised on the side of their building). Something much more obvious. What do you guys think – smart marketing or stupid stunt?

105 Comment

  • Its just unfortunate but hey people need jobs

  • I think it’s ridiculously moronic. If they want to have “prisoners” peddle their adverts, they should go for the old timey black-and-white striped kind.

  • I think they should be wearing pink underwear. The guys/gals getting paid should be in training for more meaningful contribution wearing silk shorts and drop down pants if they so desire, the DYRS thugs in the pink, shirtless, with a fake waterpistol under their belt, forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh.

  • Were 1920’s bootleggers less deadly than 20th century drug dealers? (Proportionally – allowing for firepower per capita etc.) Did Al Capone’s organized crime operation oppress, extort & kill more than modern day syndicates?

    Orange jumpsuits are definitely in poor taste but this is a stupid comparison. People oppressed and dead from crime long ago from gangsters in quaint costume were still oppressed and dead.

  • please stop race bating.

  • Thanks for highlighting this. I saw this spectacle a few months ago and it made me physically sick to my stomach. I know that sounds like a dramatic reaction, but as a black man, I couldn’t believe that these young men were participating in “marketing” that is basically making light of the pathology of incarceration among Black men. The glorification of prison garb and culture isn’t funny or cute or even clever. Hopefully someone can dig up whoever is behind this effort and shame them to stop this nonsense.

    • Maybe they are the only ones that applied for the job.

      • ah

        Solution: Don’t hire blacks for this job!

        • Race is a protected class. You can’t exactly say, “Sorry black men, we’re not going to give you these jobs that you applied for, even though you’re perfectly qualified, but don’t worry, it’s for your own good!”

          • do people not understand sarcasm?

          • The first two comments were so serious that it went completely over my head; I assumed the response was from the person who had posted the initial hand-wringing message and was clearly wrong. Can’t believe I missed it, as it’s completely obvious reading again.

            Even so, it seems like a lot of people have the patronizing attitude that they know what’s best for the black men taking these jobs, and that they should just forsake employment to prove a point, regardless of whether or not they can find another job to pay for dinner. The condescension is rampant throughout the thread from people who actually are serious, even though I stupidly picked one of the ones that was not to reply to.

  • If you saw a bar…say Shellie’s Backroom, with a wooden Indian out front…would you go inside?

    I think it’s racist and tragic that these youths are so desperate for legitimate jobs that they will resort to making a stereotype out of themselves.

    And the Crime and Punishment Museum should be boycotted until they cease this practice.

    • As far as stereotypes: we can’t have it both ways. Critics of what some would call an unfair, racist, broken justice system would say that said system has overwhelmingly imprisoned one group more than any other ethnicity: black men. They can’t then complain that portrayal of inmates is mostly: black men.

      If (note the “if”) the statistics show that black men make up the majority of the prison population, then hiring black men to stand around in orange jump suits is just consistent with the numbers.

      In poor taste, but consistent. I’m not condoning or defending it, I’m just sayin’…

  • How bout suits with earpieces and sunglasses? Does that not denote spies in the midst? The women can wear Mati Hari outfits.

  • This is ridiculous. They applied for the job and this is the marketing campaign. Trying to insinuate anything else from it is drawing the conclusion you want to see and not seeing the situation for what is it. Some people just see malicious intent more than they should. Relax.

    • me

      I kind of agree. Would you rather that they just only hire everyone *except* black men? That would be a much bigger issue in my mind than this. In the orange jumpsuits, they stick out in the crowd. I don’t think it’s sinister or anything. I do think that the black/white striped jumpsuits would be better, but I don’t really see why this is such a huge deal.

  • Obviously the marketing worked, because people have taken notice. That’s the point.

    I agree that people are just seeing what they want to see. I also see the point that C&PM could use a little different method for their marketing. However,the letter to PoP even mentions that there was a white woman there as well in the jumpsuit. No one is “making light” of anything, they are just doing what works. Why criticize C&PM? This way of marketing is off limits because of the the fact that most of the crimes in this area are done by black men?

  • Is it more messed up that they are wearing prison uniforms, or is it more messed up that it makes us feel awkward because they are black wearing prison uniforms?

    • +1. If it is the policy that the employees wear these jumpsuits and (by the looks of it) the majority of the employees are black men, I’d say they are doing a lot more for that demographic than 90% of the places of employment in the region.

  • Had this same conversation over lunch in downtown last weekend with a group of friends. Yeah, it gets attention. I don’t know that folks are bothered by the prison uniforms at first sight (let’s give the benefit of the doubt…sure most know it’s a marketing campaign), but it isn’t a funny joke that most young black males will at some point be wearing one. For real.

    Some fun facts:

    Nearly one in three (32%) black males in the age group 20-29 is under some form of criminal justice supervision on any given day — either in prison or jail, or on probation or parole.

    A black male born in 1991 has a 29% chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life. The figure for white males is 4%, and for Hispanics, 16%.

    Bad taste and certainly reinforcing a stereotype. Folks, especially today and especially young men, need jobs. And many of us sacrifice some of our dignity in our work at some point in our lives, especially when young. Likely not any mal-intent on the C&PM’s side, but rather just lack of foresight and now, hindsight. How do they not see the pitiful irony in those suits?

    I say ‘boo.’

    • I think you’re totally right. To avoid the stereotype being played out, they just shouldn’t hire black men to do it. Problem solved.

      • Then you’d have the EEOC on your butt. What happens when a black man applies for the job? Should they put a sign out front saying that they won’t hire black men for certain positions? Or better yet: “Whites only”.

    • +100

  • In order to avoid stereotypes, they should just discriminate in hiring.

    Oh, wait…

  • Looks like smart marketing to me. Look at all the free press they are getting as a result!

    To the commenter who said he became physically ill at the sight of this…you owe me a new keyboard, I spat my coffee all over it. You made my day though.

  • Maybe they should dress as Wall Street bankers. Oh wait, that would be for the Crime and Get Away with I museum.

  • I demand an investigation into whether any of these fine young men has ever been evicted when it’s hot out. Oh, wait, wrong thread. THey all just seem the same.

  • They’re probably safer than the guy in the MaGruff suit. At least they won’t be attacked by any Metro bus drivers.

  • I’m glad that others see the outrage in this situation. I, for one, will call C&P today and DEMAND that they don’t hire any blacks for their outreach and promotion programs. They simply must realize that it makes people uncomfortable.

    • So you think it is better if a black male applies for this job and does not get it based on the fact that he is a black male? You are okay with this kind of discrimination just because him being in that orange jump suit doing his job makes people uncomfortable?

  • The responses from those who don’t care or just believe it’s marketing shows how desensitized we have become to racial problems in DC.

  • I read the article and there’s a picture of white women employees in orange jumpsuits. Does that mean the museum is rasict AND sexist?

  • Let’s not pretend why these black men are being commodified. Its a shame that most will act as though they don’t ‘see’ the inference.
    Perhaps, they should have young white males hand out their fliers.

    • Sometime a jumpsuit is just a jumpsuit. If I wanted to work there and that’s what I’d have to wear, so be it. Everyone needs to work, right? It’s not like these folks were forced into wearing them.
      If young white males were working that job, they would indeed don the jumpsuits. No difference, other than the one you want to see,

    • I’ve seen a few young white males wearing the jumpsuits. It’s not exclusively young black males.

  • That doesn’t gross me out nearly as much as Ted Bundy’s VW that is in the lobby.

    I had to wear a hot dog costume as part of my first job. Don’t want to wear a costume – find a different job.

    Those that are offended own their own stereotypes not the museum.

  • It’s the crime and punishment museum – an institution of education about all the very things being criticized here. The advertising is meant to garner attention and clearly, it worked. Some of the comments made here are really just sad, as they highlight the ignorance of American history and the personal defensiveness thereof.

    People really need to lighten up a little. So much seriousness about things that never effected them in their lifetime is just not healthy. Move on.

    • Institution? It’s a for profit museum devoted to the macabre that uses extremely annoying marketing whether it’s people in costumes or the ubiquitious discount coupons people give me to throw away. Never been there, never will go, has tourist trap written all over it.

      • The worst thing about that place it it has nothing to do with the Dostoevsky book! Pissed me off when I went there!

      • agreed, it’s not a legit museum. they’re exhibits and events are in incredibly poor taste, mostly sensational and offensive. a few halloweens back they had a capital punishment-themed party. tacky and nasty.

        the orange jump suits are also in poor taste, which is par for the course with that “museum”. hopefully it’ll serve as fair warning to those expecting anything better.

  • Swell place to lie low if you’re indeed on the lam….Pretty sure the one on the right’s the knucklehead that yanked my Mini Cooper for half a Yoo-Hoo and some Jodeci tickets.

  • Talk about awkward – I was at the opening of the C&P museum and they had those guys in the fake jumpsuits escorting us to the roof in the elevator and someone asked them a question along the lines of, is this some kind of work release program?

    They really thought that the employees/escorts were actual prisoners.

    Awkward and a half.

  • andy

    Who do you think is the demographic for this museum?

    Urban liberals or red state tourists?

    I think they’re playing off of heartland fear/fascination with modern urban crime.

  • I wrote about this back in June (as noted in this blog post). I spoke with some locals and tourists, and their reactions are very interesting, I thought:

  • How about you stop being so damn sensitive?

  • This is race baiting. Most hourly employees in downtown DC are black. If these guys want this job and are qualified, they should have it. This is ridiculous and this blog and many of its commenters have become caricatures of overly-sensitive urban liberals. PoP’s site has become almost humorless.

    When I go to ABP for lunch today, a black man is going to make my sandwich. Should PoP have a 150 comment-worthy post on that fact? Maybe he should, since the internet is such serious business.

    • well put, Poon.

    • This site is dying a slow death, due mostly to its increased popularity. PoP was, by far, in my opinion, the best blog in DC. I used to tell everyone I met about it, but not so anymore.

      Perhaps the moral to the story is that to professionalize your hobby is to destroy it. Don’t quite your day job!

    • Will the guy from ABP be wearing an orange jumpsuit?

      I imagine the Museum of C&P just wasn’t thinking this through… but this particular marketing campaign does seem to be in poor taste.

      • I actually imagine they were. The museum is in the middle of a dense and high-foot-traffic area with a lot of tourists. Orange both sticks out in a crowd, which is the whole point, and is consistent with the museum’s theme.

    • I have a feeling that the OP is actually a black woman…but whateves, I could be wrong..

  • Get over it people. Stop looking for reasons to get all up in arms about minor matters. Sure, you can read into it all you want, and speculate that “the man” is doing this to perpetuate the status quo, but for the love of god, grow up people.

  • +1. POP loves to post this stuff to get comments/hits. He race baits at least once a week.

  • pablo .raw

    Complete lack of creativity.

  • I see why this irks people. But in all honesty, I don’t see how much different it is than buxom girls working at Hooters. Reinforces the sexist association of “attractive” women only being of value when in the service industry.

    Is it beneficial to society? No, but it is probably beneficial to those individuals who are working the job BY CHOICE. Certainly, the museum could have picked a different marketing scheme that we consider more tasteful (just as Hooters could too). But the museum’s goal is to drum up visitors — it’s not some crusade to combat stereotypes. And, like Hooters, it seems to be successful in doing so — otherwise, they would have stopped the marketing scheme by now.

    • The most offensive thing about Hooters is those stupid orange pantyhose the waitresses wear. Total turnoff roo.

  • Wait, people are concerned that this perpetuates stereotypes..I (honestly) thought that the main concern was that people might think they are escaped prisoners. Am I the only one?

  • I think that it is horrible that they would take advantage of people who need jobs by making them wear these horrible outfits. This city does not need this kind of provocation. I will never go to this museum, and many of my friends, neighbors, and colleagues have said the same, because of this horrible campaign. Obviously, the answer is not to discriminate in who they are hiring, but to get rid of the costumes entirely!

  • I agree with the original poster. It’s in poor taste. This isn’t race-baiting — it’s a legitimate question to ask. I can’t believe how many people are trying to rationalize this. Sure, it provides jobs, but there are simple ways to do it better, like the black-and-white striped prison PJs. Just because it gets people talking doesn’t mean it’s smart marketing.

    I went to this museum when it first opened. Not worth the price of admission. If you’re going to pay for a museum in D.C., the Newseum and the Spy Museum are far superior.

  • So are we saying its questionable because they use contemporary outfits, or because of the race of the employees.

    Maybe they find orange stands out to the eye better. Perhaps these suits are cheaper to get.

    Anyone who blushes at the demographic of the employees doesn’t that speak just a little bit to potential racism in yourself?

    • yes. it makes me uncomfortable because of the race of the employees wearing prison garb.
      racist? i don’t care if you call it racist. that doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable about the outrageous rate of incarceration for african american males in our nation. you calling my discomfort racist doesn’t make me fell better about the crime in our city, or the racially based assumptions of in threads about crime.

      so yeah, it’s race.

      • Would you rather some of these employees be laid off to assuage your discomfort?

        • no, you idiot. i didn’t say that anywhere. a solution would be to not use prison gear. were you unable to think of that one?

          anyway, they are a private business and are allowed to do things that make me feel uncomfortable. i was replying to your accusation of racism with how i feel about it. maybe the mold in your basement is causing you problems.

  • Boo-friggin’-hoo. As tasteless as it may be (and honestly, isn’t the museum itself one big exercise in tastelessness? Has anybody who lives here actually been inside this “museum”?), they can market how they want, and anybody who’s willing to sign up to wear the suit and hand out fliers can draw the inevitably crappy wage that job pays. For what it’s worth, I work in this area and have turned down countless fliers from employees of every race and sex over the last couple of years.

  • I saw a young black male wearing the jumpsuit on the Metro riding to work. I could not read ‘Crime and Punishment’ on his back from the way he was sitting, so I was perplexed thinking: did no one pick him up from prison? what Metro Stations serves the nearest prison?

  • I hate this museum– our country’s fetishisation of law enforcement culture is just sickening. These guys were outside the Smithonsian metro a few weeks ago and I had the same reaction. Too many people already think that black people are criminals, and it’s undeiniably wrong that the museum is reinforcing those racist stereotypes.

  • I don’t see it as racist. In very poor taste, but not racist. These folks chose to get this job. Whatever pays the bills. Incredibly tasteless, yes.

  • It’s only racist if you are.

  • Allison

    I actually avoided them *because* they were wearing the orange jumpsuits. Hey, I didn’t know they were from the C&P museum and here the 10,000th person of the day in Chinatown is shoving a paper in my face. Think I’m going to take it?

  • Lol, fantastic, accurate, campaign and makes strong social commentary as well!

  • Ugh. I’m very bothered by it too. I wonder if it’s even effective. The Hooters comparison is a poor one because people are attracted to buxom ladies. Who is attracted to people who are dressed to look like modern day criminals? If this is gratifying to some demographic, why? And how does what’s inside the museum satisfy that fetish? Why couldn’t they dress them as judges or (stylized) police officers? It’s sad for the guys who are forced to take this job. I wish the (ahem) museum would show some respect for their employees by letting them wear a uniform worthy of respect- or even just a themed t shirt. Comparisons to hot dog outfits and the like are unfair. No one looks at you and thinks you’re gonna grow up to be a hotdog. Those who can’t comprehend why this is offensive are lacking imagination or compassion. This was a really discouraging thread. I agree with the African American man who said this made him sick to his stomach. Me too. The lack of thought that went into most of these posts is depressing.

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